Now that it's summer, you're probably looking forward to sleeping in and spending the day lounging by the pool. And of course, that's what summer is for- having fun! But summer is also the perfect opportunity to get a head-start on college research and preparation. This is a critical moment on your path to college, especially if you are a rising junior or senior. Here are the top 7 college-related tasks to get done this summer.
1. Make a college list
Making a college list is most effective when you take a top-down approach. Write down every college that possibly interests you, then research to find some more! Once you have an exhaustive list of colleges, you can work on narrowing it down.
To narrow down a college list, consider aspects like campus location, student body size, and diversity. Do you want a college with an active Greek life or one that is very academic and serious? Do you want to go stay close to home or study far away? Is the campus in a big city or a suburban town, and which do you prefer? These are all factors that should be considered.
Do NOT narrow down colleges by acceptance rate. Another big no-no is to completely eliminate colleges that don't seem to work for you. You can take them off your list, but keep their names handy. You never know- upon further research, they may actually be perfect for you.
Some awesome platforms to build an online college list are CollegeVine, CollegeBoard BigFuture, and CollegeRaptor. They all have huge databases of colleges that you can narrow down based on your personal criteria.
Once you have a college list that better suits you, we can move on to researching other factors. But be sure to keep this list on hand! As you learn/develop your college profile, you may need to edit your list.
2. Research majors/career paths that interest you
Having an idea of what field you want to pursue in life is an important indicator of where you should go to college. It can also serve as a guide about what classes you want to take in high school or what extracurriculars you want to pursue.
Of course, you should never decide where to go solely based on your major- the majority of college freshmen change their major 5 times before finally settling on one!
Nevertheless, it is a good idea to research majors (and consequent careers) at the schools you are interested in. Take time to really learn what each major is all about and introspect whether it sparks your interest. Have at least 4 majors you would like to pursue. It's also a good idea to consider other factors that may impact your major, such as minors or applying to college as undeclared. Take time to understand what each term means for you and your major.
The best way to learn about each college's majors is from the college's website. To learn about majors and career options in general, check out Roadtrip Nation's interactive website (powered by Collegeboard).
If a college doesn't contain any of your desired majors, it's time to take it off your list. But remember what I said- don't delete it entirely, as your interests/passions may change over time. If a college does contain your desired majors, however, move it up to the top of your list.
3. Figure out your financial status
This can be a tricky step, but it is one that is extremely necessary on the path to college. Unfortunately, college can get expensive!
Understanding your financial situation pertains to having discussions with your parents/guardians about how much money is available for your college journey. Some things to discuss include:
- How much money is saved up for you
- Whether you are available for financial aid
- The average cost of the colleges you want to attend (refer to your list!)
- How you can defray the cost (part-time job, scholarship, etc)
This is a great tool to get a sense of your financial situation: BigFuture College Cost Calculator.
Do NOT use your financial situation as a way to rule off colleges from your list. The price tag of some colleges may be daunting, but it is not an indicator of your eligibility to go to college. Anyone can go to college if they work hard enough.
Rather, use this assessment as a way to gauge where you are on your path to college. Figuring out your financial situation lets you know how many scholarships to apply to, whether to apply for financial aid, and more!
4. Take virtual tours of potential colleges
This is one of the most fun steps on this checklist! Virtual college tours are often immersive and engaging experiences that leave nothing to the imagination. Well, you could imagine yourself chilling in the dorms or studying in the library!
Virtual college tours are one of the most valuable ways to learn more about potential colleges, especially when you can't visit in person. But there's a hidden benefit- these tours are often more in-depth and thorough than in-person tours, and you can experience it all from the comfort of your bedroom.
To access a college's virtual tour, you should visit their website. YouVisit is a great database of all virtual college tours.
While touring the college, pay attention to the vibe the college gives you. Is the college a party school or very academically based? Beyond that, what school fits better for you? Other things to consider during the tour are the facilities offered to students (cafes, career centers, mental health counseling) and the vicinity of the college.
