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Summer is over and the school year is in full swing. It may be tempting to put off college applications for just a little bit longer, but college application season is here and there are plenty of things you need to do now to prepare.

 

If you’re considering applying early decision somewhere, you’ll need to get started on your applications sooner rather than later. And even if you aren’t, there will be fall deadlines for scholarships, special programs, and even summer programs for next year that are rapidly approaching, and those will quickly be followed by regular decision application deadlines. 

 

In this post, we outline five key things you can start doing now to jump-start your college application season. You’ve only got one shot at this; why not get ahead by starting early?

 

1. Plan Your Standardized Testing Schedule

Unless you are one of the lucky few who’s entirely confident and content with your scores from junior year, it’s likely you’ll take the SAT or ACT at least one more time before you apply to college. In fact, it’s smart to schedule a date early in the fall so that, if worst comes to worst, you can even take the test two more times before your applications go out. 

 

Here are the calendars for important standardized tests that you may want to schedule for the fall:

 

 

In addition, although your senior year Advanced Placement exams won’t likely make it on your college applications, it’s still a good idea to get those exam dates on the calendar as soon as possible, too, especially if you want a particular test location. By succeeding on AP exams, you can sometimes earn advanced standing or even college credit when you matriculate. The 2018 AP Exam Calendar is already available online. Add those dates to your personal calendar now, so that none get double-booked.   

 

2.  Plan Your Personal Statement

The Common App essay prompts have been released and many supplemental essay prompts have already been released. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t start to plan your essays now.

 

You can preview the Common App essay prompts online to get started. Begin by reading through them and seeing if any catch your interest immediately. If nothing sticks out right away, try to narrow your choices down to the top two or three possibilities. Now is a great time to reflect on your summer experiences as possible topics for your college essays.

 

Next, do some brainstorming about what you might write. This can be a little difficult if you aren’t feeling particularly inspired, but don’t worry. There are plenty of resources to help.

 

Check out these CollegeVine posts to get your creative juices flowing:

 

 

Once you’ve come up with a few ideas for what you might write about, start to outline your top ideas. These can be fairly rough outlines to start with. The idea right now is just to get you thinking about the directions you might take your essay in, and then choose the one that resonates with you the most.

 

For more ideas about getting started on your essay, check out these posts:

 

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3.  Plan Who Will Write Your Recommendations

You have a direct hand in most of what goes into your college application by writing your essays and achieving grades and test scores. But your personal recommendations are an outsider’s perspective of all your hard work, and you have very little, if any, say over what gets written in them.

 

To ensure that your recommendations shine and reflect as highly as possible on your achievements as a student and your contributions as a member of the community, you’ll need to think carefully about who writes them. Now, before the school year starts is a great time to think about this. The people who write your recommendations should be those who have worked closely with you in the past and, preferably, have known you for an extended period of time. They should be teachers or mentors who respect you and recognize you for all you’re capable of achieving. These could even be teachers, mentors, or supervisors with whom you worked closely over the summer.

  

Here are a few resources to help as you consider who will write your recommendation letters:

 

 

4. Start A College Application Filing System

It’s likely that you’re already accumulating piles of paperwork. There are score reports from standardized tests. There are shiny brochures from the colleges of your dreams and scholarship applications gathering dust. It’s hard to keep track of it all, but it’s in your best interest to keep hard copies of everything, just in case you ever need them.

 

If you haven’t started a filing system to keep track of all those papers, now is the perfect time. You can use a portable file tote, color-coded hanging folders, or even an accordion file. Label a folder for each college you’re considering applying to, along with a folder for standardized test information and scores, school records and transcripts, scholarships, and financial aid. If you visited any schools over the summer, be sure to include some notes about the people you spoke with, what you did, and what you liked or did not like.

 

By creating the file system before the school year picks up, you make it easy to put things in the right place when piles of papers start coming home with little time to deal with them.

 

5. Set Goals for the School Year

You’ve done it — you’ve reached senior year and before you know it, you’ll be graduating! This year is going to be unlike any other before it. Not only are you focusing on the here and now, but this year more than ever before your future is taking shape and becoming a reality. Now is the time to take a critical look at your profile as a college applicant and at the experiences you hope to gain during your senior year. Use this insight to set some concrete goals for the school year before it starts.

 

Some of your goals might be entirely motivated by college applications, like increasing your SAT scores or earning a merit scholarship. Others might be more focused on personal achievements, like being voted captain of the lacrosse team or passing your final martial arts test. Still more goals might be social in nature — you have senior prom and your last spring break with your high school friends to look forward to. Writing down your goals before the school year begins means that you’ll have clearer vision for achieving them and hitting the ground running when school starts back up.

 

The summer before senior year is an exciting time. There’s a lot to cherish now, in these dwindling months as a high schooler, yet there’s so much to prepare for and look forward to in the near future. Once the school year starts, it might seem to blaze past at lightning speed. Get started organizing for college applications now, and make sure that you have a head start once college admissions season is fully underway.

 

To learn more about the college applications process or to get some additional insight into your college applications, consider the benefits CollegeVine’s Applications Guidance service. Here, you’ll be paired with a personal admissions specialist who can provide step-by-step guidance through the entire application process, including how to perfect your approach to the personal essay.

 

To learn more about getting organized for college applications, check out these posts:

 

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Kate Sundquist

Kate Sundquist

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.
Kate Sundquist