A guide to the little things you can do this summer that Future You will appreciate.
If you’re anything like me, sometimes you don’t give your Future Self a lot to work with. Whether it’s eating dairy as a lactose intolerant individual or procrastinating on a paper, sometimes Present Me decides that the consequences are Future Me problems.
In the college search and application process, however, leaving everything for the Future You will make for an extremely stressed and concerned version of yourself. And while that Future You may seem far away, it’s not too long before you’ll be dealing with it. However, we at Agnes Scott are also big proponents of rest and relaxation during the summer; we don’t want you only focusing on your college search.
Here’s our compromise: this blog post is being published on Wednesday, June 14. From this date, there are eleven Wednesdays between now and September 1. Starting next week, you will do one small task every Wednesday between now and September 1; these tasks will take roughly an hour or less, though you can spend more time if you would like. By September 1, you’ll be ready to start your college applications!
WEEK ONE: Preparation
Week One is less about colleges and more about you, though it will eventually help you with your college process. During Week One, you are going to begin putting together some information about yourself. No, I don’t mean your birthdate and address, though you need all of that as well. This is about making notes in whatever way makes sense to you about yourself and your goals in college. I suggest a few different prompts to get you started:
- What values are most important to me? How do I want my college to share them?
- When you think about yourself happy in college, what do you see? What do your classes look like (other students, how big, what kind of professor, what kinds of classes)? What does your social life look like (other students, activities)? Where do you see yourself (on hikes, at football games, etc.)?
- What variables are there that you have to consider in your college search? (This could be things like support for a disability, how far away from home you want to/can be, how finances play into the picture, etc.)
WEEK TWO: Your List
Week Two is going to be a continuation of week one in that you will take the lists you made in the first week and compare it to your current list of colleges. Maybe you have a very defined college list already, and maybe you are just starting one.
If you already have a list of college potentials, compare your lists with those colleges. Do they match well? Is there anything on your lists that you’re missing? If so, find 2-3 colleges that fill those holes and do some research to add them to your list.
If you are just starting to figure out your college potentials, go ahead and use the lists you made to start placing some schools on your potentials list so that you can prepare yourself for application season.
WEEK THREE: Considering the Essay
Not every college application requires an essay, but many do, especially if you are applying via the Common Application. We recommend taking a look at the Common Application prompts for next year here; these prompts are broad enough that even if you have different essay prompts, they can help spark ideas.
Now is not the time to pick a prompt or start writing. This week, we want you to consider those prompts. Save them in your phone’s notes, and then every time you have five free minutes, go to your notes and jot down something that might be a good topic for that prompt.
WEEK FOUR: Make Your Activities List
Take a break from essay thoughts in week four to consider your time in high school. Spend some time writing down everything you have done over the past three years. That includes every extracurricular activity, athletic team, volunteer opportunity, academic honor and awards and part-time job you have done for each year of high school so far.
You may not use every single activity on the activity section of the application; however, you will have all of your options in one place so you don’t suddenly forget everything you did in 9th grade when the time comes to fill it out.
WEEK FIVE: Essay Brainstorm Exercise
Now that you’ve had a couple of weeks to write down some different ideas for the Common App essay prompts, it’s time to decide what the best prompt or idea is for you. Earlier this fall, we hosted a webinar on writing your college essay that included some exercises to help you choose your prompt and your topic. We recommend watching it first to prepare yourself, and then beginning the exercises. By the end, you should have finalized a good idea for your prompt and your essay topic, but you can continue to consider and tweak it through the next couple of weeks.
WEEK SIX: Talk to Your Supporters
Schedule a time to talk with the people who are supporting you through the college process. This may be parents, grandparents, friends, guardians or someone else, but find someone you trust to have conversations with about your next steps. You’re going to have three conversations:
- Walk them through your list of potential colleges and how they match with the lists you made in Week One. Do they have any thoughts about those colleges you haven’t considered? Do they have additional ideas that may fit your list? Now is the time to bring those ideas together.
- If your supporters are going to be contributing financially to your college education, now is the time to talk about what that looks like. What do your supporters think they will be able to help you contribute for your time in college? Is it $1,000/year, $5,000 or $20,000? Do they know? What are you planning on contributing, and where is that money coming from? Having frank conversations about financial planning now will save you from many headaches in the future.
