The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The end of summer is upon us.  For many families, snippets of “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” are playing in the heads of Mom and Dad.  Summer vacation seems to be just long enough that everyone is ready to get back to their friends and routines.  For families with high school seniors, things are a little different.

A Little Different

The summer between Junior and Senior year is when it really hits home that things are changing and changing fast.  Of course, it isn’t the first time things were changing this fast for the family.  Remember bringing a new little person into the family was certainly a colossal change.  And then there were changes like moving anything that could be choked on, knocked over, pulled down, or gotten into when they learned to move about.  Even so, this time feels different.

Every year children and young adults hear a similar refrain – This is preparing you for what comes next.  Remember getting ready for pre-school and kindergarten? Putting on shoes, knowing your address?  Through grade school – learning to read, then reading to learn.  Learning to get along.  Learning general science so you could go on to biology, chemistry and physics.  Learning geography so that history would make sense.  The connections between those concepts are easy to understand and everyone followed a pretty similar path.  One grade level followed another as one subject built on another.

But this time is different.

What lies ahead

After high school there are countless possible paths to follow.  Each student will choose his or her own path.  And for some it will be the first time that they have so much freedom to choose.  This is a huge realization and every student handles it in his or her own way.  For some students it is completely overwhelming and for others it is exhilarating.

For those going on to college, this is entering yet another time of intense work.  College application season involves researching schools and their offerings, writing essays, tracking deadlines, and gathering recommendations all while maintaining high grades and participating in sports, extracurricular and social activities (it is Senior Year after all).  It is a lot to do compressed into a short time – possibly as short as September to November 1 when some early decision applications are due.

Take the emotional uncertainty of what lies ahead and combine it with the pressure of getting everything done on time and your student can have a really rough fall.  However, here are some steps they can take now to ease some of that pressure.

8 Steps to take now

The Common App Essay

Write the essay for the common application. Just get it down on paper (digital paper).  It may not be the essay that you ultimately submit but get those thoughts out.  It is much easier to get feedback and to revise words than thoughts.

The essay is a chance for students to show who they are. It involves some introspection and you might be surprised at what comes of that introspection.  Take the time without the pressures of classwork to process your thoughts and get them into words.

Additional essays

Be sure that you are aware of all additional essays that you have to write. You may add and remove schools from your list so the list of additional essays may change.  But start the school year with a list.  Determine if there are places where you can use the same essay – meaning schools that have the same writing topics.  However, before you decide to re-use an essay be absolutely sure that you are addressing what you need to address for each school.

Visit schools

While I advocate visiting schools when regular classes are in session, that isn’t always possible.  See some of the schools on your list and make sure you take notes before leaving the campus.  If you like the school be sure to note something that stood out to you that you liked.  It will come in handy if you have to write an application essay about why that school is the right school for you.

Make a calendar

Trust me on this.  There will be a lot of deadlines.  Gather the information on each school’s application deadline, the deadline for financial aid applications, your own school’s deadlines for requesting recommendations and other documentation, SATs and ACTs.  Leave space on your calendar (you’ll need a big calendar).  When school starts, continue using that calendar for major tests and projects so that you can see all of your commitments in one place.  This is where your time management skills will pay off (and yes, you have the skills, but you must choose to use them).

Talk to college students

Talk to college students before they go back to school. You will likely find that the amenities touted by a school that seemed so great on college tours are often completely forgotten by students once they enroll at the school.  You may hear that your friend never stepped foot in that really impressive looking new athletic facility because he was too busy doing other (closer, more convenient) activities.  Or you may hear that the remarkable new STEM building shown off during a tour is really only used by graduate students.  In some cases, you’ll hear that getting into the nearby city is more cumbersome than the tour guides lead you to believe.  Find out what the students really like about their schools – and what they dislike.

Take responsibility

Determine now to advocate for yourself and to take responsibility for your future. It is up to you to know your deadlines and commitments (refer back to Make a calendar).

Take care of yourself

Take care of yourself and stay healthy. Get enough sleep, wear sunscreen, etc.  The next few months will feel like a whirlwind.  Take care of yourself so you can enjoy it.