College application season is an exciting time for high school students, but the multitude of options and the wealth of information available can make it feel a little overwhelming. Here are a few ways you can get a head start on the process this summer.
Determine what’s important:
There are thousands of colleges in the United States. How do you choose? Typically, it’s a process of narrowing down from what often starts as a long list.
First, examine what’s important to you. Do you want a big school or a smaller one? Big schools offer more activities and options, but the trade-off is larger classes and less recognition. Consider location, climate, distance from home and ease of travel.
Are you looking for a particular academic program or major? Does the school offer, or is it located near, the types of leisure activities you enjoy? Are fraternities and sororities an integral part of campus life? Is cost a factor? Can you get your degree in four years?
Once you establish some basic criteria, start your research. You’ll soon hone in on the factors most important to you and shorten your list.
Line up references:
Most teachers are happy to write recommendations for students, but popular teachers get more requests than they have time to accommodate, so ask soon—even though you won’t need the letters until the fall. That way, you’ll have references from the teachers who know you the best and think the most highly of you.
Prepare an Activity Summary:
Schools want to know what you’re involved in beyond grades and test scores. Prepare a summary of clubs, athletics, work, community service and leadership activities you’ve been involved in throughout high school.
Include dates, number of weekly hours, brief descriptions and any honors or awards. You’ll use the summary as a reference when you fill out your applications, and some schools will allow you to attach it to your application to provide additional detail.
Plan College Visits:
If you have time to visit colleges before you apply, do it. You’ll get valuable ammunition to help make your applications stand out. If this isn’t possible, set aside time for visits prior to the May 1 standard deadline to accept admission offers and mark it on your calendar. Try to visit schools when they’re in session to get the best feel for the atmosphere of each campus.
Ponder Essay Questions:
Writing college essays can be great fun because they’re about something you’re an expert on: you! Many schools use the same questions, or "prompts," every year, so check recent application forms on the websites of the schools you're interested in.
Prompts are typically very broad, so you can decide what to write about within a general topic. Think about elements of your background, personality, experience or goals schools would be most interested in and consider how to communicate these elements within your essays.
offers classes and private consulting on the college application process and writing college and scholarship essays that shine.