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7 Ways to Get a Head Start on College Apps the Summer Before Senior Year

While thinking about college applications may be the last thing you want to do the summer before your senior year, starting to put some things together can put you at a huge advantage. When the fall comes around, you’re already going to be stressed out with assignments and your social calendar, so doing these small things now could take a huge load off your stress level! We talked to Michelle Podbelsek, co-owner of College Counseling Associates, and collegiettes to get the low down on what rising seniors should be doing now.

Whether you’re just starting to think about college applications or have your college list nailed down, doing these seven things over the summer will be helpful in the long run.

1. Start a spreadsheet

Applying for college can be hectic—especially if you’re planning on applying to more than a few. It is important to stay organized! Starting a spreadsheet with what colleges you want to apply to or your accomplishments will keep things in order later on.

Megan Downing, a junior at East Carolina University, suggests making a list of clubs, leadership positions and extracurricular activities you’ve been involved with and another list of accomplishments or awards you’ve received! Keeping these in order will simplify the application process. “That helped me a lot because they do love to know what you were involved in,” she says. What are you waiting for? Open that Excel sheet!

2. Make a Common App account

The words Common App may make you cringe, but they will be your best friends later on. After all, wouldn’t you rather fill out one application than ten? Creating a Common App account will put you a step ahead of the game. You’ll be able to fill out the general information that will just be tedious later on.

“It will save you time,” Podbelsek says. “Senior year you have so many things to do regarding teacher and counselor recommendations, activities, schoolwork, etc. Get as much done as possible during the summer.” We couldn’t agree more!

Related: 5 Ways to Get Started on College Apps Before Senior Year

3. Start looking for scholarships

While college applications themselves are priority, it’s key to remember that scholarships are important, too! College is a huge expense, and starting to look for scholarships early on will definitely be beneficial. Websites such as Scholly, ScholarshipPoints and Scholarships.com can give you the head start you need.

“Create an account for those websites and begin to search scholarships that fit your specific talents, characteristics and interests,” Podbelsek says. “By doing that now and starting to read about upcoming scholarships, you can see what essays you may need to write and learn about what type of help is out there.”

Christine Pearson, a junior at the College of Charleston, has similar advice. “If you leave scholarship applications until after you have secured your acceptances, you could be missing out on great scholarship opportunities!” she says. “Go to your guidance office, search online and find those scholarships so that when you are accepted, the finances won’t be weighing you down.” Start searching, ladies!

4. Decide who to ask for recommendations

A big part of college applications is getting letters of recommendation. While the applications and essays are up to you, recommendations are out of your hands. By thinking about who you’ll ask for recommendations over the summer, you’ll be first in line in the fall. Brainstorm teachers, coaches or counselors who know your character and will speak well on your behalf. This will save a ton of stress once school starts back up.

“You typically need two letters from teachers in core subjects,” Podbelsek says. “Many schools just require one, but we recommend sending the two to all your schools.” This could help you stand out if you’re a borderline candidate!

“You can also send extra letters from outside sources, like maybe one from an employer, or your art teacher or your leadership or debate coach,” she says. Podbelsek suggests getting letters from people who will know you in a different context that will add to your application. It’s important to have more people than you need in mind in case someone says no or falls through!

5. Get in community service hours

As you may know, community service is crucial come time to submit your college apps. Admissions counselors are impressed by people who volunteer because it shows the type of person you are!

“Volunteering in a meaningful way is important—if it relates to your interests,” Podbelsek says. “For example, if you are just volunteering in random events because you think it will look good, then consider investing your time in an activity that you will really gain something from and you can maybe write about in an essay.” If you want to go into education, volunteer at a school or tutoring center. If you’re a soccer fan, help coach a younger sibling’s team. Just be sure you can make a connection!

6. Start writing essays

Starting your essays over the summer will give you more time to think about whatever it is you’re going to write about. When you have more free time, your mind will be clearer and your writing will be more efficient!

“The Common App essay questions have been released so start writing essays now, in the summer, before school and homework take up all your mental energy again,” Podbelsek says. When September comes around, you’ll be happy you’re either done or just need to make some finishing touches.

7. Narrow down your college list

The most important thing when it comes to college applications is knowing which colleges you’re applying to. If you have no idea where you’re applying, you won’t be able to get as much of a head start on your applications.

“Research and narrow down the college list,” Podbelsek says. “That is key and needs to be done sooner rather than later.” Search online, visit schools and decide what your best options are. Knowing where you’re applying before school starts will take a huge burden off your back!

While summer should be relaxing and fun (and it still can be!), getting a head start on your college applications will put you at an advantage. When fall rolls around and everyone’s stressing out, you can sit back, relax and enjoy the start of your senior year. Good luck, soon-to-be collegiettes!

Rachel graduated from the Honors College at James Madison University in May 2017 and is pursuing a career in the media/PR industry. She majored in Media Arts & Design with a concentration in journalism and minored in Spanish and Creative Writing. She loves spending time with friends and family, traveling, and going to the beach.