Every parent hears this fact – likely before their child’s first birthday: We only get 18 summers with our kids before they’re ready to leave the nest. Suddenly, reality sets in during the summer before your teen’s senior year – your seventeenth summer. Can there really be only one more summer before your baby heads to college? This will feel like your fastest, shortest year yet. So buckle up, enjoy the ride, maximize your quality time together – and get ready to help your teen apply to college.
In part one of this series, we talked about maintaining a monthly calendar to track your college application progress, creating college-related folders, preparing for and taking the SAT and/or ACT, researching and visiting prospective colleges, and creating your Common App and Coalition App accounts, and other college-admissions prep steps. If your teen has completed them, congratulations - you’re on track and ready to move forward. If not, there’s still time to catch up!
Educational Consultant and School Choice Expert Barb Leventhal say summer is the perfect time for rising seniors to get organized and proactively begin working on their college applications.
“Be sure to regularly update and refer to the college calendar you’ve created – or create one now if you haven’t – and take time to map out your tasks,” she said. “You should be able to check something off as ‘DONE’ every week. The more progress you make on your college applications now, the less pressure you’ll feel during your senior year.”
What other college admissions prep steps should your teen complete this summer? Here’s your teen’s ‘To-Do’ List, Part 2. Review it together, and ensure that your teen is on track and positioned for success!
Write Your Personal Statement – Goal: Complete by July 1
If you haven’t begun writing your college essay, often called the college application personal statement, it’s time to get started. Keep in mind that although your story is your own, it may not seem unique to the college admissions officer tasked with reading it. Admissions officers read countless essays – all day long – from students who are all about the same age, and going through similar experiences. After reading hundreds - maybe even thousands – of “My high School Football Injury,” and “My Father, My Hero” essays, they all start to blur. Your challenge is to make your personal statement stand out in a sea of sameness. Seize the opportunity to creatively and eloquently express yourself within the limited word count.
“Getting the reader’s attention right from the start goes a long way toward making you stand out from a long procession of students,” he said. “Avoid writing lack-luster expressions and sentences that could have been written by countless others. Your personal statement is not a time for the ordinary – it’s a time to articulately draw the reader into a rich, personalized account of your experiences and ideas.”
Brainstorm ideas and begin writing your personal statement - now. Even the most talented writers should write and revise numerous drafts, perfecting the essay until it’s ready to submit. It’s also beneficial to get support from a trusted language arts teacher or guidance counselor. For personalized professional expertise – and even greater reassurance – consider an independent educational consultant/essay specialist.
Update Your College Résumé – Goal: Complete by the end of June
Colleges are no longer seeking the stereotypical straight-A, well-rounded student. Instead, they’re recruiting what some college admissions officers refer to as “well-lopsided or pointy” applicants – students who have pursued a specific interest or passion and have significant accomplishments in that area. Colleges want a well-balanced class comprised of talented students who demonstrate initiative, leadership skills, community involvement, and other distinctive qualities in addition to academic achievements. A well-crafted college résumé provides an ideal opportunity to highlight accomplishments and personal qualities that show colleges who you are.
Make sure your résumé is current and written using powerful words that accurately capture your talents and abilities. Showcase a variety of activities and interests including honors and awards, academic triumphs, athletic endeavors, extracurricular activities, and work experience. The idea is to show that you’re engaged, involved, and have a specific range of interests and skills.
Secure Letters of Recommendation – Goal – Complete Now
The end of your junior year and the summer before your senior year are the perfect times to ask teachers for letters of recommendation. Because most teachers receive numerous requests, ask early to give them adequate time to effectively sing your praises. In general, the most effective recommendations come from core subject teachers who know you well. You may also want to check with the colleges on your list to see if they will accept additional recommendations from mentors such as music instructors, coaches, Scout leaders, current or former supervisors, and other influential individuals in your life.
Email your potential recommenders to appreciatively explain why you chose them, letting them know about the positive impact they’ve made in your life. The email should update teachers on your recent achievements and activities and include your updated college résumé for inspiration. Make sure you give each recommender a slightly different perspective of your strengths to ensure that their letter will complement the words of other recommenders, rather than just repeating the same information.
Community Service Hours – Goal – Make Sure You Have Enough Hours By Early August
Many schools require students to complete community service hours. For example, Florida students need community service hours in order to graduate and to qualify for the Bright Futures Scholarship. The most impressive community service record is one that relates to your talent or area of interest, rather than just a collection of random hours.
Don’t forget to log and submit community service hours every time you volunteer. Some students stop recording hours once they meet their school’s minimum requirement – even when they continue to volunteer. However, going above and beyond not only looks good on your transcripts and college résumé – it also may qualify you for an honor or scholarship award. You’ve earned those hours – take the time to log them.
Research the Colleges – Goal: Complete by Mid August
Create a list of colleges you’d like to attend, making sure you’re interested for the right reasons. Rather than choosing colleges based on where your friends want to go, or where your parents think you should go, ask yourself: “Why this college – is it a good fit for me?”
If your major is undecided, you may want to begin by exploring potential careers and majors. Research each college, ensuring that your list includes only colleges that meet your needs based on your intended major, cost, location, campus culture, social and religious factors, and other important things to think about when choosing a college. Also, make sure your list is realistic. For each school, compare your cumulative, unweighted GPA and SAT and/or ACT scores with the median test scores and GPAs for the most recent class of admitted students. A good rule of thumb is to ensure that your grades and scores are in line with at least six of the twelve colleges on your list. Bonus: you can use your research to write your “Why this College?” and “Why this Major?” essays.
Get Help – Goal: Don’t Wait!
If you’re reading this the summer before your senior year – or earlier – you’re on track for a smooth, well-organized college application process. If it’s later in the year, don’t worry. You’ve got this! There are plenty of people and resources available to help your family throughout the process – from start to finish.
In addition to support from your parents, you can seek college application advice from your guidance counselor. However, because high school counselors work with a large volume of students, they often don’t get to know students personally and may not have time to work with students individually. In contrast, independent educational consultants work one-on-one with students and their families to provide expert guidance that helps students get into – and succeed in – their top-choice colleges. Some educational consulting firms offer support from college essay specialists, as well as student workshops. For example, Score At The Top Learning Centers and Schools offers a college application boot camp that can be taken either virtually or in person. According to Leventhal, students leave the boot camp with a significant amount of the work done, feeling like a weight has been lifted from their shoulders.
Leventhal believes peace of mind is one of the many benefits of working with an independent educational consultant.
“Educational consultants are like personal trainers for college readiness,” she said. “We know each student personally, and we help them set and achieve goals and milestones. We work with students to ensure that their applications are strong and that they stand out from other applicants.”
Parental Advice – Goal: Carpe Diem
Keep watching for more college admissions prep tips to help your teen stay on track this summer and beyond. Meanwhile, enjoy this time creating memories together – that eighteenth summer will come (and go) before you know it. The good news? There are more amazing memories to come!
Call us at JRA Educational Consulting and Learning Centers/Score at the Top for more insights or to set up a free consultation with an independent educational consultant. We’ve helped thousands of students get into their best-fit colleges – and we can help you.