So July has arrived and your new senior students are letting out a huge sigh of relief as they complete their junior year. Many of these students prepared and took the dreaded SAT and ACT tests, while at the same time sat for the May AP exams. Meanwhile in the back of their minds they worried all year about GPA, class rank, and how they are competing with their peers. Summer is the first sign since September that these new seniors have seen relief and relaxation. But don’t let that fool them into thinking that the summer before their senior year is a time for slacking and doing nothing. Quite the opposite! After a few weeks of rest and rejuvenation, this summer is time for productivity and creativity! I can hear the groans from my own living room as my own rising senior gets the news that indeed there is work to be done!
The fall of senior year is a common time for burnout and stress. There are several things that can be done to help this. Many students are ill prepared for the rigorous academic load of their senior year classes along with the demands of the college process. Between writing the much dreaded personal statement essay for the Common App, to filling out applications and supplemental materials required, students quickly become aware that they are ill equipped to handle everything in such a short period of time. The result can be burnout, stress and anxiety, disappointing grades, and poorly written essays.
The best thing to do to avoid this senior year burn out is to be prepared and do some work ahead of time. During the summer rising seniors want to put themselves in a good position for the upcoming fall and be ahead of the game with everything they possibly can. There are three areas, where if your student puts some work in during the summer, they will be rewarded with less anxiety and stress come September. This is especially true with the dreaded essays and applications that are required. As a parent of two college students and one rising senior, I understand how difficult it can be to motivate your children to do anything, especially because they aren’t even home, never mind wanting to write a personal essay. That being said, setting aside a few hours each week will make all the difference for you and your student!
One of the most crucial things a rising senior can do is start working on their personal statement essay. This essay will be needed for the Common App and also can be adapted for other colleges that ask for their own essay. This is the most important essay that your students will write and it takes several (can be even up to 5 or 6) drafts to complete. Waiting until the fall to start this essay is unnecessarily stressful for seniors and by making them get ahead of the game, you have helped them tremendously. I hope to hear the words “Mom you were right, it’s a good thing I started this summer” from my own senior! Who knows, miracles do happen.
The more the students can put into this essay during the summer, the less time they will have to do it during their rigorous senior year. The essay itself will also be a stronger piece of writing when students are less stressed and have more time to devote to it. Again, doing a little bit each week will make it feel less overwhelming in the end. The personal essay is so difficult for teenagers because they are not used to writing personal narratives. However, the more personal the essay, the better the admissions officer can learn about that particular candidate. With the personal essay, it is the only part of the admissions process the student now has control over. With SAT’s, ACT’s, GPA’s, transcripts, and recommendations, the student is sending what they have earned or what is a reflection of them. With the personal essay, the students have control over what is said to the admissions officers. It can reflect what really matters to them, what they believe in, their passions, their personal story or triumphs and struggles, and most importantly, what they want the admissions to know about them.
By now your students should have at least a rough idea of what schools they are interested in. This could include as many as 20 or more schools for some. Summer is the time to narrow this list down to the list of schools to which applications are going to be sent. This list should consist of 7 to 12 schools and be a mix of high, medium, and low chance of admissions. During the summer have your student research the schools on their list. Obtaining as much information about the schools via books, visits, contacts, and websites will help students narrow their list. Looking at the Princeton Review is just one example of how students can do this. Not only will this book go over all the details of the school, with facts directly from the school, it also incorporates students’ comments and opinions. A good tip is to find schools where the school and the students are in agreement, not drastically opposite with their comments. In this book (or website) you will also see a list of comparable schools, that Princeton has provided, that are similar to the school being researched; this is another way to find schools to add to your list. This activity should not be rushed and by taking an hour each week, students will take the time needed to completely absorb all the information and make informed decisions. Rushing this process is not advised and waiting until the end of the summer will put students in jeopardy of creating a meaningless college list.
The third item your senior can start early on, is the Common application App. The Common App, used by more than 700 schools Nationwide, can start to be filled out, August 1st. You can bet that will be my target date for not only my one daughter but also for all of my rising senior clients. No better time than the first day to start those applications. Some schools use their own application and may not be ready until after this August date. Have your seniors check the dates and requirements of each school on their completed list so that not only do they know what application they are required to use, but also all the deadlines that they need to meet.
I cannot stress enough that getting your students in the mindset that this summer is crucial to getting a jump start in the college process. It will make a world of difference for them come September. The last bit of advice to go along with this is having a system for students to keep all of their information together. A simple spreadsheet with important dates, deadlines, contacts, passwords, and user names is crucial. If they have not started doing this, then it is another thing to add to their summer list of to do’s….just don’t tell them I said so!
Rebekah Elmore is an Education Consultant and owns PEAK College Consulting where she works with students and parents throughout the entire college process.