What to do for college applications as a rising senior (in August)

college admissions summer activities

After what was hopefully a restful and relaxing summer, you are ready to start school again this month (or next, depending on where you go to school)! You are officially a senior now. Much about your college process will come into clarity in the next few months. All of the work you have already done will be such an advantage to you in the weeks ahead. Remember, a thoughtful and purposeful college process is a mindset and the result of your steady dedication and efforts. You can do this!

Here are a few things that will be important in August as you look ahead to your senior year:

Family “college diet”

August is a great time to establish some boundaries in your family about “college talk.” Too often this time of year, adults and high school seniors find themselves at cross purposes and discussions about college can devolve into disagreements. Therefore, before that happens, set up some ground rules. Pick two consistent nights of the week (Wednesday and Sunday?) where adults can ask any questions they have about college and students resolve to provide thoughtful responses to those questions. For every other night of the week, college talk is off limits! Remember that your family had topics to discuss before you were a college applicant and focus on those.

Establish a Common App account

If you have not already done so (to take advantage of the Common App roll over), August 1st is when you can officially establish a new Common App account for the 21-22 school year. Save your password in a note on your phone. It can be frustrating to do a lot of work and lose your password.

Make an application plan

August is the time to start to finalize your application plan. While you absolutely can still make changes, having a sense NOW of your first and second sets of plans and priorities will help to make your fall run more smoothly. It is essential to understand some definitions:

Early Action (EA): Non-Binding, early deadline, early notification (but not always before January 1, 2022), sometimes more and sometimes less selective than regular decision, can apply to other schools EA or one school ED

Restricted Early Action (Single-Choice Early Action) (REA/SEA): Non-Binding, early deadline, early notification (mid-December 2021), cannot apply ED to other schools, often cannot apply EA to private colleges

Early Decision (ED): Binding, early deadline, early notification, less selective admissions rate than regular decision, can apply EA to other schools

Rolling Admissions: Non-Binding, no deadline, admissions decisions are likely released 4-6 weeks after the school receives a completed application.

Okay, now that you know your categories, think about your Likely, Target, and Reach categories:

  1. Early Decision can push a school up one category but not more than one category: it can make a Target a Likely or a Reach a Target. It does not make a Reach a Likely.
  2. Never apply to an unlikely school Early Decision unless you have a compelling factor (coach’s support for athletics, etc)

Edit, Revise, Refine

In July, we talked about writing your main Common App essay. August is the time to edit, revise, and refine your words. Please make sure that you don’t revise your essay so much (and based on the feedback of people who are not yourself) that you take your voice right out of it. It is so important that your essay sounds like YOU. August is a great time to ask a favorite teacher or other important adult in your life (or a college coach, like some of the wonderful people on the Cambridge Coaching team) to read your essay and provide thoughts and feedback. Make sure that you only enable the “comments” features on your Google Doc and that you do not allow other people to write in your essay itself.

Prioritize kindness

The college application process can be a challenging time for all high school seniors. It is important that you start your year by making kindness a priority - both kindness to yourself and kindness to your peers. As the year progresses, the urges to make a snap judgment (“oh, --- only got into --- school because ---”) toward a classmate or direct that unkindness toward yourself (“if only I had gotten better grades in 9th grade, I would ----”). If you begin the year with a focus on kindness to yourself and to your classmates, your college process will proceed with a healthier mindset and a positive tone.

Elise holds a BA in Political Philosophy from Williams College and an MEd in Administration & Social Policy from Harvard. She has spent the past twenty years working in top-tier independent schools.

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