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Senior year summer: College admissions prep you can do now to make August easier

Updated: Jun 5, 2023

It's the summer before senior year and your plans include laying by the pool, chilling with friends and soaking up all the sun you can before your last year of high school officially begins. And you should do all those things! But if you wait too long to start college application prep, you're setting yourself up for some major end-of-summer stress.

The Common App doesn't officially open until August 1, but there's lots of leg work you can do now to make that day go by more smoothly. (More than 900 schools across the United States, Canada, Asia and Europe use the Common App to manage their admissions process. Curious about the app? Check out Common App 101 -- our guide to all things Common App)

Here are a few things you can do at this point in the summer to make things easier on August 1:

Put together your resume. Take a few minutes to freshen up your resume (or create one if you haven't yet!). The Common App will include an "Activities List" section where you can list clubs, sports and other activities you've been involved with outside of school, but space is limited (usually to 10 spots and five awards). If you have more, your resume is a great place to showcase them. Your resume can also help teachers and other mentors know what to write in their letters of recommendation. Check out some tips from TeenLife here.

Review the Common App prompts and think about how you're going to write your essay. The Common App has already released the list of essay prompts for next year. Read them all and start thinking about which one you'd best be able to write about:

  • Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

  • The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

  • Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

  • Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

  • Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Some schools also require additional essays with their application. Common school-specific prompts include:

  • Why do you want to attend this school? This prompt sounds easy enough but it will take some work and research. Remember, you want to show the school how you'll be valuable to them, not just how they'll be valuable to you. Start thinking about why you truly want to attend this school and how you'll contribute on their campus. Look at their majors and programs and mention them specifically in your essay. Does their study abroad program have you picturing a semester walking the shores of the Seine while brushing up on your French verb conjugation? Say so!

  • Why did you choose your major? Think about what initially sparked your interest in that subject area. Do you want to be a veterinarian because you loved playing doctor with your stuffed animals as a child? Include personal anecdotes that relate back to your chosen major. Talk about what you want to do with your degree in the future and don't be afraid to dream big! Want to use your aerospace engineering degree to colonize Mars one day? Let them know. And don't worry if you haven't yet chosen your major -- talk about several of your interests and how they'll factor into your eventual decision.

  • Tell us about an extracurricular or work experience that was meaningful. Take some time to brainstorm and write down several experiences that you think you could turn into an essay. Out of ideas? Poll fellow teammates, club members and coworkers to see if anything jogs your memory.

  • How will you contribute to or benefit from the diversity on campus? Research the school's policies and programs related to diversity and mention them specifically. Why do they appeal to you and what could you do to help make them better?

Once you've chosen your prompt and brainstormed ideas, you could throw together a rough draft of your essay and even send to peers/mentors to review. Make it fun and collaborative by offering to swap essays with a friend so you can help each other edit for grammar and clarity.

Worried about this work encroaching on your summer fun? Carve out a specific time for college prep work -- you could even set a timer for an hour and spend that entire time working. Once the alarm goes off, you're back to relax mode.

Of course your senior year summer is going to be full of fun and sun, but just a little prep work on the front end will make August much less stressful. Your future self will thank you! Have a great summer!

At Garrett Educational Consulting, we can help make college prep a breeze. Call us at 980-677-0311 or email us at to learn more.

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