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Smart Summer College Planning Steps for All High School Grades

Summer is a great time to work on the college search and admission process. Here's how to prep whether you're a freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior!

School is finally out! We can all celebrate and relax for a bit over the next couple months…but given how much free time you now have, you should consider thinking about college, especially if you’re going to be a senior in high school next year. Yes, it may seem like you have so much time in front of you that you can use to procrastinate, but why not get some college planning out of the way (or get ahead of the game) before you’re swamped with school again? Here are a few things you should do, sorted by grade.

Rising freshmen, sophomores, and juniors

Even if you're not old enough to submit your college applications yet, there's a ton you can be doing to plan for the future. Here are some things to focus on whether you're a freshman, sophomore, or junior. 

Think about what you’re interested in

It’s never too soon to realize your hobbies and interests and get involved in activities related to them. That way, you can start to determine what you want to focus on in college and look at schools that will be the best fit for those interests. There are plenty of summer camps and courses you can take if you want to delve further into a topic!

Visit campuses

This is one of the most underrated things that you must do! I didn’t realize how important visiting a college campus was until after I’d received my acceptances, and I wish I had visited more schools before I applied. By visiting colleges, you can start to determine which campuses feel like a good fit. Try to go on a tour and possibly sit in on a class. It’s also a good idea to meet with an admission counselor and talk to current students in order to find out about the campus culture and how you might fit in. If you have special interests like music or sports, try to get in touch with those departments, teachers, and coaches so you can see the facilities and learn what the college has to offer you. And if you can't make college visits work time-wise or financially, check out some virtual tours that are offered by most colleges and universities.

Related: College Visits: How to Prepare to Take Tours and Explore Campus

Study for upcoming tests

I know this is not something you want to spend your summer doing, but it helps to get a head start! Just spend a little bit of time per day working to get ready for the SAT or ACT and even preparing yourself for your upcoming classes. You could also look into taking a standardized test (or a practice test) over the summer.

Get a job

Part-jobs look great on college applications. It shows that you do more than just school, and it also shows that you are responsible and committed! It can be any sort of job, but if you’re lucky enough to find a job related to your interests, take that one. Anything that adds to your résumé is a worthwhile use of your time leading up to college. 

Get an internship or do volunteer work

This is another application builder. Colleges want to see that you’re invested in the world outside of school; it’s not enough to just be a straight-A student. Try to find interesting projects near you and find out how to get involved! Volunteer work may sound boring, but I promise that you’ll have a great time working in your community. You may even discover a new interest.

Related: The Best Summertime Opportunities: Jobs, Internships, and Volunteering

Rising seniors

Even though you’ve probably done many of the above items already, you should continue them! College applications are stressful, but you shouldn't stop everything you're doing just to focus on college apps. You need to show that you're a real person with real, long-lasting interests. Senior year is going to be busy. Take advantage of the time you have now to get ahead so the year is less stressful with all your homework, extracurriculars, and college applications.

Research colleges

There are tons of great college search websites out there, and CollegeXpress has its own College Search tool that can help you determine what schools might be best suited to your goals. You want to choose a school that offers your preferred areas of study, along with any other hobbies or interests you have. Try to delve in deep and find out about the culture on campus. Read about student life, see what professors are doing research on, and take a virtual tour. College is about more than just studying; you should like the student life and the professors too. There are also lots of college search organizers online to help you figure out what information to compare.

Related: 5 Things to Research Again Before Choosing a College

Find a college counselor

This isn’t required, but college counselors are great at helping you figure out where to apply and helping you work on your applications. College apps are strenuous and can be confusing, so having a guide walk you through the process can be very helpful. Look up counselors around you and read reviews. You’ll want to do a lot of research before choosing a counselor, as this is the person who will be helping you make one of the biggest decisions of your life. Keep in mind, though, that college counselors can be expensive. See if using one is the right plan for you and your family.

Write your admission essays

Many colleges release their application essay questions during the summer, so if you know where you want to apply, start working on these essays! Even though they aren’t due until late fall or winter, it’s good to get a head start before you have to deal with your normal school work load. You can also start to craft your résumé, something that many schools also require as part of your application.

Related: An Easy Plan for Starting Your College Application Essays Over the Summer

There are lots of things you should do during the summer, but allow yourself to relax too. You just finished another year of school, and you deserve a break! Go to the beach, hang out with friends, or go on vacation. Just be sure to think about your future. You’ve got some big decisions ahead of you!

Need help getting through the college search process step-by-step? Check out The CollegeXpress Ultimate Guide to the College Search—it covers everything you need to know and do!

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