Welcome to just-before-senior-year crunch time. As a junior, you worked like crazy and gave it everything you had to make your academic skills shine. Once school starts, it’s time to begin the process to find, apply, and get into college. You’ll put the finishing touches on your applications, cross your fingers, and hope for the best.
But what about right now, before the rush starts?
We know you want to do some binge-level relaxing, but you can still sneak that in after getting a jump on your applications.
College admissions professionals recommend starting your applications as soon as possible so you can bring them to a high polish and make your application shine. Putting everything together early helps you avoid the massive pile up of last-minute applications that flood college admissions offices sometime in January. Plus, the more time you give yourself to finish everything, the better chance to avoid any application-exploding mistakes.
So here are the first six things you should do right now, before your senior year, to get a head start on your applications.
Finalize Your List of Schools
If you haven’t narrowed your list down to the schools you’re really serious about—serious enough to plunk down the fee and complete the application process—then do that first.
Here are a few tips on the mix of schools to include in your final application list. Most experts recommend including a “safety school” in there, just in case.
Sure, you probably visited your fair share of campuses and perused countless college websites. With so many to choose from, we know it’s a tough decision, but you can’t move on until you make it. Make your picks and move ahead.
Map Out Your Application Timeline
After finalizing your school list, it’s time to get yourself organized. On a computer spreadsheet or good old pen and paper, list your schools and the application deadlines for each one. Be sure to include scholarship and financial aid deadlines, as well.
urself on track by putting all of these deadlines into your favorite calendar app, with alarms to remind you about the milestones you want to hit along the way (things like completing your essays, asking for recommendations, and so on). You might also want to check out some of the apps designed specifically for this purpose.
Study to Retake the SAT/ACTs (If You Need It)
Not happy with how your standardized tests went last spring?
Luckily, you can take the SAT or ACT again this fall. Summer makes the perfect time to study for standardized tests. You might even enroll in an SAT or ACT prep course.
If you take the tests more than once, remember that most colleges “superscore” SAT or ACT results—meaning they only look at your highest section scores, no matter how many times you take the test—but not all schools do. If one of your schools is on that second list, balance the risk of doing worse the second time around when deciding whether to retest.
Gather Ideas for Your Essays
All things being equal, the quality of your application essay may be the deciding factor between you and some other hopeful applicant. The more thought and preparation you can put into it, the better.
If one or more of your schools use the Common Application, you already know what you’ll be writing about. In fact, we have the Common App writing prompts right here.
Because it’s summer and you’ve got a nice cushion of time before your applications are due, try using a mind mapping exercise to organize your thoughts around the essay prompts. Then, choose to develop your thoughts for the prompts that seem to have the most potential.
For some schools, the Common App essay is optional. This post will help you decide whether it’s worth writing or not.
Search for Outside Scholarships
When you apply for financial aid, most schools automatically consider you for their scholarships. (A few school-specific scholarships may have additional requirements, however, so be sure to ask your Admissions contact about that.)
But there’s also a whole world of scholarships offered by companies, non-profit organizations, and community groups that might help make up the difference between your financial aid package and what you can actually afford. Free money for college is always a good thing.
Deadlines for outside scholarships vary, so start your search early to avoid scrambling at the last minute to write essays and submit applications while juggling everything else at the same time. If you live in Indiana, here are few scholarships to look at.
One college admissions pro tells his own kids, “I pay for the applications completed before Labor Day, but after that, [you are] responsible for the fees.” His point: sending your applications early eases the stress of an already stressful last year of high school.
Here are some tips on navigating the Common App to get you started. Now it’s up to you—make the extra time this summer and get to work! (You’ll thank us later. Really.)
If you need more help staying on track throughout the college application process, click below to get your free copy of our “Ultimate College Decision Timeline.”