Heading into your senior year and gearing up to apply for college can be stressful. But if you stay organized and take things one step at a time, it’s all manageable. We’ve got some advice about what to keep track of, so you’re prepared to submit stellar applications and nothing slips through the cracks.
Meet college representatives and visit colleges.
Pay attention to when college representatives may be hosting events and fairs at your school or town. These events are a great way to get to know more about a college and to let the colleges know you’re serious about wanting to attend. When making admissions decisions, some schools will consider how likely it is that a student will enroll, so demonstrated interest can make a difference.
One way to demonstrate your interest is by asking thoughtful questions that aren’t quickly answered by looking on the school website. You can learn a lot about what’s important to you in a college by engaging college reps in conversation.
In a similar vein, if there are any colleges on your list that you haven’t been able to visit yet, we recommend you do so if you’re able to early in the fall. There’s nothing quite like stepping foot on campus to give you the real vibe of a college; it can often tell you whether you can really picture yourself there.
Decide if you’ll apply to college early.
If any of the schools you’re keen on offer Early Decision (ED) or Early Action (EA) application plans, summer is a great time to start strategizing those early applications. Determine when those applications are due (usually November 1st or 15th) and work out a timeline for meeting those deadlines.
Ideally, you won’t be waiting to hit “submit” on the day the application is due! So, ask yourself, what do you need in order to submit the strongest application possible in a few months? Your college or guidance counselor can be a great resource for helping you get organized.
Don’t wait until school starts to get started.
Summer is the perfect time to start on your Common App. It’s a good idea to get a feel for how the platform works and fine-tune your activities list before starting to brainstorm your main essay. You’ll feel much more confident about beginning your senior year if you already have some sections filled out and your personal statement underway by the time school starts.
Once your Common App personal statement is finished, you can focus on getting your supplemental essays written in September and October. You’ll be so glad you got an early start when those November ED/EA deadlines roll around!
Map out how many supplemental essays you’ll need to write and try to set target dates for each essay’s completion so you’re not racing against the clock at the last minute.
Review your testing results.
If you’re taking standardized tests (and we recommend that you do), take some time to reflect on your performance so far. Look at the average range of test scores at the schools you’re considering; you’ll want scores at the top end of that range. If your scores aren’t quite where they need to be, ask yourself if you could significantly improve them without losing focus on school or other parts of your application.
When deciding whether to retest in the fall, keep in mind that you’ll need to check whether your ED and EA schools will accept scores from November tests.
Follow up with letter writers.
By the fall of your senior year, you should have a clear idea of who you want to write your letters of recommendation, and ideally, they’ll have already agreed. But keep in mind that just like students, teachers are busy people. Once a recommender has agreed to write a letter for you, make sure that they have everything they need to write about you most accurately.
If there are significant experiences, accomplishments, or other considerations that you think your recommenders need to know about you when drafting your letters, reach out to them and let them know.
It’s also important to stay in communication with your recommenders well in advance of the application deadlines and let them know how to submit their recommendations (Via email? Via an online portal? In a physical letter form?). Remember that your recommenders will also be writing for many other students as well, so do what you can to help them keep track of what you need and when. Your recommenders are doing you a big favor—make it as easy for them as you can!
Keep working on your Common Application.
The demographic information on your Common App is considered just as carefully as your essays, so it’s important to be thorough and accurate. The Common App asks for your address, your parents’ educational history, and information on your high school(s). These questions help colleges understand where you come from and gain further context on your application. Filling out the nitty-gritties can be time consuming. You don’t want to leave this to the last minute!
Keep your grades up.
No senioritis! Your senior year grades are important. Applications submitted in the Regular Decision cycle will contain your first semester grades, and even schools where you apply ED or EA are likely to ask for a midterm report.
If you think you can slack off once your applications are submitted, just think ahead to what you’ll do if you’re deferred in an early admissions round or waitlisted in Regular Decision. When you go to write a letter of continued interest, you’ll want to be able to say that you’ve had a productive and successful senior fall. And even if you’re accepted, the hard truth is that your acceptance could be rescinded if your grades drop significantly or you get into trouble.
Prepare for interviews.
Once you’ve submitted your early applications, put some thought into preparing for potential interviews. While not all schools offer interviews (and not all that do place a lot of weight on them), it’s still a good idea to accept an interview if given the chance—and if you think you can do well!
Interviewers are usually admissions officers or alumni, so this can also be an opportunity for you and a college to get to know each other better. As you move through the application process, don’t forget to check out our guide to interview prep.
October is a busy time of year with college application deadlines getting closer and schoolwork to juggle. On top of everything else, you’ll also have to maintain leadership positions in your extracurriculars and show admissions officers that you’ve made an impact in your community. The good news is that with a little foresight and planning, the next few months don’t have to be super stressful—so start now!