How I should spend my summer vacation
Is there any doubt, given the weather we experienced in late June and early July, that summer has arrived? And no, don’t be deceived by the content of this article, I’m not wishing to have it end — at least not for another three months — but I do want to offer a final prescription for the college-bound junior, and it involves wise use of your “vacation” from school.
Sometime in the distant past — probably when rising seniors were in the fourth or fifth grade — one of their first back-to-school writing assignments asked them to share thoughts inspired by the writing prompt “How I spent my summer vacation?”
Most of what you wrote about was funny and frivolous as you shared all of the wonderful things that you did, the places you saw, the people you met and the family events and outings you participated in.
As time passed and you experienced the beginning of the high school years, the theme evoked sharing more serious thoughts and more adult-like experiences: a full-time or part-time job, a study travel experience, some kind of volunteer work close to home or in a third- or fourth-world country, camp attendance of some kind or a career-related internship.
As you prepare to bridge the gap between junior and senior year, let me suggest a number of activities that will stand you in good stead when school begins in September. Successfully accomplishing this to-do list this summer will relieve a great deal of the early-fall stress associated with the college selection application process. Consider the list your “coming-of-college-application-age how-I-spent-my-summer” assignment.
The summer between junior and senior year is the ideal time to narrow the list of schools that you have real interest in and plan to apply to, if you haven’t already done so. I encourage my clients to focus on no more than eight schools: two that they consider “reaches,” four that are in the “target” range and two that we both agree, based on the candidate’s credentials and the school’s admissions profile of the previous year, are “safe.”
The process of compiling that list is complex and will require the collective wisdom and honesty of students, parents and the guidance counselor or private college advisor. The hard work needs to be done in the summer so that applications can be submitted in the early fall.
As a generalization, the sooner a school receives a complete application, the sooner it can and will begin its review of that application. Applying in a timely manner is particularly important if a student plans on applying “early decision” or “early action” or applies to a school that uses a “rolling” or “priority” admissions system.
Although summer is not the ideal time to visit schools a student is interested in applying to — it’s best to visit during the academic year when a prospective applicant can experience the “normal” routines of the campus — summer does provide an opportunity to do that, especially for a student who can’t, for a variety of reasons, visit during the school year.
Often, a student who is a varsity athlete will have great difficulty visiting college campuses during the sports season, since a visit will cause him to miss games or practices.
It’s also a good time to schedule on-campus or alumni interviews for those schools that offer them, if you haven’t already had one. Not all schools do; some are so overwhelmed by applications that it becomes a numerical impossibility. But, as a generalization, the more competitive or selective a school is, the more likely it is that an interview will be included as part of the admissions process.
Setting the standardized test-taking calendar for the fall of senior year is another important task. By the beginning of senior year, a candidate should have taken the SAT I or ACT at least once. It’s highly recommended that each be taken before the end of junior year and a decision be made, based on test performance and level of comfort with each test, as to which should be taken again. With “score choice” a reality, it would be foolish for a student not to take the test of choice at least twice.
When a student takes the test is determined by the decision a student has made as to what application deadline to meet — early action and early decision usually carry a Nov. 1 deadline for all supporting data to be complete and on file — and how much time a student is willing and able to devote to test preparation for a particular examination.
The other critically important task on the summer “to-do” list is completing the essay(s) that are required by each school the candidate is applying to. Essays vary significantly in terms of both subject and length. Students can often adapt an essay written for one school to fit the requirements of other school(s).
Approximately 300 schools — and the list is growing — use the “common application,” which makes the process easier for many students since, by design, “one size fits all” (or many).
All too often applications are delayed because the student postpones the important task of essay writing until fall and then it often takes on a lower priority than the day-to-day demands of school work. The slogan associated with the commercial for Fram oil filters is an appropriate reminder in the sense that “you can pay me now or you can pay me later.”
Investing the time in application completion — especially the essay portion of the application — during a less hectic summer, rather than a hectic early fall, relieves stress, creates the opportunity for a better product and speeds the completion of the actual application.
Let me also remind you that “senioritis” is a disease you cannot fall victim to. The answer to the “I worked so hard up until now, do I really have to take such a tough schedule as a senior?” question is a resounding “Yes!”
While there probably is more room for electives in a senior-year schedule than in those of previous years, the schedule created in the spring of junior year should be adhered to and should portray a student who remains excited about academic challenges.
The bottom line is that rising seniors should enroll in the most demanding set of classes in which they feel confident of being successful. Remember, too, that there is no stronger message to send to colleges than good grades earned during the senior year.
Trying new activities and further developing existing interests helps prepare the student for college and often provides a stress-relieving outlet. However, involvement in a multitude of co-curricular or outside activities at the expense of good grades is never a worthwhile trade off. So — members of the Class of 2013 — no senior slump!
The tasks and challenges embedded in the selection/application process are daunting. Heeding the advice offered above should make for a less stressful and altogether smoother early-fall-of-senior-year journey on the road to successful college admission.
Lawrence Mayer’s career as an educator includes 47 years as a teacher and administrator in high-performing secondary schools in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. For the last three years prior to his retirement in 2008, he served as vice principal of Guidance Services and director of College Counseling at Tenafly High School in northern New Jersey. Mayer is vice president of Winning Education Inc., an educational consulting firm, and is a private college admissions consultant. He lives in Ocean View and may be contacted at email@example.com.
This is the last in the series of 2011-2012 Coastal Point articles that have focused on the role of junior year in the college selection-application process.