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How to Make the Best Use of Summer Vacation to Prepare for College Admissions

The college admissions process is notorious and tedious -- and highly rewarding. It is made up of several moving parts, and calls for a great deal of work.

With the end of the school year, the summer is a great time for students in high school to get ahead on the college admissions process without having to worry about attending school or completing assignments.

How can high school students make the best use of their time during the summer to work on their college admissions process?

For rising freshmen and sophomores:

Start PSAT/SAT/ACT prep

During the sophomore year, the PSAT is a “practice run” and starting point from which to make goals. Sophomores can take advantage of the summer to start preparing for the PSAT and even the SAT or ACT. While not every college and university requires standardized tests, it is better to be prepared.

Maintain “summer versions” of sports and extracurricular activities, and complete volunteer hours

College admissions officers will look for consistency of activities across four years. For rising freshmen, take time to nail down which activities or sports will become commitments. At the varsity level, sports recruiters want to see a progression and a four-year commitment. Join a travel team or work with a coach. For a student involved in visual or performing arts, the summer is a great time to refine a skill. Take classes, be part of performances, enter an art show. Additionally, underclassmen can use the summer to be part of a volunteer commitment or project. Community service hours and unique volunteer experiences stand out on applications.

For rising juniors:

Continue both of the above suggestions/goals

Junior year is standardized test year for both the SAT and ACT. Additionally, during the junior year, the PSAT also serves as the qualifying exam for students to be named National Merit scholars. National Merit offers generous scholarships, and the designation of National Merit finalist on a college application will stand out. Take as many practice tests as possible. The key to mastering the PSAT, SAT or ACT is not the test material itself, but learning how to take the test successfully and efficiently. As far as sports, extracurriculars, and volunteer hours, consistency and commitment are key; however, prepare to obtain a leadership role (a team captain, a lead role, a first chair, an executive board position) once school begins, and make a plan for how that role will be acquired.

Start visiting colleges

The summer is a great time to make a preliminary visit to a college. Students won’t be around campus, but a “bare bones” look can often eliminate a college from a list of choices thanks to basic deal-breakers (too far from home, too close to home, campus is too large or too small, etc.). Find out when open houses and visits are available during the school year and make appointments to return.

For rising seniors:

Prepare for applications and essays

Research application requirements, find out if the Common Application is accepted, and learn the essay prompts for each school of choice -- and then write drafts of essays. Make a list of teachers and mentors who can write letters of recommendation. Compile a calendar of application deadlines. If any video packages, portfolios, or recordings are required, or if sports scouts need to make a visit to a game, find out now. Have an editable resume ready by the time school starts.

Make decisions regarding standardized test scores

Opportunities in the fall to re-take the SAT or ACT are limited. If a student wants one more chance to improve scores, make an appointment now.

Continue with activities, sports, volunteer projects, and leadership roles

Rinse and repeat from the rising junior column here.

Complete an internship, if possible

An internship in a specialized field, or any internship at all, as a high school student is a glowing resume item. If one is available, take it. An internship is also a great way to secure a letter of recommendation from someone other than a teacher or coach.

Research scholarship and financial aid options

The FAFSA is a tedious application. Learn the deadlines. Find out if any colleges and universities of choice offer merit scholarships based on GPA and/or standardized test scores. Research other scholarships and their requirements.

Advance preparation during the summer makes for a much easier process during the school year, when time is at a premium thanks to homework, classwork, studying for tests and AP/IB exams, sports practices, rehearsals, club meetings, and all associated activities. But by the time senior year arrives, a student should be ready for a busy schedule -- and should also be able to enjoy the final year of high school. Stay organized, stay focused, make good use of time, and stick to a schedule. The reward will be worth it.

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As a speaker and author, my focus is to train emerging and seasoned leaders to align strategy with equity, change and communication.

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