After the tour, you'll likely have a much better understanding of the college, especially if you're a visual learner. If the college appeals to you, move it up on your college list. If not, you can take it off consideration.
At this point, your college list will be much more concise and personalized. It is important to remember that this list is fluid; it can and will change with you as you grow as an applicant. It's okay to remove or add colleges later in the game.
5. Understand the admissions requirements
This part can get pretty tricky and tedious, but it is debatably one of the most important steps. You need to know how to get into college!
Admissions requirements generally comprise a minimum GPA, minimum SAT/ACT score, and classes that must be taken prior to admission. If your college uses a holistic review, like the University of California system, you need to understand what else colleges will be looking at it when they review your application. Most colleges also look at extracurriculars, such as sports, clubs you joined, volunteering, or other out-of-the-box activities.
Since each college has different admission requirements, you should visit each individual website. The requirements will usually be found under the (undergraduate) admissions tab.
This is a very actionable step. Once you know the admission requirements, which are usually the bare minimum for acceptance at competitive colleges, you need to gauge where you stand. Maybe you need to increase your SAT score by 100 points or take another math class at school. Also, consider extracurriculars and other things that help you stand out in the applicant pool. This is an extremely personalized step.
It's a good idea to jot down what you need to do to meet the admission requirements for each college. Also, note down your extracurricular ideas that will make you an extra special applicant. Keep this on hand, as you'll need it for step 7.
6. Brainstorm college essays
Nearly every college requires essays as part of your application. Colleges use your essays as a way to get to know you better, beyond your grades and extracurriculars.
College essays are a pivotal part of your application- they help you stand out amongst the crowd. As such, it is super important to do a good job on them. The perfect essay has a good theme, powerful rhetoric, proper grammar, and a great subject- you!
Once you have your college list, you can check out the essay questions for your potential colleges! They are usually found under the (undergraduate) admissions tab. If you are interested in a University of California (UC), the personal insight questions are right here.
Compiling a list of essay questions (from all your listed colleges) gives you a feel for what colleges are looking for. Once you know what they're looking for, you can actually gear your extracurriculars to better answer those questions! Another great thing to do once you have all the essays in front of you is to brainstorm potential responses. This will be a huge help when you are actually writing the essays in the future. You could even try writing a practice one if you want!
Being familiar with the essay questions has numerous benefits. For example,
- you can become a better applicant by molding your extracurriculars to better apply to the questions
- you can save a lot of time when actually writing the essays at the time of application
- you'll have a much longer time to perfect your essay
- you can write many more drafts, which can help your essay ultimately become better
This is one of the most beneficial college prep steps you can take this summer!
7. Make an application timeline
This is the crux of your summer college prep checklist! Once you've completed all the above steps, you are ready to set your sights on the future.
An application timeline should span from the present day all the way to when you intend to graduate high school. For example, if you are a rising junior, your application timeline should go from now (assuming you've completed the above steps) all the way to June 2022.
In this timeline, there are a number of factors you should account for. The timeline should note when:
- you are taking the SAT/ACT (if needed)
- you are taking AP tests (if needed)
- you are taking SAT Subject Tests (if needed)
- you are pursuing your extracurriculars
- note down project start/end times if your extracurricular is a self-guided project
- you need your final transcript by
- you are starting to write your essays (usually the summer before senior year)
- you are starting your application for each school
- applications open for each school
- applications close for each school
- early action/early decision dates
- when intent-to-register forms are due
- and anything else that may pertain to you
This is obviously not an all-inclusive list. Your actual application timeline will be centered around you and your profile as an applicant.
Making this application timeline shouldn't be hard! Platforms like Google Calendar or Plan make it a breeze to schedule events in advance. If you want, you can even make your application timeline in your bullet journal!
And that's a wrap! This summer college prep to-to list will set you up for success in your future endeavors, and maybe you'll have fun while doing it too!
If you have any more suggestions for summer college prep, drop them in the comments below.