Advice for Juniors

Advice for Working on the Essay this Summer

Fall of senior year is a busy time. So we strongly urge you to have at least your Common Application essay in good shape before senior year begins because writing the essays while attending school is like adding a class to your schedule -- remember, in addition to the Common App's, there are those in the supplements. Summer provides the luxury of uninterrupted time to reflect and write. And you're fortunate that the Common App essay prompts will remain the same, so you don't have to wait until August 1st to start working on them.

So here's some advice to kick start your essays over the coming summer months -- from a suggested reading list that we hope will inspire to some excellent step-by-step guidance on those Common App essay prompts.

Finding Your Voice in the Essay:  A suggested reading list of first-person essays.

The Real Topic of your Essay is You: One strategy to help you find a topic.

What are colleges looking for in the essay?

What three things should rising seniors be doing over the summer?

As we head off into the summer, we asked our experts what rising seniors should be doing this summer. As usual, they've got some great advice about how to rest, recharge, and prepare for a couple of steps in the college application process so you'll hit the ground running -- and avoid feeling overwhelmed -- in the fall. And don't forget, two of the most important and best things you can do this summer are rest and read, read, read... Nothing will prepare you better for senior year. Enjoy all of it!

 

Mai Lien Nguyen
College and Career Center Coordinator
Mountain View High School
Mountain View, CA

 

“Having fun” and “preparing for college applications” aren’t phrases you normally hear in the same breath.  But the summer before senior year could be the golden opportunity to make this happen.  Let’s see how:

 

Juniors, if you could do anything this summer...

When College Admission was in high school, summers felt long and slow, a time to earn some extra money and hang out with friends. We worked as a neighborhood babysitter and a proof reader at the local newspaper. Earned a little extra high school credit with classes at the local community college -- one was a "typing course"! Polished short stories in the style of John Cheever that garnered a desk drawer full of rejection slips. On days off, we sprayed our hair with Sun-In and hit the deck at the pool. Every night, we met up with friends by the swings at Kilgore Park. There was so much time for everything.

Today, high school students -- particularly rising seniors -- may feel the need to fill their summer fuller. Terri Devine of Francis Parker School in San Diego, CA, joins us today to talk about summer plans -- particularly for any juniors stressing about their resumes. Read on for some good advice and great ideas…  

What Should Juniors Be Doing This Summer?

The answer to this question is really quite simple…get some rest, read, and explore what you find truly interesting (and it would be fine with everyone if what you find truly interesting is a summer job…more on that later).

A Window into the Psyche of Rising Seniors

Last year, we asked psychologist Michael Thompson, author of The Pressured Child, to weigh in on what parents can do to constructively advise -- and motivate -- their junior students as they begin the application process. Good advice never goes out of style -- and Thompson is the best -- so we wanted to run these posts again for all of those out there who are wondering what to expect when your child applies to college. Please read on to learn how to avoid jumping at the bait of your teenager's negativity and how not to unwittingly crash into a seventeen-year-old psyche, as well as what Monty Python has to do with any of this!

Listen, Listen, Listen: Practical Advice from Psychologist Michael Thompson on Motivating Juniors to Focus on College

Run away! Run away! Michael Thompson on Monty Python and Motivating 11th Graders to Focus on College

Juniors: It's a Myth that some Summer Programs Can Enhance Your Chances of Admission

As you look ahead to how you will spend your summer, we have some advice for you about leadership training or enrichment programs and on-campus academic programs. It is a myth that some of these programs can especially enhance your chances of getting into college.

Leadership training and enrichment programs— for example, the Congressional Youth Leadership Council or the National Young Leaders Conference— position themselves so that when the “invitation” arrives in the mail, students might think they have been specially selected to participate. But even if there are baseline GPA requirements and teachers are required to nominate students, these programs are not selective and have a hefty price tag of thousands of dollars. Undertake such an activity only if it aligns with your interests and is something you’d do even if colleges were never to learn about it. Participation will usually not be a plus factor in an admission decision.

College and Life: Is it about the finish line or the road you take to get there?

Mark Moody, Co-Director of College Counseling at Colorado Academy, is back with us today with an excellent discussion of "outcomes" -- a meme in the media and a subject on the minds of some students, parents, educators and other interested parties. Read on to see why becoming "dis-oriented" from outcomes may provide the happiest ending. 

