The University Network

10 Things Rising Seniors Can Do This Summer To Get A Jump On College Process

You’ve got one more year of high school to go — a final lap around the track before you’re off to college! The summer before your senior year is undoubtedly an exciting time. But, along with spending days in the sun, it’s important to get a head start on the college application process. 

Of course, COVID-19 has made things more difficult. You can’t engage in some of those extracurricular activities you planned on or physically tour the campuses of some of your choice schools. But, you can still spend your summer productively, so here’s a list of things you can do. 

1. Narrow down your choice schools

Chances are you already have a few colleges or universities you’re interested in. Maybe they are your parents’ alma mater or the best schools in your state. Summer before senior year is time to solidify your list. Before you know it, it will be time to apply!

This is the fun part. You get to fantasize about your life after high school. You could end up living in a city you’ve never been to before. Your next fall could be spent meeting new people from all over the country, or even the world. 

Your list doesn’t have to be short. It could include 10 or more schools. Mind you, though, that colleges and universities typically have an application fee of usually between $50-$75. And the act of applying to so many schools can be exhausting and time-consuming. 

2. Write out plans and important dates

With classes, exams, homework, athletics and prom, senior year is an extremely busy time. But, there are all sorts of important college application dates that you need to keep up with throughout the year, and there’s no better time to get organized than during summer break. 

To give you a head start, here are some of the most important dates. 

  • August 1: This is the date that many college application forms are released, including the Common Application, the Coalition Application and the University of California system’s application. Once these come out, you’ll want to fill them out as soon as possible, particularly if you intend to apply for an early action or early decision. It is important to remember, though, that not all colleges and universities use the same application form or release it on the same day. So, you’ll want to check the policies of each school you’re interested in. 
  • October: If you plan on applying for an early action or early decision and want to boost your SAT/ACT scores, October is typically your final chance to do so. The SAT administers a test on October 3, and the ACT administers a test on October 24. And remember, you have to register for these tests a month in advance. 
  • November 1: Applications for an early decision and early action are often due by November 1. But, again, you’ll want to check the policies of each school you’re interested in. 
  • November 30: Some colleges and universities, including all of those in the University of California system, require all applicants to have their applications in by November 30. 
  • December: If you’re applying for a regular decision and want to boost your SAT/ACT scores, December is typically your last chance to do so. The SAT administers a test on December 5, and the ACT administers a test on December 15. And remember, you have to register for these tests a month in advance. 
  • December 15: Most colleges and universities will release their early action and early decision results by December 15. 
  • January 1: This is the regular admission deadline for most of the nation’s colleges and universities. By January 1, you should have submitted all of your application documents to all of the colleges and universities you’re applying to. But, again, you’ll want to check the policies of each school you’re interested in. 
  • May 1: From January to April, you can expect to receive all your acceptance and denial letters. And, for most colleges and universities, you’ll need to make your final decision before May 1. Once you make your deposit, everything is locked up! 

Schools can, however, opt to put you on a waitlist. This typically happens when you meet a school’s admission requirements, but the school has already accepted the amount of applicants it has room for. In this case, you’ll likely have to wait until after the May 1 decision date to hear back about whether you’ve been accepted. 

3. Start thinking about how you’re going to pay for college 

There are few if, ands or buts about it — college is expensive. You don’t need to worry too much, though, as there are always financial aid and scholarship opportunities to help you afford your education. But, you’ll want to start thinking about finances sooner than later. If your parents are willing to help, sit down with them and have a frank conversation about how much they can afford to pay. Figuring this out now will save you from stressing out later on. 

You can fill out your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) for your freshman year of college starting October 1, 2020. To maximize your chance of getting state aid and financial aid from the schools you’re interested in, be sure to research their deadlines and submit your application as early as possible. Schools often award aid on a first-come, first-serve basis. And there are a few documents you’ll want to get together before filling out your FAFSA. A full list of the documents you’ll need is available in TUN’s complete guide to the FAFSA.

And if you have any specific questions about financial aid, don’t hesitate to reach out to admissions officers at the institutions you’re interested in attending. 

“Admissions officers are here to extend to you good information,” said Gil Villanueva, the associate vice president and dean of admission at the University of Richmond. “We’re here to let you know what we have available. And if we don’t have the answer, we’re happy to refer you. Let’s say you want to learn a little more about financial aid and you have specific questions. Well, guess what, we have a financial aid staff. We can connect you with them and they can answer your questions.”

There are also many scholarships out there, and you may want to start thinking about those. If you’re seeking money to help you pay for your freshman year of college, you likely have a while to wait before applying for any of the scholarships. But, it’s always good to get ahead of the crowd and see what’s out there. 

Spend some time browsing TUN’s Scholarship Search Engine to find scholarships offered by major brands and nonprofits around the world. You can also check your prospective universities’ scholarship page. For tips to help you ace your scholarship applications, check out TUN’s Complete Guide to Scholarship Hacks.

4. Get a feel for the schools you’re interested in 

Summer before senior year is typically a great time to tour colleges. But this year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, doing so is a bit more challenging, as many schools aren’t running in-person information sessions and campus tours. 

Nearly every college and university is now offering virtual tours, which are relatively informative and can give you a good feel for what the campus you’re interested in looks like. But you can also expect to spend a significant chunk of your time in college off campus, particularly when you move out of the dorms. For that reason, it’s important for you to develop an understanding of your surroundings. 

