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Your Student’s Summer Game Plan for Getting their College Applications Ready by Fall


Your student just finished their junior year, and likely has a busy summer ahead. While college application deadlines (typically Nov. 1 for early decision and early application, and Jan. 1 for all others) may feel far away, they’re not.


Once that hectic senior year starts, it’s only a matter of weeks until those first college deadlines sneak up on students. That’s why most families we work with get the bulk of their student’s application done before this summer ends. That means: it’s officially “go time!”


Here’s our roadmap for how your incoming senior can get the heavy lifting done on their college application before school resumes in the fall:


In June:

  • Ask for letters of recommendation, if they haven’t already. Requirements for this vary by school, with the most selective institutions requiring two letters from teachers and one from a guidance counselor. And, teachers need time to work on these and often have a personal quota of how many they’ll agree to do, so asking ASAP is key. Check out our full guide on how to get the best letters of recommendation.

  • Determine the story they want to tell. We firmly believe students should decide upfront what they want to convey about themselves before answering any specific essay prompts – we call these key messages. Once they determine the story about what makes them unique and what they’ve accomplished, then they can strategically approach the essays, answering the prompts that best enable them to share their key messages. Read much more about why this matters and how to do it.

  • Fill any last gaps. In the process of documenting everything they’ve done so far in their high school career across academics, extracurriculars, work, volunteering and more, your student may notice that some categories are lighter than others. Summer is a great time for them to boost their involvement where needed. Encourage them to dedicate some time to volunteering or participating in a local club, or to get a summer job. This is their last chance to boost their activities and involvement, so they should take full advantage over these next three months.

In July:

  • Write their Common App essay. Now that their key messages are set, your student can get their Common App essay written. They have seven prompts to choose from and should pick one that best enables them to share one or more of their key messages. For example, if overcoming obstacles has been a big part of their life overall, that essay option might be the best one to choose. The point here is to avoid picking an essay question arbitrarily and using it to tell a random (albeit interesting) story that doesn’t convey a larger message about who they are. Yes, that sounds obvious, but we can’t tell you how many students start down the path of doing exactly that before we begin working with them and introduce them to the idea of key messages and approaching this process more strategically!

    • The essay your student will write needs to be 650 words or less. While they shouldn’t include useless information just to fill the word count, students should aim to have a final essay that’s 600-650 words total. In our work with students, there are always opportunities for them to include meaningful, relevant information that adds to the word count while also helping them tell their story more thoroughly.

    • One great thing about doing the key messages work upfront? Your student won’t have to stare at the dreaded blank screen when they sit down to start their essay. They can paste in their key messages and start working from there to respond directly to the question and add more details. Trust us – the psychological benefits of having source material to start with are real!

In August:

  • Create their Common App account. The Common App officially opens on Aug. 1. As close to that day as possible, have them set a timer for 15 minutes and create an account, filling out the easy details about themselves that don’t require much thought. That simple action is easy to do but serves an important purpose – it means they’ve started their college application. It no longer has to be something they’re putting off or that’s weighing on their mind, and it will be easier to come back to it later to tackle the harder stuff. Encourage them to schedule several short sessions like this throughout this month to fill in their activities, test scores and grades, etc. The Common App publishes an application guide for first-year students that can help them register, add colleges to their list, and more.

  • Write their supplemental essays. Depending on where your student plans to apply, they will likely need to write additional, supplemental essays that generally range from 100-650 words. These can be as straightforward as describing why they’re choosing their major or want to attend a particular university, or as random as sharing their favorite way to eat a potato or describing how many lives something conceptual or actual has, and why (not kidding). This is an opportunity for them to highlight other key messages, building on what they already shared about themselves in their Common App essay response.

Clearly, there’s a lot your student can – and should – do this summer to get their college application rolling. With some thoughtful planning, these steps can be tackled in a manageable way over the next three months so they can still enjoy their time off of school. While it’s tempting to blow all of this off until regular routines resume in the fall, the students we work with are ALWAYS grateful to have their college applications mostly done by the time their senior year begins.


Want help to ensure your student approaches their essays strategically, stays on track with deadlines, and understands what college admissions officers want to read? We’d love to work with your family – learn more about our approach or get in touch today!


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