It’s been a tough twelve months, but you weathered it, and the end of the school year is in sight.

For the juniors, you might be feeling exhausted from all that the last year brought and the ways you’ve had to adapt. My sincerest hope for you is that you can return to school next fall and resume the things that make a high school experience: activities, close friendships, traditions. I want you to have that time to enjoy yourself as a senior with as little stress as possible.

So here is my message to rising seniors: the upcoming summer is not the time for a break. It is time to get it done. Ok, fine, maybe a few Netflix or TikTok breaks are warranted, but your goal is to walk into senior year with as much of your college application work finished as humanly possible. I’m expecting a few eye-rolls here…how can you be expected to apply to college during a pandemic?! But I’m not challenging you to apply today. I’m challenging you to set yourself up to be ready to submit applications so that you have one less thing to stress out over in 12th grade.

These are the items I encourage you to have DONE before you officially start senior year:

  1. Talk to your family. After several months of being stuck at home, this may be the last thing you want to do, but you need to have a conversation now about your/their expectations around college options. Has the current state of things altered where you are willing to attend college? Have financial matters impacted your options? Maybe nothing has changed for your list, but it’s important to make sure you are all on the same page.
  2. Make a decision on testing. With many colleges continuing the test-optional policies they adopted last year, you may have a decision to make on whether you want to take/retake the SAT/ACT this fall. If you think strong test scores are within your reach and you have the time and energy to prep for an exam, take it! If you think you can use your summer to make the other pieces of your applications stronger and testing won’t help much, skip it! But make sure you know the updated testing policies for each college you are considering so you can plan accordingly.
  3. Ask for letters of recommendation. Many colleges request at least one letter of recommendation from a high school teacher, and we typically suggest that teacher be from an 11th grade core academic class. As long as you have at least one college on your list that requires a recommendation, you should ask for it this spring or early summer, depending on when your school year ends. If you are worried about asking an 11th grade teacher because you’ve only known that teacher virtually, don’t be. Colleges are interested in hearing how you’ve adapted to a new style of learning and made the most of a challenging situation.
  4. Open a Common App and/or Coalition App account and start filling it out. Chances are there is at least one college on your list that will use either the Common App or Coalition App. Even if you do not have your list finalized yet, you can complete the “common” part (biographical information, school and coursework, your activity list, etc.) of the Common/Coalition App over the summer.
  5. Write your personal statement. While you don’t yet know what supplemental essays may be required from the colleges where you are applying, you do know that you’ll need to write that one main essay for the Common/Coalition App. This essay is important and the writing process takes time. The goal is to be 100% finished with this before you start back to school for your senior year so that you can free up time in the fall to focus on the supplemental essays for your finalized list of colleges.
  6. Narrow down your college list. The tough reality for current juniors is that it’s likely you will have to make decisions regarding your college list without having visited as many campuses as you may have wanted. Take advantage of the many virtual tours and events colleges are providing, and decide which sites/resources are the most helpful to you in your research. The goal is for you to start senior year with a shortlist of colleges you are still interested in, all of which meet your fit criteria and are also spread across the selectivity spectrum. In other words, your goal is a balanced list you are excited about!

If you cross off the items listed above (or even some of them!) over the summer, you will have made the fall much easier for yourself and created more time to relish all the fun stuff missed this past year. Above all else, your charge is to get excited about next year and beyond. Hopefully, working on things that are still within your control will be a positive reminder that the future is bright and you’re still moving forward.

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About Bright Horizons College Coach

Bright Horizons College Coach® is the nation’s leader in educational advising. We help students and families across the country navigate the path to college, with a team of experts—all former admissions and financial aid decision-makers at top schools—who know the process from the inside. Collectively, we’ve helped more than 32,000 families successfully manage every aspect of college admissions, from choosing schools, to creating stand-out applications, to economically saving, and financing it all. Visit the Bright Horizons website.