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The 2024-25 FAFSA® (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) will be available in December 2023.

With college applications, prep tests, financial aid and the huge transition of going to college looming, senior year can be one of the most jam-packed times of your academic career.

Taking some time to do a little prep work during the summer can help make your last year of high school a lot less hectic. “The sooner you start [on college prep], the better,” notes Elisia Howard, CEO of College Insight. “Students often underestimate how much time it takes to work on their applications, write essays and go on tours.” These seven things can help you get a head start on the senior year college crunch. 

1. Create a Chart for All Deadlines

Jason Patel, founder of Transizion, a college and career prep service, advises making a chart with all of your to-do’s and deadlines. He warns, “If you try and figure it out as you go, you could be scrambling to write a college essay at the last minute.” Plan out your college application workload in a way that’s easy to access. Being able to quickly reference a chart or list “instead of constantly having to visit websites to get that information will save you time and effort,” says Patel. 

2. Brainstorm Essay Ideas

Research prompts and sample essays from previous years to get an idea of the types of subjects and themes colleges request. Do more than just think about your answers to these questions. Actually write some ideas down so you have something to reference when it’s time to write. You can even write an outline or first draft for some essay topics. A stellar application essay is one of the ways you can make your application stand out, so give yourself ample time to produce the best essay you can. 

3. Prepare for Standardized Tests

If you haven’t taken the SAT® or ACT® exam — or you aren’t happy with your previous scores — use the summer to make sure you’re sufficiently prepared. Take practice tests, study vocabulary words or even sign up for a test prep class or tutoring service over the summer. A little extra work can go a long way when it comes to standardized tests. 

4. Prepare Your Activities List

There’s a limited amount of space on college applications to describe your extracurricular activities. Make a list of your activities that aren’t only the most impressive, but are also reflective of who you are as a person. “Which extracurricular activity listed on your application has meant the most to you and why?” is a common supplemental question on college applications. This task could help with a future essay too.

5. Look for Gaps in Your Résumé

One of the key elements in preparing a college application is presenting yourself as a well-rounded student. Are you lacking in certain areas? Summer is a great time to fill in those gaps by volunteering, working a part-time job or taking on an internship. Patel also recommends participating in a summer enrichment program. He gives the example, “If a key focus of your application is your passion for STEM, further demonstrate your motivation and enthusiasm by participating in a STEM-related summer program.”

6. Visit Colleges

Nothing is more valuable in getting a sense of a school than a campus visit. Sara Johnson, the head of school at Renaissance School, says, “The summer before junior year is an excellent time to visit college campuses. If the student is still in the process of finalizing his or her college list, visiting campuses can be highly informative.” She suggests visiting a wide range of campus options — urban campuses, college towns, large schools, small schools. College campuses will be quieter during the summer months, but there will still be tour guides and admissions officers available to answer your questions. And if summer is the only time you have available for college touring, a summer tour is certainly better than no tour at all.  

7. Investigate Financial Aid

Familiarize yourself with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) and start gathering your financial documents. Patel recommends that everyone fill out the FAFSA. “Even if you think your family earns too much money to qualify, you should fill out a FAFSA annually. Some families are surprised when they unexpectedly qualify for aid.” The summer is also a good time to have conversations with your family about your budget, how you are paying for college and any financial considerations you should take into account when applying for college. 

Spending a little bit of your summer tackling all — or even just some — of these tasks will set you up for success when application season fully kicks off in the fall. 

Interviews for this article were conducted in 2018.

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