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Inside My Late Summer Playbook: What Seniors Should Be Doing Right Now

We always take vacation at the end of the summer after swim season ends and my kids are just about ready to not only destroy our house, but each other. This year, we are taking a road trip to see my in-laws before heading to our friendly neighbor up north, Canada. I am hoping the peaceful influence of the Canadians leaves a lasting impression on the Harberson Family. Before I leave, I've got to make sure all of my students are in good shape and have a checklist to do while I'm gone.

Here's a peek inside my playbook as America's College Counselor to know exactly what you should be doing right now:

1. If you haven't started your main college essay, there is no better time to start.

You don't need to look at sample essays or use any special template to write a moving, personal, and distinctly-you type of essay. Pick the topic that reveals the best example of yourself and run with it.

2. Start filling out applications.

Whether you plan to use the Common Application, the Coalition Application, an institutional-specific application, or all of the above, opening up an account and inputting your information puts everything into motion!

3. Consider taking standardized testing one more time. 
Why? Well, after doing this job for 20 years one thing is clear: Students often get their best results on the SATs and ACTs right now as seniors. The ACT offers a test in September and the SAT is offered in October. Both test dates will still allow a student to apply Early Decision or Early Action.

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4. Whether you are planning to re-take the SATs or ACTs again, send your best scores right now to the colleges where you plan to apply early.
This gives the score report plenty of time to reach the colleges. If your September or October scores are better, the college will update your scores as long as the new results are sent to them.

5. Reach out to your counselor of record and the teachers that are writing your letters of recommendation.
Connecting with them keeps you on their radar and it's a chance to be the architect of your own narrative. Update them on your summer, college list, and anything that has changed. For example, if you are no longer interested in majoring in an area, let them know so that their letters don't contradict what's in your portion of the application.

6. Review the supplements for the colleges where you plan to apply to and start working on them.
No matter how early I start working with a student, it's nearly impossible to get all of the supplements done before the school year begins. But a focused student can get a head start.

7. Make sure the topics for your responses and essays on the supplements are about something different than what you wrote your main college essay on.
It's important to layer ideas in an application rather than hammer one thing home.
8. Take a close look at your college list. It should include an equal distribution of reach, target, and likely schools.

9. Consider applying early to as many schools as you can as long as it's permitted.
Early Decision, Early Action, Priority Deadlines, and Rolling Admissions programs all have early deadlines and major advantages too!

10. Try to visit a few more colleges, especially any colleges you plan to apply early to.
Many colleges use "demonstrated interest" to control their admit rate. Visiting a college that you plan to apply early to will increase your chances of admission if they track demonstrated interest.

As summer vacation winds down, high school seniors start to focus on their future with much more urgency and focus than ever before. While there is still plenty of time to hang out with friends or even squeeze in a last minute trip like I plan to do, getting a leg up on the college admissions process will make the start of the school year that much smoother.