 

I’ve noticed the term “outcomes-oriented” being used a lot lately. It’s apparently a desirable quality, describing my LinkedIn contacts on their profiles, applicants I encounter on hiring committees, professional services in marketing emails that land in my inbox. When you consider it, “outcomes-oriented” is an interesting pairing of words. It suggests a constant headlong bearing toward a projected future, radar locked on a defined finish line and a specific expectation of what should await there. It feels antsy and impatient. Let’s get to the outcome, people! Who cares how? Full speed ahead!

Juniors: Time to Ask Teachers for Recommendations!

 

Many colleges require letters of recommendation from the people who know students best in an academic setting -- your high school counselor and teachers.  Letters of recommendation from teachers tell admission officers how students contribute to the academic and intellectual life of their high school.

Now is the time to ask those teachers whom you would like to write for you, especially if you are enjoying a class and connecting with the teacher or planning to apply under an early program. You want to ask teachers who know you well and have taught you recently in a challenging class.

When you ask, keep in mind that writing letters of recommendation is not part of a teacher's normal job duties and you should approach your teachers with a polite considerate request. Here are some pointers:

                *             Ask in person. No emails. A personal request is most thoughtful. Here's a sound bite: "I'm thinking ahead to college applications and wonder if you feel writing a recommendation is something you can do for me."

Juniors: This one says college, that one says university -- What's in a name?

 

As you research colleges for an initial list of schools to which you may apply, understanding how they "name" or characterize themselves may provide important information. Whether a school is a “college” or a “university” can make a difference.

Most— but not all— colleges and universities offer a liberal education. That doesn’t refer to politics! “Liberal” in this case goes back to the original meaning of the word: “unrestricted.” It’s an educational approach where a student is called on to examine problems and issues from multiple vantage points and learns how to think, communicate, question, and probe. The rationale behind a liberal education is that the world is changing rapidly and training for a specific discipline or job is ultimately less practical than learning how to be ready for a world unknown.

Undergraduate education in the United States is dominated by institutions that hold to the notion that a liberal education is the best way to prepare for a life of significance, meaning, and means. There are, however, also terrificc options that do not insist students be liberally educated.

Juniors: Do you know what "test optional" means?

There have been a lot of headlines lately about standardized testing. There is no question standardized testing is in a period of evolution. As a result, you will be hearing more and more about schools that are "test optional."

In recent years, many colleges have looked more closely at the use of standardized test scores and some have adopted a “test- optional” policy. That means they are flexible about submission of standardized test scores. But it's not as obvious as it sounds. At some schools test optional means students are no longer required to submit SAT or ACT scores. At others, however, it means students may be asked to submit the results of AP, IB, or SAT Subject Tests in lieu of SAT or ACT results. Eligibility to not submit test scores may also be contingent on other factors— for example, applicants might need to rank in the top 10 percent of their class or have a GPA of 3.5 or above. Furthermore, applicants can sometimes be required to meet alternative admission requirements such as submission of graded writing samples, additional teacher recommendations, or in- person interviews. You will need to check the testing policy of each school to which you are applying.

Juniors: Find your foundation schools -- the ones where you can build a foundation for success in life!

Juniors, one of your tasks now and over the coming summer months is to begin to put together a list of colleges to which you may apply. Our Counselor of the Month Trevor Rusert of Pennsylvania's Sewickley Academy has some great advice about how to start:

Rather than start with the college where you have almost no chance for acceptance, let’s start by applying to 4-5 outstanding colleges where your chances for admission are strong (i.e., your GPA is above the average GPA of accepted students from your school, and your standardized test results are above or at the top of the average range).  We no longer call them “safety schools” because that tends to carry a negative connotation.  Just because one school is easier to gain admission to than another does not mean that you are sacrificing quality of education.  Therefore, we call these colleges “foundation schools”.  These are the schools where you can build a foundation for success in life.  Places where you can receive an outstanding education, and go on to launch a successful career.  The application process is kind of like building a house.  You don’t start by planning a rooftop swimming pool (that is probably not realistic), you start by building a strong foundation.

Find your foundation schools! This time next year, you'll be glad you did.

 

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