Despite belief (and perhaps wishes) to the contrary, summer plays an extremely important role in the college admissions process.  These next few months give rising seniors, many of whom are otherwise bogged down with projects and exams, the opportunity to prepare their applications, round out their applicant profile, and bypass the crunch that many other college-bound seniors are likely to experience this fall.  As summer approaches, consider doing the following:

(Really) prepare for standardized tests. Were you too busy with school work to study for the SAT? Are you not pleased with your current ACT score?  Summer presents the perfect opportunity to focus on preparing for those all-important standardized tests.  Like it or not, standardized tests are a crucial component of the college application process and a higher score can often times constitute the difference between an admissions acceptance and denial.

Write your college essay. The majority of college applications become available in late July or early August, so many rising seniors can preview essay topics and even complete their essays before resuming school in the fall.  Although the college essay is perhaps the most the daunting part of the college application process, it can also prove to be the most rewarding, provided you follow a few simple rules.  First, be yourself.  Admissions officers don’t want the extraordinary; they simply want to learn something about you that they cannot glean from the collection of grades and scores in your application file. If it’s authentic, an essay about a daily ritual, ordinary hobby, or family tradition can prove just as captivating as a story about cheating death or overcoming insurmountable odds.

Second, bring your writing to life.  Use anecdotes, sensory language, and strong verbs to show (not tell) your reader how you feel, what you have seen, and/or what you have experienced.  Finally, keep it clean.  A clean essay is a concise essay, and one that is free of artificial and/or flowery language.  At the height of admissions season, officers will be reading up to 100 essays per day.  The last thing they want to see is an unnecessarily long or bombastic essay. Want further advice? Check out a couple of my favorite books on writing the college essay:

Conquering the College Admissions Essay in 10 Steps, by Alan Gelb
On Writing the College Essay, by Harry Bauld

Complete the Common Application. Nearly 500 selective college and universities are now members of the Common Application, which means that if you are interested in attending a competitive college you will likely be applying to at least several institutions that use this standardized application form. You may visit commonapp.org to preview and practice completing the Common Application, including the personal essay. Note that the 2013-2014 Common Application (online and paper version) will become available on August 1, 2013.

Get a job. A job, perhaps more than anything else, demonstrates to an admissions committee that you are mature, practical, and ready to take on the responsibilities associated with adulthood. If possible, attempt to secure a job in your area of professional interest or one that will further demonstrate your passion for a particular subject or activity.  For example, if baseball is your thing, apply to work as an umpire or assistant coach.  If you want a career helping animals, look for a job at a local veterinary clinic or animal shelter.  For those who don’t necessarily need to earn money, internships can prove just as rewarding and beneficial to one’s admissions prospects, provided the internship requires more than several hours of work per week. Students pursuing unpaid work also have a better chance of finding a position in their desired field. However, if you need to earn money, but can’t find a job that meshes with your personal or professional interests, take ANY job.  As long as you demonstrate a strong work ethic and a willingness to get your hands dirty, you’ll score big points with your prospective schools, whatever the job.

Yes, summer is the time to unwind, but it’s also the time to get ahead.  Relaxation and productivity can go hand in hand, especially during break.  Complete these few tasks and you will reap the benefits come fall.

Michael Trivette
A former admissions professional and adjunct faculty member, Michael knows firsthand what students need in order to be successful on a college campus. His experience in college admissions, enrollment management, intercollegiate athletics, student support services, student life and other areas, allows him to help students transition smoothly into the best good-fit colleges.