Summer College Prep Guidlines for Rising Seniors

Summer College Prep Guidlines for Rising Seniors

Julia Ennis , Managing Editor

For most of us, summer vacation is an opportunity to take a break and relax. However, for rising seniors, summer is just the beginning of a huge wave of college application prep work. I went through it last year, as did all of my friends, and, I promise, we all made it out alive. Still, I would love to offer some advice derived from experience to make the process less overwhelming. Here, incoming seniors, is your summer to-do list:

Ask for recommendations

If you haven’t asked at least two teachers for recommendations yet, it is time to get on that. Please, please, please, don’t be that guy who thinks it’s okay to wait until September to ask for recommendations (it’s not). Make sure that you give these teachers a detailed high school resume that is up to date so that they can write as specific of a recommendation as possible.

Pro Tip: Shoot these teachers a “hello” email or two over the summer. Not only will they look more positively on your politeness when writing your recommendations, but you will also stay fresh in their brains.

Research schools

This is your most important project this summer, and you should not slouch. Believe me when I say that a good number of the graduating seniors (including yours truly) are going to schools that they only discovered through extensive summer research. You think that you have an idea of what schools you are going to apply to now, but until you have scoured Naviance and CollegeBoard, you really don’t.

Pro Tip: make a list of your non-negotiables for a college that you will attend (for example, mine were city school, East coast, good communications program) and use that as your jumping-off-point for research.

Begin application essays

The Common App essay takes longer to write than you might imagine, and, chances are, you will write several versions of it before you make a final choice of what to send in. Have a list of topic ideas by the end of June, and at least a couple rough drafts before the end of August. Approaching it leisurely over the summer will make the experience less stressful come crunch time, when the application deadline is looming.

Pro Tip: don’t just think about the big essay. There are also other short essays that you will have to write, such as supplement essays, which will primarily concern topics like extracurricular activities and meaningful experiences.

Start thinking about finances

The summer before senior year is the best time to begin the conversation with your family about how college will be paid for. Will the conversation be a fun one? Probably not. But God forbid you and your parents are on different pages, at least you will have the summer to start saving up.

Pro Tip: if you have a summer job, start saving college spending money now, even if you don’t think that you will need it. It is always a good idea to have rainy-day money.

But don’t waste your time worrying about:

Visiting Schools

Unfortunately, summer is not a great time to plan a college tour. Yes, you have the time, and yes, schools do hold summer tours, but if there are no students on campus, you will not get the real feel of a school. Visiting is extremely important to show interest, just wait until late August or early September to go, when you can observe the regular hustle and bustle.


While you can start researching potential scholarships, keep in mind that you cannot apply for most until AFTER you make a college decision. Your time is better spent focusing on the Common Application essays.