04/26/2011 04:36 pm ET Updated Jun 26, 2011

Summer Is a Rising Senior's Best Resource

Junior spring and senior fall can easily become unmanageable for students who are not only trying to maintain a blemish-free transcript of advanced coursework but also preparing for the ACT or SAT, AP exams, SAT subject tests, performing community service, and filling out college applications. But does it have to be like this? Is there any way for college-bound high school students to avoid this late crunch? Absolutely. If they make the most of their time in June, July and August, the summer can be an excellent resource. The following are just a few suggestions for a rising-senior summer.

Let's begin with the SAT subject tests since it is about this time of year that rising seniors begin to study for the June exams. The more popular subject tests -- US History, Biology, Chemistry, and Math II -- cover overwhelming amounts of material. Corresponding curricula of high school courses almost never comprehensively prepare students for these exams. Making matters worse, the finals period for many independent schools in the Northeast is the first week of June, the same time that the SAT subject tests are offered. So, for those students, the most sensible thing to do is postpone taking the SAT subject tests until October or November (when they are offered again) and take advantage of the summer months for preparation.

While rising seniors are studying a little each day to stay prepared for the fall SAT subject tests, they should also consider starting to work on their college applications. Most students are aware of the importance of a strong common application essay and some, wisely, begin over the summer. Few, however, prepare for the slew of supplemental essays often required by colleges and universities. These essays are designed to determine how serious an applicant is about attending a particular institution. Admission officers frequently equate a poor supplemental essay with a half-hearted interest in their institution and rely heavily on them to weed out applications. Therefore, it is prudent for students to do them while they still have the time. Missing out on a few days of leisure will feel well worth it when regular decision admission applications are due.

The summer is also the perfect time to prepare for the ACT and SAT, which, like the SAT subject tests, are administered several times throughout the fall. By June, although most rising seniors have taken one of these exams, many are not entirely pleased with their scores. And since most college counselors recommend their students give it a second chance, it begs the question of how best to prepare. While general test preparation boosts scores, it will not be sufficient to remedy deeper academic deficiencies. A weak vocabulary, for example, can't be improved through rushed practice once or twice a week. However, with sensitivity to an appropriate level of intensity, a daily summer vocabulary regiment can drastically improve verbal standardized test scores. Accordingly, the summer prescription for rising seniors is: do take some time off, but don't entirely turn off your brain!