You should check out nearby streets and nature on Google Maps. Looking up the menus of local restaurants and bars is also an easy way to get excited about moving to a new place. And if it’s not too much of a hassle, get in the car and drive to the schools you’re interested in, anyway. You likely won’t be able to tour campus buildings, but you will be able to see the towns in which the schools you’re interested in are located. 

And to get a better sense of the type of people who go to the college or university you’re interested in, check out the social media pages of some of the clubs the school offers. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can reach out to a student majoring in the subject you’re interested in to ask them about their experience.

5. Brainstorm college essay

With extracurriculars canceled and many colleges and universities no longer requiring applicants to submit SAT/ACT scores, college essays are going to matter more than ever before. 

“The reality is, the way that college admissions is going to go in the fall is not going to be based on numbers and scores the way it might have been in the past,” said Nicole Hurd, founder and CEO of College Advising Corps, an organization that helps high-need students. “Everybody is going to have to be able to tell a story that is going to be much more based on experiences and aspirations and narrative than just on numbers.”

The Common App, which is used by hundreds of colleges and universities, will be released on August 1 for those intending to start college in fall 2021. But the essay prompts included in the Common App are already available. 

For brainstorming ideas, check out these seven essay examples that survive COVID-19. If you’re feeling ambitious, it may be a good idea to draft full essays for a few of the topics. 

While not every school uses the Common App, essay prompts typically share the same broad themes. So running through the Common App’s prompts will be advantageous whether you’re applying to a school that uses it or not. 

Additionally, the Common App recently announced it will be giving next year’s applicants an option to write about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected them personally. 

“That’s definitely an opportunity for (applicants) to talk about what they were planning on doing and how that was taken away,” said Joe Korfmacher, a college counselor at Collegewise. “But it also gives them an opportunity to talk about what they did instead.”

And chances are, other colleges and universities that don’t use the Common App will be offering similar prompts. So, no matter which schools you’re applying to, it may benefit you to begin reflecting this summer on how the pandemic has impacted your life or inspired you.

“I think a lot of stories … are being written right now in terms of experiences that students are going to be able to share with us in their college essays and in other ways about how they are making the most out of this experience,” said Stefan Hyman, the interim associate provost for enrollment and retention management at Stony Brook University.

6. Do something productive 

Although the college admissions process is intimidating, keep in mind that college admissions officers are people too. They are very aware that you and your peers have had many of your typical extracurricular activities, including athletics, volunteer opportunities and research opportunities, canceled. And, overwhelmingly, admissions officers intend to be empathetic when evaluating next year’s applicants. 

But, you won’t be rewarded by choosing to sit around and do nothing all summer. Colleges and universities are going to prioritize those who’ve made the best out of a bad situation. 

“There are still ways that students can make the most of their time,” Hyman said. “And I think we want to encourage them to use this time in as productive ways as they possibly can.”

“It’s an opportunity for students to … really dive into some of their passions,” he added. “For example, an artist or a musician can use this time very productively to enhance their craft.”

And depending on where you live, some opportunities to partake in extracurricular activities will open back up throughout the summer. If you feel entirely safe and comfortable pursuing them, go for it. However, it’s always important to use your best judgment, and don’t do something just to do it. Piling on extracurriculars just for the sake of adding them to your college applications is never a good technique. 

“It was always better to do less, but do it well and be committed to it, than to do a lot and be scattered,” Hurd said. “And so, I think that this is a reflection moment where I think any admissions officer is going to have a lot of respect for a student who has been thoughtful and reflective in taking care of themselves and their loved ones during this pandemic and not worried about filling out 10 activities in the fall.”

7. Start thinking about recommendation letters

Many colleges and universities, particularly the selective ones, require applicants to submit at least one letter of recommendation with their application. It’s their way to get an outside perspective on you from someone who you’ve worked closely with throughout high school. 

You don’t need to rush, but this summer is the time to start thinking about who you might want to write those letters. Whether it’s a teacher, a coach or a guidance counselor, you’ll want to pick someone who knows you well and who you’re confident will write a clear and compelling letter that makes colleges and universities want to have you as a part of their communities. 

8. Start saving money 

Finding a job right now is difficult for college graduates, let alone high school students. But, if you are able to secure a job this summer, start saving that money while you’re still under your parents’ roof! Living on your own can be surprisingly expensive, not to mention the price of textbooks. A part-time job in college hardly ever suffices to pay the bills, so you’ll need all the savings you have. 

This summer, look for essential worker positions in your community or virtual employment opportunities and start building up some spending money for the year ahead.

Pro tip: Use TUN’s Student Save Engine to find discounts, coupons, and exclusive deals on shoes, laptops, and everything in between.

9. Learn something new through online classes

If you have some free time this summer and want to learn something new, it’s easy enough to do from the comfort of your home. Online education providers like Coursera and edX offer thousands of free courses in virtually every subject, making it really easy to pick up new skills and talents. Whether you want to learn to play guitar or to code in Java, use TUN’s Online Education Search Engine to help you get started.

10. Take some time to relax with friends and family

This is the sad part. Of course, senior year is your last year living in your home town with all of your family and friends. Not to get all sappy, but you should make an honest effort to spend quality time with these people and be truly present every time you can. You’ll thank yourself when it’s time to leave. 


The summer before senior year can be an amazing, but overwhelming, time. It’s important to have fun this summer, but you also need to take some time to get serious about applying to college. Even during a pandemic, there are many ways to prepare yourself for the year ahead. Follow these tips and you’ll be steps in front of the crowd.