HS Juniors: Prepare for College Admissions this Summer

Get an early start on tasks like evaluating testing plans, visiting college campuses, finalizing a balanced college list, preparing recommendations, writing the college essay, designing a financial plan, starting applications, preparing for interviews, and fulfilling any specific requirements
A high school junior working on a laptop preparing for college admissions this summer

If you're just finishing your high school junior year, this summer provides an opportunity for you to position yourself well in the college application process. If you do some college admissions planning over the next couple of months, by August you can have an idea of where you're applying. While you don't have to dedicate part of your summer to college application preparation, doing so will ease your transition back to school in the fall.

There are many steps to the application process, and some seniors feel like the work equates to taking an additional course. With that in mind, think about how you can use your summer in a way that eases some of the application work in the fall. Below is a comprehensive list to guide your college-related summer tasks.

Evaluate Your Testing Plan

As you hit the "pause button" between junior and senior years, summer is a good time to evaluate your standardized testing plan.

The ACT® and the SAT® are now both offered in the summer. Some students choose to use summer to prepare for a fall test. Others take advantage of the summer testing dates with the goal to have all standardized testing complete prior to senior year.

More than 1,900 colleges and universities do not require standardized testing as part of the admission process. Visit for a list of these institutions.

Visit College Campuses

Visiting college campuses while classes are in session is ideal because you'll get a sense of the campus vibe. But summer is also a great time to explore options without missing high school class days. Admission offices employ students as summer tour guides who are eager to show you around and tell you all of the reasons they selected their college.

College visits will also help you prepare for the supplemental essay question, "Why are you applying to X college?" Take notes on your tour, ask questions in the information sessions, and carve out unscripted time to explore both the campus and surrounding town. Ask yourself, "Can I see myself calling this home for four years?"

Balance Your Final College List

Identify the colleges you want to apply to and be sure your final list is balanced. After casting a wide net of possibilities junior year, many high school seniors narrow their final college list to 7-10 institutions. This final list should include a balance of reasonable reach, match/target, and likely/probable schools. Location, financial capacity, social culture, academic programs, and freshman retention rate are all factors to consider.

Prepare Recommender Information

Most colleges require a counselor recommendation and 1-2 teacher recommendations. It's common for teachers and counselors to ask students for information that will inform the letters of recommendation. Summer is a great time to reflect on the past three years of high school and identify areas of growth and success for your recommenders to highlight.

Start Writing Your College Essay

College applicant pools are generally full of students with similar academic achievements. Hence the reason colleges request other pieces: extracurricular activities, interviews, recommendations, and essays. According to the NACAC State of College Admission Report, the essay is an essential piece of the application following rigor of curriculum, grades, and test scores. The essay is your voice, and it's one of the few pieces of the application that you have complete control over. View the essay as a chance to tell the admissions committee who you are, what you value, and what they would not know about you from the rest of your application. When the reader has finished your essay, he or she should feel as if the two of you have just had a conversation. As the Common Application essay prompts are already available, you can begin to work on your essay this summer. This is also an aspect of the application where your parents/guardians can play an important role. They can be helpful in brainstorming potential essay topics and talking out your ideas.

Design a Financial Plan

With the rising cost of education, how to finance a college education is on the minds of students now more than ever. The decision to attend college and, specifically, which college, is a socially influenced choice with short-term and long-term economic impact.  From a financial standpoint, which college to attend should be based on a cost-benefit analysis. MEFA's EFC Calculator can estimate eligibility for financial aid, while college and university Net Price Calculators will give you a better sense of what you will be expected to pay. MEFA emphasizes financial education and has a number of resources to guide families through the process.

College Applications

Know yourself and plan your time accordingly. Some students choose to set a week aside during the summer to focus on completing college applications. Others carve out smaller increments of time over the course of the summer to tackle the applications and essay. Regardless of your approach, the end goal is to complete as much of your applications as possible before the fall. That will position you to have time to set them aside and return to them at a later date for a final edit before submission.

Fulfill Specific Requirements for Athletes and Artists

If you're thinking about pursuing the arts or playing a sport in college, your application process may include a few additional elements. If you're an artist, find out what your prospective colleges require, such as an art portfolio or an audition piece. Select a piece and begin practicing for your audition or collecting components for your portfolio. A portfolio can communicate your skill level as well as your inspiration and aspirations as an artist. Athletes may choose to use this time to create an athletic resume and collect film footage.

Prepare for Interviews

Just as you're looking for the right fit in a college environment, colleges aim to admit students who are the best fit for their programs to ensure academic success. An interview gives you a chance to draw that connection for them through describing your achievements and goals.


Summer vacation is an important time to recharge and spend time with family and friends. Make time for yourself and the activities you enjoy. Senior year will be here in no time, so enjoy your time off!

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