Another school year is drawing to a close, meaning that free time and mental bandwidth are about to become available for many students. Here are some things high school students may want to spend some time on this summer:

  • Common App essay prompts. These are available now, so any high school student would do well to take a look especially since the prompts don’t change a whole lot from year to year. College application “season” is quite busy between completing applications, getting letters of recommendation, completing the FAFSA and CSS PROFILE, test-taking, and all the other tasks involved, not to mention keeping up on schoolwork. Rising seniors may find it’s easier to focus on these essays during the summer when they don’t have other writing assignments.
  • Test requirements. Rising juniors and seniors should start looking at their desired schools’ test requirements and 75th percentile scores. My daughter thought she was done with tests after taking the ACT and SAT, so she was more than a little disappointed to learn that many of the schools she’s interested in require 2 or 3 subject tests. And if you want merit aid, you should look at your desired schools’ 75th percentile scores for these tests (College Navigator is a good source) and scholarship requirements. If you’re not there, do some test prep over the summer and plan to re-take at least one of the tests.
  • Talk about what your family can afford for college. Affordability results from a combination of savings, cash flow and borrowing. In a time of rising interest rates and lowering protections for student borrowers, families should focus on the first two and limit the last. Far better to understand this now– prior to applying– than trying to find the tooth fairy who will make an unaffordable offer from a dream school a possibility. FAFSA4caster is one tool; better is to use schools’ net price calculators as those will incorporate the school’s own aid policies.
  • Clean up social media accounts. This is especially important for rising seniors. Google yourself and decide whether what you find reflects positively or not. We’ve all seen stories of prospective freshmen done in by social media. Now is a great time to delete posts, close accounts and un-tag yourself.
  • Visit colleges! You won’t get a true sense of the campus environment in the summer, but most schools have a reasonable activity level during summer sessions. Visiting “away” schools when you’re traveling can be particularly beneficial, even if you’re not interested in them. You might find some differences that are appealing, or it might help reinforce that what you’re already interested in is right for you.

As a parent of two juniors, I’m particularly focused on what rising seniors need to be doing. However, any high school student can get ahead of the curve by taking on some or all of these this coming summer.