- Talk with your supporters about the teachers that know you best. Who should ask for letters of recommendation if you need them? Which teachers will best describe who you are as a student?
WEEK SEVEN: Visit Campuses (In Person or Virtually)
If you can, schedule a visit to at least one of the colleges on your list. Visiting a college campus in the summer is very different from doing it during the school year. You will likely see fewer students, and it might be a little harder to get a sense for the community. However, the summer is a great time for exploration because you tend to have more free time that you won’t have when you’re working around assignments and tests.
If you’re not able to visit in person, that’s okay! Many colleges have virtual options, whether that’s a virtual information session, a virtual tour or YouTube videos that give good insight into the college and its student body. Make sure you make notes and ask questions about the things that are important to you (referring to your list from Week One).
WEEK EIGHT: Begin Your First Draft
You’ve had a few weeks to feel good about the essay prompt and topic you’ve chosen. Now it’s time to actually put pen to paper (or, more likely, fingers to keyboard) and start putting words down. Remember, this is your first draft; it’s not going to be perfect or even 70% there. But putting down the idea and getting out everything you think might fit into the essay is the first step. Shoot for it being too long for the word limit; it is always easier to trim it down than it is to add to the essay later.
After you finish a first draft, you can spend free time in the next few weeks reviewing it and making changes.
WEEK NINE: Look at Financial Information
You aren’t going to know what the full scholarship and financial aid package for your college is going to look like until you actually receive financial aid, usually in the spring. That doesn’t mean you can’t start learning. Most colleges have something called a net price calculator, a tool you can use that is usually based on former years to estimate what your financial aid package may look like. It’s a great place to begin in understanding the cost of college.
It’s also a great time to begin to make a list of outside scholarships, if you believe you will apply for them. There are some great aggregate sites that you can use to learn about outside scholarships, like the College Board site or Fastweb, but you can also check out our outside scholarship page for some ideas on where to begin.
WEEK TEN: Get an Editor
Finding an editor for your essay is not the same as finding someone to proofread your first draft. A good editor is hard to find, but they are worth it. A good editor will help you figure out what is working and what is not working, make suggestions to changes in wording and organization, and give you advice on how interesting your essay is to read. If they also fix some grammar along the way, that’s great, but talk with your editor about how to make the essay better. After that, all you have to do is make their changes and do a proofread, and your essay will be ready for application season.
WEEK ELEVEN: Make a Calendar
Making a calendar is the final task at Week Eleven, mostly because you’ll need it. September is getting ready to begin, and with it, the meat of college application season. You need to make a calendar and display it in some way that makes sense to you and that you will remember to check; it doesn’t matter if you’re a Google Calendar devotee or if you want to print out an actual calendar and hang it on your wall. Just make sure that you can see it and see it frequently.
And what do you put on that calendar, you ask? Start by going to each college on your potential list. What deadline are you applying for? What is the deadline? Put those deadlines on your calendar. Then, give yourself smaller deadlines leading up to those deadlines. For example:
- September 15: Finalize College Essay
- October 1: Fill out basic information section, activity section and essay section of the Common App for Agnes Scott
- October 5: Ask high school counselor and teachers for recommendations for Agnes Scott
- October 15: First draft of Agnes Scott supplements, including the “Why Agnes Scott” essay
- October 23: Final proofread of Agnes Scott application; request transcript and test scores to be submitted
- November 1: Agnes Scott Early Decision application deadline
Do the same thing for any major outside scholarships you already know you plan on applying to. Add in major school and life events that are important to keep in mind. If you have a big test, put it on the calendar; if you have a basketball game, put it on the calendar.
This calendar is going to be your to-do list for the fall semester. It will keep you on track to get all your college applications in on time and with minimal stress.
If you follow our eleven week summer plan, we can guarantee that by the time fall rolls around, you will feel ready to conquer the college application. We wish you all the best for a happy (and productive) summer!
Rachel West is the Director of Enrollment Marketing at Agnes Scott College. She loves a calendar and an essay, so if she sounds overly happy about this process, just remember that she’s a bit of a nerd.