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Summer College Prep: 5 College Research Tasks to Check off the List Now

If you’re a parent like me who’s been giving your teen a little side-eye when they wander downstairs at 1:30 p.m. in their pajamas, you probably wish they could be doing something productive right about now. In addition to helping out around the house (and I wish you luck with that), there is actually something important that older teens could be doing. This could be an ideal time for your high school juniors to get a jumpstart on the college application process. 

It might actually help them to have something positive to focus on for the future, and they are likely more motivated than ever to envision a time when that future will arrive! 

Here are five college research tasks your teen can knock out now or work on over the summer, without the pressures and deadlines of schoolwork and extracurriculars getting in the way. 

College Summer Research

1. Create a deadline checklist

Once the application process starts, the deadlines start arriving fast and furious, so start by noting the important dates in a master planner, suggests Mike Brown, vice president of enrollment at Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio. “From testing dates to application deadlines, scholarship deadlines, and housing requests, you don’t want to miss a date,” he says. When my son was applying to college, he discovered that even though he hadn’t planned to apply during the first wave, one of his schools required all applicants to submit by December 1 to be considered for merit scholarships—something he would have missed if he hadn’t really scoured the website. Note: testing dates have changed due to the COVID crisis, so be sure to stay on top of them at collegeboard.org and act.org.

2. Spend time making a high school resume

Many colleges invite students to upload a resume as a part of the online application, and now is a great time to work on putting one together. “Anything from having a job to pursuing an independent project to training for a sport or doing community service can be listed as an activity when you’re making a high school resume,” says Sara Harberson, a former dean of admissions and the founder of the blog Application Nation. However, Harberson notes, the more hours a student has devoted to a specific activity, the better, so be judicious in how you include activities. “A one-week internship is not the same as doing a dedicated experience all summer,” she says.

3. Start college applications 

Individual colleges don’t usually update their applications until August 1, says Harberson, but teens can start working on supplemental essays or tackling a writing prompt from the Common App. Even though applications don’t open until August 1, the Common App writing prompts are available online, and they will remain the same for 2020-2021 applications. Spending some time thinking about the topic and how to start a college essay will pay off, says Brown. “I want to know you better after reading the essay, so make sure your voice shines through,” he says. Your teen can create an account at commonapp.org any time and add to it as they go through the process. 

4. Take a virtual campus tour

While it’s impossible to know right now whether colleges will be able to host visitors this summer, it’s likely they will offer special sessions for prospective students as soon as they are able to do so. For now, the best way to get the vibe for a particular college is to take a virtual tour, which you can either find on the college’s website or on YouTube. Doing a virtual tour now may help your student decide which ones they want to visit in person when the time comes. 

5. Work on test prep

This is nobody’s idea of a fun quarantine activity, but now may be the best possible time to undertake test prep for the ACT or SAT. Even if your teen feels confident with their current score, Harberson says taking the test again can help since many colleges “superscore,” looking at the best score from each section even if you took them on different days. “That can be enough to bump you into the next scholarship bracket,” says Brown. “And the time and effort required to take the test again shows some moxie and what kind of student you are going to be.” Check out test prep options offered online at khanacademy.org/sat in partnership with the College Board. 

Yes, you’ll probably be the one getting some side-eye from your teen when you suggest these activities, but they might just thank you when they’re ahead of the game come next fall. Maybe. 

Cathie Ericson

Cathie Ericson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, and mom of three teen boys. She is a frequent contributor to yourteenmag.com.

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