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Countdown to college: What should rising seniors be doing over the summer?

Lee Shulman Bierer, Tribune News Service on

Published in Education News

“Junior year is almost over, time for a vacation” is a frequently heard refrain in many households these days.

Yes, they absolutely deserve a break, but let me be the bad guy and tell them not to waste away their summer. Give them some decompression time. Let them push aside their mathematical equations and U.S. history dates and allow them to soak up a little sun along with their accomplishments.

But while it’s important to rest and recharge the batteries, after a few days it will be time to regroup and get the upper hand on preparing for the fall’s college application process.

Here are three things rising seniors can and should be doing this summer:

1. Build, grow or shrink your college list. By summer’s end, you will want to have a finalized college list. Getting there will depend on where you are in the process and how much time and energy you’ve invested to date.

Some of you have already visited some schools, and many of you haven’t yet started. Dedicate the necessary time to creating a balanced list with reach, target and safety schools. Research your schools by checking out:

* The academic fit: Do they have majors that match your interests?


* The social fit: Do you like the college town and the surrounding area? Is there enough to do?

* The financial fit: Are you likely to receive need-based or merit-based money?

Then focus your summer campus visits on your target and reach schools. The rationale for holding off on visiting your safety schools is that you can check them out next spring if you aren’t accepted at any of your target or reach schools.

2. Prepare your brag sheet or activities résumé. Most every college application will require you to list your extracurricular activities, community service commitments, leadership roles, etc. Take the time to work on your own personal document. A neat, concise, well-organized brag sheet helps you communicate to a college that you are a serious applicant. It is a great way for you to share the variety of things you’ve done and contributions you’ve made to your high school and/or local community, and it's a wonderful jumping-off point for potential college essays. You can also give your brag sheet to your high school counselor and recommenders to help them prepare a more meaningful recommendation for you. If you have the chance to interview at a college or the opportunity to meet a college representative, having your brag sheet handy is a great idea.

3. Get going on the applications. The Common Application (www.commonapp.org) opens on Aug. 1, but many colleges open their applications earlier and allow students to register and obtain their usernames and passwords. I highly recommend that you create a document that keeps track of colleges' direct links to their applications and your personal usernames and passwords, along with each college’s application deadline.

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