“No sleep till college” is a phrase coined by sleep-deprived mommy bloggers, but it’s also a fitting mantra for rising high school seniors undertaking the college application process.
But if seniors start this summer, they need not adopt the sleep schedule of a colicky newborn to successfully apply to college, suggests Jay Bacrania, CEO and co-owner of college prep company Signet Education. “Now is the time to look at college lists, and based on that list, understand the requirements around testing, applying and the timeline [for each school]," says Bacrania.
As the summer solstice approaches, rising seniors should make it their goal to do these five things before the fall equinox. Their future selves with thank them.
Make your college list, check it twice
Making a college list over the summer gets the application process off to a solid start. Bacrania recommends that rising seniors apply to 8 to 12 colleges, and include a mix of “safety schools, target schools and reach schools.” Have your heart set on one university? Can’t narrow it down? Refine or expand the list by thinking broadly about what a good fit means: location, campus culture, academic life, etc.
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Break it down
Let’s not mince words: The college application is a slog. But sequencing out the process step-by-step and defining “all the milestones you need to hit” can mitigate the overwhelm. Bacrania’s advice: Understand testing and essay requirements for each school. Start cracking on those essays. Prioritize early deadlines. And take solace in the fact that your summer head start is worth it: “Students should be able to work on 80 percent [of the application] over the summer, and if they do, they should be in great shape once the school year rolls around.”
Don’t underestimate the essay
Like a delicate orchid that takes years to grow from a seedling, the college essay simply cannot be rushed. “When you think about writing a college essay, think about it more like writing a novel than writing a class paper,” says Barancia. “You sit with it over the course of multiple weeks, if not months, and let the story evolve.”
Remember, the operative word in “personal essay” is personal: “Students have to be really cognizant of the fact that admissions officers are using these essays almost instead of being able to sit down and having dinner.”
Find a mentor
No one can tackle applications alone, and not everyone has the “luxury” of a micromanaging helicopter parent, or the means to pay for outside help. If you’re in this boat, take initiative to find someone — a teacher, a friend’s older sibling, a community-based leader — who can guide you: “You might go to them and say, 'Hey, I’m going through this process, can you help me?'”
Prepare for college
Once applications are locked down, seniors should take a hard look at themselves, figure out where they need to improve, and “use this last part of senior year to cultivate those skills.” This could mean honing writing skills, or dealing with constant procrastination or test anxiety. Part of prepping for the unexpectedly poignant transition from high school to college is self-reflection, says Bacrania: “There’s a season to senior year. It feels like a beautiful fall. And students never know how beautiful that time could be.”