THE BLOG
06/02/2014 06:23 pm ET Updated Aug 02, 2014

4 Things Rising Seniors Can Do This Summer to Get an Upper Hand On College Admissions

Congratulations on completing your junior year! My advice is to take a few days now to do exactly what you want before jumping into your summer activities. (It's probably a good idea to get your parents' blessing to relax. If they give you any trouble, tell them that I told you to do it.) We all need to rest up after an intense period of work and/or activities; it's the healthy thing to do.

A FIRST PIECE OF ADVICE
Once you get their nod, then spend time with friends, sleep in, go to the beach, lake, river or local swimming pool, read, daydream, play video games, go to a movie, shop, take a road trip alone or with friends, work-out or even engage in nothing. Do whatever it means to take good care of yourself. Once you've gotten some energy back, then start your summer activities, whether that's work, volunteering, summer school, something else, or more likely, a combination of several things.

ANOTHER PIECE OF ADVICE
I also have another piece of advice: carve out time -- like two or three hours a week -- to get started on your college applications. Literally mark in your cell phone or calendar a block of time that says, "College Admissions" every week until school begins again in the fall.

Now, I can just imagine you're thinking, "What are you? Crazy? College admissions during the summer?!" As the saying goes, "Crazy like a FOX!" Many years of being a college admissions counselor have shown me that the applicants who are most successful begin the admissions process during summer before their senior year. How come? Applications begun early tend to be more carefully, thoroughly and even creatively done. If you're not convinced, have a look at HuffPost blog, "The Top Six Reasons Why a Student Would Start Working on a College Application VERY Early."

If you are convinced, here is what to do:

FOUR THINGS TO DO TO GET AN UPPER HAND ON COLLEGE ADMISSIONS

1. COME UP WITH A GREAT COLLEGE LIST
Deciding where to apply to college is the first, most important action you should take this summer. Have a look at "NOW is the Time for Rising High School Seniors to Find and Choose Colleges They're Going to Love" for step-by-step directions in identifying colleges that are "best" for you. Where do you get information to figure out if colleges fit you? There are many excellent resources identified in "15 Awesome Online and Hard Copy Resources for Finding Colleges You Love." It also doesn't hurt to have a look at sample college lists, available in "Seven Steps to Putting Together a Great College List." Finally, it's really important that you know what kind of financial aid might be available to you. You can find information about this at "What High School Students (and Their Parents) Can Do to Get the Most Financial/Merit Aid for College."

2. MAKE CONTACT WITH SCHOOLS ON YOUR LIST
At a recent National Association for College Admission Counseling convention, presenters reported that colleges are turning down some otherwise qualified students, often for no reason other than the students had no contact with them before turning in their applications. "Demonstrated interest" is a term used by colleges to note the quantity and quality of contact students have with admissions offices that indicate students' likelihood to enroll if offered admission. You see, colleges don't like to have their offers of acceptance turned down; that affects their acceptance rates.

This summer is a perfect time for you to begin making contacts. Here are some ways how:

  • Go to colleges' websites and sign up to be on their admissions mailing list.
  • Call respective college admissions offices, find out who the admissions representatives assigned to your high school are (and their email addresses) and send emails letting them know of your interest in their schools.
  • Visit colleges and see about getting personal interviews at the different admissions offices.
  • Sign up for college fairs held in your hometown so that you can personally meet college reps.


3. HELP PEOPLE KNOW WHO YOU ARE; PUT TOGETHER AN ACTIVITIES RESUME

After test scores and grades, admissions officers look for how and where you spend your time, including the quality, depth and length of involvement. They don't really care about the content of what you do, just that you really "dig it." An activities resume is a college admissions "secret weapon" because of its power to help others "get" who you are.

Having a well-done, easy-to-read resume makes completing applications much easier as it organizes all you have done over the years. A resume also enhances your ability to find a theme and/or focus for your applications, and especially good topics for the application essay questions. You can give a resume to your high school counselor, teachers and others who write your recommendations and also to college reps and interviewers.

A model and sample activities resumes can be found under the Examples/Lists tab on my free website, www.admissionpossible.com

4. GET A HEAD-START ON COLLEGE APPLICATIONS, ESPECIALLY THE ESSAY QUESTIONS

While each phase of the college admissions process is important, nothing is more important than filling out your college applications. Every year, I suggest that students complete at least one application before school starts. By doing this, you can get a real jumpstart on the admissions process. Everything else will then fall into place.

In general, there are three kinds of applications.

A. Public Colleges and Universities
Most public colleges and universities have their own applications. You can find them by going to individual college websites. Some apps are available now; others will become available throughout the summer. Some public schools now use The Common Application.

B. The Common Application
The Common App is used by 500+ colleges and universities. Their website shuts down on July 1 to get ready for the new admissions season, but is available again on August 1. For a look at their application, go to the Common App website.

C. The Universal College Application
This application, used by 49 colleges and universities including Harvard, Princeton, Chicago, Brandeis and Colgate, will be available to complete as of July 1, although you can view a copy of their app right now.

In order to increase your chances for admission, I urge you make your applications "over the top" excellent, in other words, better than the competition's. Here are some tips about how to do that:

  • Make sure the application is neat, accurate, and without any misspellings or grammatical errors.
  • Follow the application directions to a "T;" pay special attention to exactly what the essay questions ask of you.
  • As you answer questions, describe, explain, and give details about everything, remembering to stay within the word count.
  • Ask a trusted parent, teacher, mentor to proofread everything you do. This is REALLY important!

One of the best ways of using your summer time is to get started writing answers to the application essay questions. For public colleges and universities, each will have their own essay prompts, although some schools don't have any essay questions. So that you won't have to go on a hunting expedition for essay prompts, here are the questions for The Common Application and the Universal College Application:

THE COMMON APPLICATION
The Common Application has announced that the Personal Statement Essay and Additional Information Essay questions are the same as last year's. The instructions are to write an essay of no more than 650 words (no less than 250 words) on one of five questions. Here are the Common App Essay questions:

A. Personal Statement

1. Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

2. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?

3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

4. Describe a place or an environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood without your culture, community or family.

B. Additional Information
Write about relevant circumstances or qualifications not reflected elsewhere in the application in no more than 650 words (no minimum limit).

UNIVERSAL COLLEGE APPLICATION
The Universal College Application has three essay questions, one short, one long and another with no word count.

A. Activity Description
Tell us more about one of your extracurricular, volunteer or employment activities (100-150 words).

B. Personal Statement
Please write an essay (500 words or fewer) that demonstrates your ability to develop and communicate your thoughts. Some ideas include a person you admire; a life-changing experience; or your viewpoint on a particular current event.

C. Additional Information
If you have additional information that was not specifically request on the application or did not fit in the space provided, feel free to include it here. (No word count)

Here are some thoughts about how to go about writing the best possible essays you can.

  • Set aside a block of time in a place that is free of distractions.
  • Identify the essay prompt you are going to answer.
  • Brainstorm ideas for topics that might answer the question; choose a topic and then brainstorm ideas for the content. Be sure to take notes as you do the brainstorming.
  • Think about stories that you might tell in the essay.
  • Write a first draft.
  • Edit you essay and then give it to someone you trust to edit and proofread.
  • Set the essay aside and then give it one final proofread. Then it's done.

If you want more information about writing application essays, there are a number of HuffPost blogs on the topic, including "7 Steps to Writing a Captivating One-of-a-Kind College Application Essay," and "6 Terrific Pieces of Advice for Writing College Application Essays."

I hope this advice and links to resources help you to start working on college applications soon. It might seem like a bother now, but when school starts up again in the fall, you will be so relieved to have some work already done!