Sunday, June 28, 2009

Making the Most of Summer: College Visits & Essays

When final exams are done, high school students and their families are all set to enjoy the summer vacation, whether it be the beach, mountains, travel, or even a summer job or learning experience. For college-bound juniors, there are two other important activities to keep in mind: visits to colleges and beginning the college essay. Time spent doing these two activities will save much pressure and anxiety come fall of the senior year.

In the spring, college seemed a year away, and many juniors were too busy with sports, end of the year school activities, and/or AP or final exams to find time to make good visits to colleges (see Test Drive a College). Some people feel that visiting a college in the summer is not very valuable because school is not in session. Though the school year may be the best time to visit, there is certainly much to be gained from getting on campus during the summer. A well-planned trip can help a student focus his or her thinking about college opportunities and choices; and because application deadlines are occurring much sooner in the fall, it is important that students have the perspective of a good visit before finalizing their list. There may be too little time to accomplish visits in the fall so the summer is a very good time to make the effort to get on college campuses. (Note: summer is also a great time for sophomores to visit colleges and get a broad sense of options without the pressure of having to make decisions right away.)

Secondly, it is a great advantage for students to begin the process of drafting and writing their college essay(s) during the summer. Most colleges will have their essay questions posted online or on the Common Application Student should view the topics, brainstorm ideas, and begin drafting what they want to say. Whether these drafts become the final essay or not, they will help the student to focus his or her thoughts so that when the time comes to submit the essay, the topic and the writing will be sound. Waiting until school begins in the fall means that the essay becomes part of the normal school workload and puts undue pressure and anxiety on a student that can adversely affect either schoolwork or the quality of the essay, or both. as early as July.

Taking some time to visit colleges and begin work on essays will make life a great deal easier come the fall, and most likely more successful as well since good planning and work often lead to positive outcomes.