6. Narrow your list of schools
Students often ask, What’s the right number of schools to target? Generally speaking, this will vary from student to student and may depend largely on goals and academic standing. But I think that most students can meet their academic and school fit needs by applying to six to eight schools.
More important than the specific number of schools, I would encourage you to make sure that you have a list of schools that reflects a range of competitiveness. Applying to Harvard, Yale, MIT, Princeton, Stanford and Brown is not a diversified list. Sure, each of these schools has its own feel and school culture, but all of these schools fall into a very elite class, admitting fewer than 10% of applicants and in some cases fewer than 5%.
To narrow your list, plan to visit (or revisit) some of your target schools, compare your academic and extracurricular standing with that of the typically admitted student, and read up on programs and opportunities to determine which schools warrant an application and those that don’t.
5. Create your common application account
If you haven’t already done so, go ahead and create a Common Application account. Many colleges use this platform, so you can begin familiarizing yourself with the information that is needed and how application requirements may vary from school to school.
Completing the application isn’t particularly challenging, but it can be tedious and time consuming, so before you are swamped with work from AP courses and back to school fall festivities, use some of your summer downtime to get started.
4. Prepare for standardized tests
If you’re going to use the fall to sit for the SAT (including Subject Tests) or the ACT, the summer can be the perfect time to prepare for the test. From paper-based practice tests to online tutorials and in- person classes and individualized instruction, there are practice options out there for every budget, schedule, and learning style.
Whenever I am asked about standardized test prep and whether I think it’s a good idea, I always encourage students to seek additional help. The reality is that practice may not always make perfect, but it almost certainly makes you better, especially when it comes to test taking. Figure out what works for your budget, schedule, and learning style and commit to putting in the work, since test preparation is often a harbinger of testing success.
3. Work on your essays
For many students, the most time consuming part of the college application process is writing essays. The summer is the perfect time to carve out uninterrupted time to begin brainstorming ideas and working through drafts.
I know some kids who go through 10 to 12 iterations of a single essay not to mention the kids who start an essay only to scrap it for another possible three or four totally different topics!
The point here is that you want to allow yourself ample time to go conscientiously through the writing process, and for many kids the summer offers uninterrupted blocks of time that are hard to find once school begins.
2. Contact your recommenders
If you didn’t have a chance to connect with teachers during junior year to request letters of recommendation, don’t be afraid to reach out over the summer via email or your school’s portal. Some teachers may want to take advantage of increased downtime over the summer by completing the recommendations, particularly if they are not teaching summer school.
Additionally, I always encourage students not to ask if their teachers can merely write a recommendation; they should ask the teachers if they can write a STRONG recommendation.
Remember—one of the goals is to assemble an application that will support your candidacy on all fronts. Along with the request, you should provide the recommenders with a copy of your resume (or list of activities) and perhaps a copy of a paper or project you completed for the class so that they get a better sense of your involvement and interests as well a refresher on your work and abilities. If you are unable to get in touch with teachers, at the very least, determine who you will ask in the fall.
1. Sleep in (yes, really)
Since the school year is typically jammed with academic work and extracurricular activities, go ahead—indulge, and get some extra sleep. I wish there were some way to store the extra sleep teens get during the summer months, but since there isn’t (and no medical evidence supporting that extra sleep during one period has long-term benefits when one might be sleep deprived), you might as well live it up while you can. So go ahead, hit snooze. Or better yet, spend some summer days in which you awaken naturally instead of to the sound of an alarm.