Summer is just around the corner – welcome news for my fellow Minnesotans who’ve been cooped up for the past few months! While many students think of summer as a mental break, it’s actually a great time for juniors to start preparing for the college application process – especially before the busyness of their senior year starts in the fall, making October’s early application deadlines approach quickly.
This is especially helpful for students who are feeling nervous about the application process, or who can feel it hanging over their head. As Walter Anderson says, “Nothing diminishes anxiety faster than action.” By getting started on this, you’ll immediately feel in control and less stressed. And for the students who work with me, I even promise to make it fun – yes, fun!
Here are five things you can do this summer to get a jump start on applying to college:
1. Write your accomplishments down. Your college application essay is your chance to tell your story and stand out from the crowd. This starts with your accomplishments. It may sound simple, but it can be hard for many students to pinpoint all the things they’ve done that make them an ideal member of their dream school’s student body. That’s why it’s helpful to write down everything you’ve done (use this worksheet!) —from academic highlights to volunteering to extracurriculars and more. Once you get it all down on paper, you can get a better sense for what you’ve done and what it all means. Be sure to ask a friend, parent or teacher if there’s anything you’ve achieved that stands out to them – I’ve worked with students who’ve overlooked big accomplishments from their past, because they’re too close to see them.
2. Identify gaps. College admissions counselors are looking for well-rounded students to join their student body. If you’ve compiled your accomplishments and the list is looking a bit lighter than you’d like in some spots, you have an entire summer ahead of you to shore up those gaps. For instance, maybe you’ve been an academic and extracurricular superstar but don’t have any volunteer experience to highlight. The next few months are a great time to get that experience, either by volunteering with an organization or helping out around your community or neighborhood.
3. Look for themes. To tell your story, you need to distill down all the accomplishments you’ve written down into a cohesive, coherent narrative in your college application essay. So, instead of providing a laundry list of all the things you’ve done, look at them closer to define themes. For instance, if you’re the captain of your basketball team and an active member of your school’s student government, you might see a theme of leadership. If you’re a volunteer at a local nursing home and help out at the food bank with your family, then you’re clearly caring and compassionate. It’s a lot easier to write your story once you understand the themes that come together to make you…you.
4. Review the Common App essay topics. Did you know that the essay questions many colleges will ask in their applications are already available? It’s true. The Common App is used by more than 800 colleges and universities, both in the U.S. and abroad. You can check out the questions now and start thinking about which of them match up well with your accomplishments and key themes. You can even start drafting some preliminary responses and see how telling your story feels.
5. Create a Common App account. While you’re at it, you may as well create a Common App account. Schools that use the Common App start accepting early applications right away on August 1. While you may not be ready to apply then, having you account set up is one more step you can take care of now.
By starting this summer, you’ll be in a great spot to apply for your dream school this fall. If you’re working through the steps and you find that you’re struggling to bring together any of the pieces—whether uncovering your accomplishments, finding themes, or thinking about how you’ll respond to the Common App essay prompts —reach out to me for a quick chat. I’d love to discuss how I can help you shine through your application essays.