Being Smart on Summer Vacation — Seniors Take Note


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It’s Saturday August 1 at this writing, but you won’t hear any talk from this educator about the end of summer. Not yet! The glass is still almost half full, and, as a 45-year old man, I put a lot of stock in the half that’s still there. Continue to beach it, golf it, camp it, work it– whatever you’re doing to recharge those batteries in preparation for the new school year. I apologize in advance for the length of this blog, but it’s all intended to help (okay, I’ll model some honesty here, and increase sales ;-)).

Even though I am well aware of the definition of vacation, it’s still a great idea to make SOME ACADEMICALLY PRODUCTIVE USE of the summer, to off-load some of the stress and pressure that awaits us all in September and beyond.  I’ve written previously about relatively painless ways to leave the competition behind with a modicum of time and effort devoted to college admissions positioning, regardless of what grade you’re in.  If you’re an in-coming senior (woot woot!), read on; if you’re an in-coming underclassperson, it may be more useful to read my archived blogs, “Painless Ways to Get Ahead this Summer” and “Summer Reading.”  Quick notes to in-coming JUNIORS: 1) See Countdown to PSATs below (check with your school to see whether you’re on for 10/14 or 10/17).  2) Read my archived blog, “PSATS: When, What, How, & Why?” and sign up for some PSAT prep if you haven’t yet.  3) Plan to study for ACTs and SATs throughout this ugly year (sorry, but no sense hiding from the truth).  Why both? See my archived blogs, “SATs or ACTs?” and “ACTs vs SATs Revisited: A Closer Look at the ACTs.”

What follows is a list of to-do’s for those of you sallying forth on the college application path proper, that is, actually writing and submitting applications this fall. Some of what follows is reprinted from my archived blog, In-Coming Senior To-Do’s.

There are four general areas about which you can be pro-active in the waning weeks of your final high school summer:

1. Application To-Do’s

2. Standardized (Re-)Testing Plans

3. College Fairs, Visits, and Interviews

4. Mental Preparation for 2009-’10 Academics and Extracurriculars

1. Application To-Do’s: By now you should have a list of potential colleges from your guidance counselor. If not, get on that, like, yesterday.

a. Spend some time on your colleges’ website and, in consultation with your family and guidance counselor, begin to narrow your list to those to which you are going to apply. Visit the schools’ sites regularly: rumor has it that they are beginning to track such information.  Hey, you can make it a habit to check your favorite schools’ sports sections or goings-on on campus.  That counts.

b. Register (for free) on the Common Application website. ( The Common Application is an easy way to consolidate your work and to submit your applications electronically via the web.  MOST, NOT ALL, schools accept the common application.

c. For schools that do not participate in the Common App program, request (via their sites, email, or phone) that an application be sent to your home as soon as it becomes available.

d. Load up your “My Colleges” section of the CommonApp site with the schools on your list (it will be self-evident how to do this).  This step is NOT BINDING; you can add schools and delete schools at will as you refine your final list.  You will note that EACH SCHOOL HAS A DIFFERENT “SUPPLEMENT” section, with college-specific items to address (i.e., questions to answer, e.g., “Why do you want to apply to ———-?”)

  1. e. Make a chart of all your application deadlines (some have a preliminary filing deadline as well as a final application deadline).
  2. f.  Review the Common App’s five choices for your main essay and start thinking about which one is best for you. Avail yourself of CollegePrepExpress’seconomical video- and email-based essay editing services to make it the best it can be. You are WELL-ADVISED to get your personal essay DONE (not started) BEFORE school starts.
  3. g. If you haven’t yet asked teachers for letters of recommendation, get that done in the first week of school.  There is a right way and a wrong way to do this and yes, it DOES matter whom you ask: ask us for advice if you need it. Give them all a filled-out CollegePrepExpress “College Recommendation Form” to help them write about common themes and emphasize your strengths (you can download the form from the private download section on our site).

2. Standardized Test Plans:

a. In consultation with your family, guidance counselor, andCollegePrepExpress, decide whether you are going to (re-)take the SAT Reasoning Test, SAT Subject Test(s), and/or the ACT.  Click here for the 2009-10CollegePrepExpress SAT/ACT Planning Calendar.  Remember that many schools that require either the SAT or the ACT also require two Subject Tests if you choose the College Board route.

b. Register for the exams. You’d be amazed at how many people forget and have to pay late fees and/or go stand-by, which is highly disconcerting to say the least.

c. Sign up ASAP for CollegePrepExpress’s tutoring or a small class so that you can get into the swing of taking practice tests and studying BEFORE school starts!

3. College Fairs, Visits, and Interviews:

a. Find out when and where the college fairs are this fall in your area and go to them.

b. Visit the booths of the schools on your list and ask lots of questions.  Just being there will help get and keep your head in the game.

c. Plan to visit as many colleges on your list as possible; take tours and go to the info sessions while you’re there. If you can set up an overnight with someone you know (or someone you don’t, which can be arranged through each school’s admissions office), that’s even better.  Go to some lectures and see what the students do for fun after class.  Participate as if you were a student there.

d. Call each school’s admissions office and schedule a campus or alumni interview wherever possible.

e. Enroll in a private two-session package with a CollegePrepExpress interview specialist (all of whom have worked FOR YEARS as interviewers in the field– we’re talkining Dartmouth, Tufts, and Brandeis). Forewarned is forearmed: you can know all the questions and have prepared answers in advance!

4. Mental Preparation for Senior Year Academics and Extracurriculars. Yes, you get to have a “senior slide.”  But not yet!  Throughout the fal  of senior year, you want to show colleges a transcript of your most rigorous courses and the very best grades of your career.

a. Ensure you are registered for the most rigorous curriculum for which you are qualified.

b. Be a total geek from day one: sit up front, take copious notes, do ALL the homework, ask questions, and shoot for all A’s.

c. Continue to pursue your athletic and extracurricular activities with a mind toward leaving the very best legacy of which you are capable.

I’m not going to pretend this isn’t a tall order, but the good news is that the fall of  your senior year is a short tunnel with a scintillating light at its end.  Get some tunnel vision and as the good people at Nike like to say, Just Do It!  Then, and only then, enjoy your SLIDE!

As always, we’re here to help and we LOVE what we do.  Work hard and practice the Golden Rule: Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You!


About CollegePrepExpress

The primary purpose of CollegePrepExpress, LLC is to help students get into their top secondary schools, colleges, and graduate schools and to reduce stress surrounding the entire admissions process.

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