Whether you’re about to be a senior in high school or a freshman in college (or anything in between), you probably feel as if summer couldn’t have come fast enough! However, as you already know, everything comes to an end eventually. As ephemeral as summer may feel, there is so much to do in addition to working to make extra money, playing in the sun, lounging on the couch, hanging out with friends, or catching up on Netflix’s latest shows. As a recent graduate, I do wish I did some things differently the summer before my senior year, which is why I’m ensuring I have a more productive summer going into my freshman year of college. Here are a few ways to spend your time this summer wisely—whether you’re a soon-to-be high school senior or college freshman—and get ready for a big year ahead.
1. Register for the ACT or SAT
If you’re planning on taking or retaking the ACT or SAT, do it as soon as you possibly can. Both the SAT and ACT hold testing dates during the summer because it’s often easier for students to focus on studying when they don’t have to worry about their regular school-year academics. [Check out all the test dates on the CollegeXpress SAT & ACT Date Wheel!] I went into the summer planning to study extensively for my standardized tests. But even though I had a great mindset and good intentions, I didn’t study as much as I should have. Every point counts when it comes to these two tests. (And each point could be more money in your pocket when it’s time to apply for scholarships and financial aid.) Don’t create an elaborate study plan that you don’t plan to follow through on. Sometimes less is more: you could study a little longer for fewer days a week, or study for less time but more frequently. No one knows you better than you, but just make sure you study and learn the inner workings of the tests!
2. Keep your mind sharp
It’s easy to think that all learning comes to an end once summer starts, but think again. This time off offers you a chance to take college courses without worrying about your regular classes and extracurriculars as well. The summer before my senior year, I knew a couple of students who took some summer college classes and found them beneficial. They received a bit of the college experience, learned to use some of the technology used in colleges such as Canvas and Blackboard, and received credits for their hard work. Depending on the college they choose to attend, that is one class they might not have to take next year as freshmen.
Related: 8 Books to Add to Your Reading List This Summer
3. Search for scholarships
No one needs to tell you how expensive college is—it’s something you already know by now. Not everyone is in a position where they are financially worry-free when it comes to pursuing higher education. We each have various experiences, backgrounds, and goals. From my scholarship search days, I’ve learned that is not a bad thing! If anything, use your differences, talents, skills, and economic status to your advantage. When it comes to applying for scholarships, my only regret is that I didn’t start applying earlier. Despite that, as a result of my efforts, I managed to receive more than $10,000 in scholarships from local awards. Hard work really does pay off! And what better time to start working than summer vacation? You have the time, so get started right away.
Apply for scholarships that apply to you
At the start of my senior year, I thought there was no point in applying for any scholarships. In my mind, the chances of me receiving any were slim to none. By November, my mindset shifted as I started applying to colleges and the expenses became more real. I set out to apply to as many scholarships as my college and career counselor sent out. He would send out scholarship information on a regular basis, and I made sure to apply to all the ones that applied to me. This is no easy job, but it’s worth it in the end. It involves keeping track of dates and deadlines and ensuring you have all the necessary paperwork required. Most importantly, you have to stick to the instructions provided by all scholarships. You might be a perfect candidate for a scholarship, but not following the directions on your scholarship applications as given might ruin your chances completely.
Apply to scholarships with essays (even if you’re not a writer)
Many of the scholarships I applied to had an essay component. If writing isn’t your forte, find the help that you need from a friend, parent, or teacher. They can give you advice on how to start, what to write about, and how to improve it once you have a draft. Have them read your essays and provide overall feedback about how you can make them better. Keep track of the essays you write as well as the prompts, because you might be able to reuse some. Being a great writer isn’t necessary for writing a great scholarship essay. It just means you may have to put in a little extra work—but it’s worth it.
4. Get ready for college
Just because you’ve graduated doesn’t mean your summer is going to be all fun and games. You’ll have so much to do before your first year of college, which is why you should get a head start immediately. Unlike high school, you might not necessarily have someone holding your hand and guiding you every step of the way. You must be proactive and take some initiative! As a college student, you’ll be receiving a college email address. Activate it and check it regularly. You’ll also be given a special ID granting you access to check your personal information, enrollment status, and financial status. Use this regularly too to check any changes made to your financial aid or to see if the school has requested more information from you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you have them. Just a few things to add to your checklist this summer if you’re starting college as a freshman:
- Pay your admission deposit. And make sure it’s by the date your college mandates.
- Submit, submit, submit! Submitting essential information like your official final high school transcripts, college transcripts from dual enrollment, remaining SAT/ ACT scores, AP scores, and IB scores after you graduate is crucial. Lastly, submit your immunization and health history forms! If not, you might have holds placed on your enrollment.
- Sign up for orientation as soon as possible. This is your chance to learn more about the campus, students, and staff—plus you’ll get to start picking your classes. When it comes to choosing courses, the adage “the early bird gets the worm” applies. Don’t wait last minute if you can help it!
- Keep applying for scholarships. Remember, college is expensive!
Related: A Smart Checklist to Prep for Your First Year of College
Find your work-fun balance
I’m looking forward to this summer as much as the next person! But while you’re having fun, don’t forget to get some work done. For some, this may mean studying or taking college classes, and for others, it might mean gathering paperwork and submitting information. No matter what it entails, use your summer wisely to ensure you’re ready for the upcoming school year. Time flies when you’re having fun, but also when you’re working hard.
If you're an underclassman, summer is the perfect time to look for colleges! Start your search on CollegeXpress.