College Prep Results

Grade by grade what high school students need to do this summer to prepare for college admissions


Ahhh! I love the freedom of summer. I can stay up a little later and don’t need to set my alarm. (I’m up most days before 7:00 anyway!)

For many students summer is a much needed break and a time to catch up. Catch up with friends, on new movies or favorite tv shows, on activities you wanted to do during the year.

Summer was my daughter’s time to catch up on service projects because between her AP classes and her speech and debate schedule, she rarely had time to volunteer during the school year. Right now she is catching up by finishing her Girl Scout Gold Award project (weeks before the deadline!)

College Planning Time

Summer is also the time to do some essential college planning.

Of course, rising seniors have the most to do. The college admissions timetable is much earlier than when I was in high school and seniors are well advised to get applications ready before school starts. Of course there are still important tasks for juniors, sophomores, and even entering freshman.

Here’s your checklist. I’ve included links to help you get more information on certain points.

Rising Seniors (12th grade)

1. Work to finalize your college list— ideally you will finish your college visits and research over the summer allowing you to make the final list of the schools to which you want to apply. This doesn’t mean you can’t add another one or two in the fall, but the bulk of your research and consideration should be completed this summer. [If you want to know how many colleges you should apply to, read here.]

2. Prepare for and retake the SAT or ACT if necessary. Students have an opportunity to test over the summer and early fall.

  • ACT: July, September, October
  • SAT: August, October

3. Write college admissions essay. Topics for the 2019 – 2020 admissions cycle are available already. You can check out common app and Texas questions [HERE].Writing a quality admissions essay takes time; summer allows students the opportunity to think, compose, revise, and perfect these essays.

Last summer my daughter was a rising high school senior. She is a good writer and I thought she would be able to produce the necessary college essays in 10-14 days. So weeks of summer went by. She was busy working on service projects, attending summer camp, writing her competition speeches for the next year, and working on summer homework. Before we knew it school was starting again and she barely had a draft for the first essay; she hadn’t even started the multiple supplements. I will spare you descriptions of our moments of tension, eye rolling, frustration, and raised voices. I will tell you that when it is my 12-year-old son’s time to apply for college, he will be writing everything by August 1 before his senior year starts.

Take my word for it, you want to get this task out-of-the-way this summer. If you need help, I have an online essay workshop that comes with in-person Q&A time (via video conferencing, so you can do it from anywhere. Details here.)

4. Start on college applications. You likely need to wait until after August 1 to begin populating the online applications with your personal information. Compared to writing essays, this will seem like an easy task.

Check out my article on the exact steps to completing college applications without losing your sanity HERE.

5. Use summer as an opportunity to round out your experiences, dedicate more time to service, and explore areas of personal interest.

Rising Juniors (11th grade)

1. Make plans for the PSAT, SAT/ACT— Junior year is when you want to complete ALL of your standardized test taking. Some students are preparing over the summer, but some will make a decision to wait until fall or spring. Take a look at the testing schedule and your activity calendar to decide what time is right for you. If you want details on key factors to consider, I walk you though the decisions HERE.

Ultra high scoring students should prepare for the PSAT in October. [To understand why the PSAT is important for high-scoring students read here.] All other students should look for a time when they will be

  • Motivated and focused on test taking
  • Able to spend time preparing
  • Available to take the exam

You can find the 2019–20 ACT and SAT calendars HERE.

2. Update your resume— all student should be keeping a list of activities, service, honors, work, achievements, and summer activity is to list on college applications. You will often hear this list referred to as a college resume or brag sheet.

Use free time to fill in gaps on your resume, pursue areas of interest, strength and academic weaknesses, and round out experiences. Ideas on what to list HERE.

3. Continue (or start) your college search. Take time over the summer to visit 2-3 college campuses and take the official tour and information session. You don’t need to plan a major cross-country tour; in fact, I strongly recommend you start your visits at in-state schools. For strategies on your early college visits read HERE.

Campus visits are the very best way to learn about different colleges, but I know some of your early research may be done at home. For resources and ideas read HERE.

Entering Freshmen (9th grade) and

Rising Sophomores (10th grade)

1. Build skills. Vocabulary, Reading, foundational math, writing, grammar, and communications. Take this opportunity to fill in gaps or get a head start for next year.

This summer my son who is entering seventh grade is working on Rosetta Stone Spanish because he will take Spanish I in school. He is also reading every day and learning to type.

There are so many ways that students can make next school year go smoother by spending a few minutes a day over the summer building skills. If you don’t have some ideas in mind, I do offer a vocabulary program that in 5 minutes a day will help students grades 7-12 build college-bound vocabularies. Check it out HERE.

2. Start and update a resume. Everything you do from the last day of 8th grade can be listed on your college-bound resume. Get in the habit of tracking time spent in activities, service, and other projects.

You don’t need to create a fancy document. At this point I would break your resume into four sections:

  1. Activities
  2. Service
  3. Honors / Awards
  4. Work / Internships / Summer Activities

3. Get involved. This could be participating in sports, clubs, summer camps, or independent projects. You could get a job, commit to spending at least 50 hours serving others, or take an online course. Look for topics of interest and opportunities to do things you enjoy. There will be plenty of time to relax, hang out with friends, play video games, and chill, so devoting 30+ hours a week to a better defined purpose is a really good idea.

To learn more about what colleges are looking for in terms of extracurriculars read HERE.

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