The Essential Summer Checklist for Rising High School Seniors

Joseph Novinson

Géraldine Guillermin

Ready or not, your teen’s senior year of high school is about to begin. And with it comes a litany of tasks, many of which will be related to the college application process.

The good news is that that there are several things you can do over the summer to make your fall a little easier. With this logic, we’ve put together a simple checklist for parents of rising high school seniors. Put on a coat of sunscreen, find your favorite hammock, shady spot on the lawn, or soothing stretch of beach, and review these summer college prep essentials.

1). Review your college search list

At this point, you’ve likely visited most (if not all) of the schools on your rising senior’s college search list. Take some time and go over their matches again, carefully discussing the pros and cons of each. Be sure to keep the price tag out of the conversation at this early stage, focusing instead on the academic and social aspects of each school. Why? It’s too early to start eliminating colleges based on sticker prices, as you won’t know what you’ll be asked to pay until your financial aid award letters arrive (months after they’ve applied).

2). Start brainstorming ideas for your college essays

Unfortunately, most students who apply regular decision will put off writing their college essays until October (or later). And while it might be difficult to convince your teen to crank out a first-draft during the summer, a more realistic approach would be to ask them to generate a list of college essay ideas before the first day of the new school year. If they accomplish this, have them write essay outlines before school starts—an investment that will prove its worth once they begin juggling regular classwork, extracurriculars, and additional application tasks.

3). Contact a teacher, tutor, or professional writing coach now

Some high school English departments integrate the college essay into their lesson plans. Others do not. If your teen is in the latter camp, be sure to lockdown the teacher, tutor, or writing coach who is going to assist them with their college essays as soon as possible.

Remember, a solid admissions essay usually requires a minimum of three drafts, which means a lot of editing, emails, and messages in a short amount of time. That’s why most professional college planning companies and writing coaches will be fully booked by late August (if not before). So, whether going with a teacher, family friend, or a private writing coach, you should avoid the headache of waitlists and sort it out now.

4). Make a list of all your supplemental application materials

The college planning game is all about organization. Whether applying via the Common App, separate applications, or both methods, your teen should begin creating a list of all the supplemental application materials they’ll need as soon as their applications become available.

Each school will have its own recommendations and requirements for you to follow—some of which can take a considerable amount of time to get together. Additionally, it’s important to note that some competitive colleges and universities could actually penalize applicants for submitting unnecessary or subpar supplemental materials.

5). Write your resume or CV

Ask your teen to write a resume or curriculum vitae (CV). The purpose of this exercise is to get them to outline the highlights of their high school years while simultaneously introducing them to the written format they will later use to market themselves in the professional world. Be sure to have them save a working version of the document (i.e., not just a printed copy or PDF). That way, they can edit their resume or CV throughout their undergraduate careers, be it for a summer job, research opportunity, internship, or scholarship application.

6). Be strategic about scheduling a new SAT or SAT Subject Test date

Some seniors might need to retake the SAT or an SAT Subject Test. If your teen would like to schedule a new test date, you should have a conversation with them to try and figure out what happened during their last performance. Were they anxious? Was there specific material they didn’t understand? Did they prep well before taking the test? It’s critical to determine what went wrong and develop a new action plan before booking a test date. In most cases, students will need to apply themselves consistently over several months to see a significant score increase.

So, instead of encouraging your nervous teen to sign up for the next available SAT date, you should ask them to slow down and develop a strategy. If a private, one-on-one tutor isn’t in your budget, Khan Academy offers an outstanding free online SAT prep course. Avoid making the same mistakes. Use the summer wisely: put a prep plan together, study hard, and retake the test in the fall when you’re ready.

7). Start researching scholarship opportunities

When it comes to financial aid, one of the biggest mistakes parents consistently make is waiting until the spring to seek out scholarship opportunities. In fact, high school students should begin looking for scholarship opportunities during the summer before their senior year. Starting their search early will allow them to get acquainted with the various free scholarship search engines and other resources available to them. Working with a professional scholarship coach can simplify this process.

8). Engage with your target schools

Colleges and universities frequently offer multiple ways for prospective students to interact with them online. Ask your teen to connect with a few of their favorite target schools on social media. Have them email their questions to an admissions department or sign up for a webinar. Genuine interest will not be lost on a recruiter or admissions officer. And, more importantly, your teen might discover something new about the school that they didn’t learn when they visited. Good or bad, details like these are invaluable, as they can help shape final decisions.

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Joseph NovinsonGéraldine Guillermin is an admissions consultant at Vested Academics. She has provided college admissions guidance to hundreds of students and families in the United States, France, Canada, and Europe.

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