pineapple by the pool

by Lauren Randle, former admissions officer at Georgetown University

It’s been a tough few months, but you weathered it, and the school year is finally wrapping up. For the juniors, you might be feeling exhausted from all that the last semester brought and the ways you’ve had to adapt. My sincerest hope for you is that you’re able to return to school next fall and resume the things that make a high school experience: activities, close friendships, traditions. I want you to have that time to enjoy as a senior with as little stress as possible.

So here is my message to rising seniors: now is not the time for a break. Now is the time to get it done. Ok, fine, maybe a few Netflix or TikTok breaks are warranted, but your goal is to walk into senior year with as much of your college application work finished as humanly possible. I’m expecting a few eye-rolls here … how can you be expected to apply to college during a pandemic?! But I’m not challenging you to apply today. I’m challenging you to set yourself up to be ready to submit applications so that you have one less thing to stress out over in 12th grade.

These are the items I encourage you to have DONE before you officially start senior year:

  1. Talk to your family. After several months of being stuck at home, this may be the last thing you want to do, but you need to have a conversation now about your/their expectations around college options. Has the current state of things altered where you are willing to attend college? Have financial matters impacted your options? Maybe nothing has changed for your list, but it’s important to make sure you are all on the same page.
  2. Make a decision on testing. With many colleges moving to test-optional policies, you may have a decision to make on whether you want to take/retake the SAT/ACT this fall. If you think strong test scores are within your reach and you have the time and energy to prep for an exam, take it! If you think you can use your summer to make the other pieces of your applications stronger and testing won’t help much, skip it! But make sure you know the updated testing policies for each college you are considering so you can plan accordingly.
  3. Ask for letters of recommendation. Many colleges request at least one letter of recommendation from a high school teacher, and we typically suggest that teacher be from an 11th grade core academic class. As long as you have at least one college on your list that requires a recommendation, you should ask for it now. If you are worried about asking an 11th grade teacher because your school has moved to Pass/Fail grades for the semester, don’t be. Colleges are more concerned about what teachers have to say about you than the grade.
  4. Open a Common App and/or Coalition App account and start filling it out. Chances are there is at least one college on your list that will use either the Common App or Coalition App. Even if you do not have your list finalized yet, you can complete the “common” part (biographical information, school and coursework, your activity list, etc.) of the Common/Coalition App now.
  5. Write your personal statement. While you don’t yet know what supplemental essays may be required from the colleges where you are applying, you do know that you’ll need to write that one main essay for the Common/Coalition App. This essay is important and the writing process takes time. Start now! The goal is to be 100% finished with this before you start back to school so that you can free up time in the fall to focus on the supplemental essays for your finalized list of colleges.
  6. Narrow down your college list. The tough reality for current juniors is that it’s likely you will have to make decisions regarding your college list without having visited as many campuses as you may have wanted. Take advantage of the many virtual tours and events colleges are providing, and decide which sites/resources are the most helpful to you in your research. The goal is for you to start senior year with a shortlist of colleges you are still interested in, all of which meet your fit criteria and are also spread across the selectivity spectrum. In other words, your goal is a balanced list you are excited about!

If you cross off the items listed above (or even some of them!) over the summer, you will have made the fall much easier for yourself and created more time to relish all the fun stuff missed this past semester. Above all else, your charge is to get excited about next year and beyond. Hopefully, working on things that ARE still within your control will be a positive reminder that the future is bright and you’re still moving forward.

College Application Prep 101

Written by Lauren Randle
Lauren Randle is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Prior to joining College Coach, Lauren worked as a senior admissions officer at Georgetown University and previously held positions in college counseling at Malvern Preparatory School and the Canadian International School of Hong Kong. Visit our website to learn more about Lauren Randle.