Tuesday, November 13 , 2018, 3:37 pm | Fair 70º


Lee Stetson: Summer’s a Time You Can Get Ahead on College Application Process

Campus visits, school programs, essay practice or a job can all help you get closer to your goal

As the school year continues into the new year, it’s time to focus on your plans for the summer months ahead. College preparation requires a dedicated amount of time and effort and it takes a fair amount of planning to ensure that you can fit everything into your schedule. The following guidelines are intended to help you gain a better understanding of your various options and opportunities.

Lee Stetson
Lee Stetson

I’ve mentioned previously the option of visiting schools during the summer and this certainly is one way to maximize your time. Although the traditional school year will not be in session, visiting at this time will provide other benefits that you should try to take advantage of. For example, you may want to explore the possibility of enrolling in summer courses at a campus of your choosing.

Another option is to participate in programs such as Summer Discovery, which allow for you to have a real, on-campus, living experience. Also, take this time to try to speak with students who are currently enrolled at your select schools. You will be able to learn more about your particular objectives while perhaps discovering other areas of interest along the way. Almost all admissions offices will provide you with the contact details of participating students, and perhaps, if you find this to be a useful resource, you may even be inspired to help a prospective student yourself in the future!

Another beneficial use of your summer time is employment. There are numerous ways to go about finding an appropriate job and you should be innovative in your search. These months provide the perfect opportunity to broaden your interaction if you are already employed and they can easily allow for your initiation to the job world if you are seeking your first placement. Don’t worry too much about where you work or your role in the organization. What matters is the personal growth and development that occurs, as well as your perspective on the experience. A summer job will also give you a rich set of experiences to speak about in your essays, and can demonstrate character, dedication and initiative.

Internships and volunteer or community services provide other valuable opportunities. Your family, peers, teachers and counselors may all be able to provide you with some useful ideas and information, and a representative from your organization of interest will be able to answer any questions you may have. There are numerous choices out there, and again, there is no “best” organization to join. Follow your instinct and passion — you will have a greater impact if you truly care about the cause you are supporting, and it will show through in your application.

In any case, when making your decisions for how to spend your time this summer, remember that an experience does not have to be expensive to be of value. While you should definitely take advantage of the choices that are open to you, it is important to recognize an opportunity in terms of personal development rather than for the “wow” factor that you may think an admissions office is looking for.

As you make your way through the summer and have the opportunity to reflect upon your endeavors, remember that the college application process allows for you to translate these experiences into a valuable means of introduction. You should begin to investigate various essay topics that you may encounter in your upcoming applications, and you will want to take an in-depth look at the main essay of the Common Application. Although essay topics do tend to vary on an annual basis, there are a number of currently available 2009-2010 options that can provide you with excellent practice opportunities. By developing topics for possible essay subjects, you will be better prepared when you start working on your actual applications.

As summer approaches and you begin to plan ahead, it is my hope that you’ll be able to prioritize your time and optimize your choices along the way. But also remember that this is a well-deserved break from a challenging school year, so please don’t forget to also have some fun in the process!

— Lee Stetson is chairman of the Admissions Advisory Board for Global Education Opportunities, a private admissions counseling firm. He has dedicated his life to higher education, serving as dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania for the past 30 years. He was also a College Board trustee, and has authored numerous articles on the admissions process.

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