Now that summer is in full swing and students have some more free time, I thought I’d put together a list of things you (or your student) can do to not only be prepared to apply to college, but also things to do that will strengthen the application itself. This list is mostly aimed at rising juniors and seniors in high school.

1) Work. Volunteer. Do Something.

I hate to break it to you, but if you’re aiming to get into a more selective school, you can’t spend all summer sitting around doing nothing. Now this doesn’t mean you’re not going to have any free time.

The summers before my junior and senior years of high school, I worked a few days a week at a local Kumon center and also volunteered at a sustainable garden at my high school. Neither were huge time commitments, so I still had time to hang out with my friends and enjoy my summer.  

Working or volunteering shows that you’re a well-rounded person who makes the most of your time. Bonus points if the job relates to your planned major/career path. And if you’re able to find a job that pays, all the better!

Just a heads up though, the Common App will ask for hours/week for any activities you enter. So if you only have an hour a week down for the entire summer, that might not look so great on your application.

2) Tour Schools

Check out some nearby colleges/universities over the summer. The majority of schools should have tours and information sessions listed on their website. No, you’re not going to get quite the same experience as you would when school is still in session, but it should still give you a good idea of what the school is like.

Also, if you’re going on vacation during the summer, check out some nearby schools! I toured Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, and CalTech when I went to California, and University of Chicago and Northwestern when I was in Chicago.

For more info, check out our 15 Questions to Ask Admissions When Visiting Colleges article.

3) Research

Start thinking about what kind of school you’d like to attend. Big, small, or medium student population? Urban, suburban, or rural? Spend a little time giving this some thought, and start putting together a list. It’ll help make the application process go much smoother. For rising seniors, try to have your college list done by the end of the summer. This will let you jump right into the writing supplements once they’re updated.

Also, think about what you might want to major in and what career you might end up going into. If you’re one of those people who has known since you were a kid that you want to be a doctor: good for you. But if you’re feeling lost and confused, you are definitely not alone. You’re most likely not going to figure out your whole life plan, but at least spend a little time narrowing it down.

Do some research online. Talk to any people you may know in fields you’re interested in. It will make first semester senior year much less painful. It will also help you narrow down your college list, as you can rule out any schools that don’t have the majors you want.

4) For Rising Seniors: Start on the Common App

Now, the Common App doesn’t actually open until early August, so I wouldn’t start on the application until then, since it will get deleted. But once August comes around, dive in and start early.

Check back to see if essay prompts have been updated. You can find the 2015-2016 ones here. Once the current prompts are up, pick the one that inspires you the most and get started! Have some people look over your essay (parent, teacher, etc.) but make sure you don’t have too many people edit your essay, as you don’t want to lose your voice from the personal statement.

Again, first semester senior year is rough, so getting an early start can make a huge difference. Standardized testing and college applications are a lot of work, so adding on schoolwork (especially if you’re doing AP or IB courses) can definitely take a toll.  

Also, think about if you want to apply to any schools early action. This means you submit your application ahead of the crowd and, in turn, find out early if you were accepted. This is non-binding, so you don't have to go to this college if you're accepted, but it's a great confidence booster to know that you have at least one option come decision day.

The other option is to apply early decision. This is binding, which means if you get accepted the school requires you to go (unless there are extenuating financial circumstances making attending unattainable). For this reason, you can only apply to one school early decision, whereas you can apply to several schools early action.

For both of these options, the deadlines are earlier (typically November) than regular decision. The benefit is, it will be a huge relief knowing in December that you’ve been accepted somewhere while the rest of your friends are sitting on pins and needles for months waiting to find out where they've been accepted. 

5) Prepare for Standardized Tests

This one you should’ve seen coming. Whether it’s the SAT, ACT, or SAT subject tests, summer is a great time to prep. You have significantly less academics to focus on, so it will be less painful than doing the bulk of your studying during the school year.

Of course, I’m biased and highly recommend checking out Testive coaching. It’s flexible, personalized, and affordable ;)

Overall, summer is a great time to amp up your resume and work on your application. Just don’t overwork yourself or get too stressed, and enjoy your summer!