The 5 Key Things Students Should Do The Summer Before Senior Year

a student surrounded by flowers preparing for senior year

Ahhh, summer vacation. It’s finally here. You’ve waited all year for a break from high school so you can sleep in, enjoy the sunshine, relax, and kick up your feet.

But for students who are entering their senior year of high school this fall, these aren’t the only things you should be focused on.

The summer before senior year is a critical time for college prep.

As important as it is to enjoy yourself this summer, there are things you should be doing to make sure your transition to college goes as smoothly as possible!

Dedicating just a bit of your summer vacation to preparing for senior year and beyond will pay off in the months to come.

Here are 5 key things you should be doing the summer before senior year.

1. Put the finishing touches on your college list.

If you haven’t finalized the list of colleges you want to apply to, summer is an excellent time to start narrowing it down.

When you’re creating your list of colleges, you’ll want to compare what they have to offer in relation to what you’re hoping to get out of your college experience.

Some of the factors to consider are:

  • Academic fit
  • Social fit
  • Vocational fit
  • Financial fit

(You can learn more about choosing a college that’s the right fit here.)

Begin by creating a big list of colleges (maybe 15-20) and categorize each of those schools by your likelihood of being admitted:

  • ‘Safety schools’ are schools you have a higher-than likely chance of being admitted to because your standardized test scores and high school grades are higher than the average for admitted students. But they might not have all the things you want in a college.
  • ‘Likelies’ or ‘matches’ are schools that you have a fair chance of being accepted to (maybe 40-60%) and they have most of what you’re looking for.
  • ‘Reaches’ are schools that will be more challenging and competitive to be accepted into. Often, these schools check off all the boxes for what you’re looking for in a college experience.

Because the likelihood of being admitted to a reach school is lower than that of a safety or match school, you don’t want to include only reach schools on your list—but that doesn’t mean they should be excluded!

Focus on having the highest number of match schools on your list, but include reach and safety schools, too.

2. Consider starting your campus visits.

When students ask about the best time to visit college campuses, there isn’t one right answer.

If you visit campuses during the summer, you risk not getting a full taste of what campus life would be like during the academic year.

But for parents who can’t make college visits work during the rest of the year, summer college campus visits can be a great choice.

Senior year is a notoriously busy time in a student’s life, and adding college visits to that can be next to impossible in some cases.

If a summer visit to a college campus is the only time that will work for you and your parents, go for it!

Just be sure to plan your visit weeks in advance.

Many colleges have summer visit schedules, and you can choose between:

  • Individual visits
  • Open houses
  • Self-guided tours

Depending on what the college has to offer, you can choose what’s right for you and what visit will give you the best idea of what life at that college would be like for you.

3. Set goals for the school year.

I advise students to set 3-5 foundational goals for each school year.

These goals help you determine your purpose, stay motivated, be accountable, believe in yourself, and know when to ask for help if you need it.

You can use your list of goals to check in on your progress as your senior year progresses.

What are some goals to include on my list?

Here are a few examples of goals you might want to add to your list:

  • Maintain a _____ GPA.
  • Meet with a teacher after school each week.
  • Increase volunteer hours at _________________ by 1 hour per week.
  • Start a ___________ club at my community center.
  • Complete art portfolio with __ drawings by end of semester.

4. Pursue your passions and keep building your college resume.

The summer before senior year is also a time to focus on things that are productive, interesting, and challenging.

You don’t need to think about school 24/7, and in fact, I’d strongly advise students NOT do this!

Yes, you should put some work into preparing for college, but you also need to take advantage of the time off school to pursue your passions.

After all, pursuing your passions is a great way to build your college resume!

Maybe you’re passionate about working with children. Take time in the summer before senior year to mentor or tutor younger students.

Or if travel is your passion, consider volunteering abroad where you are not only helping others, but getting life experience and resume material at the same time.

Maybe you’re not sure of what your passion is yet. The summer before senior year is a great time to find out! And how do you do that?

By trying new things!

Attempting new tasks or activities takes you out of your comfort zone and helps you grow as a person. At the same time, you’re likely to meet interesting people and learn something new.

5. Begin drafting your college essay…at the end of summer!

As you’ve seen, the summer before senior year is a time to pursue your passions and build your college resume. The experiences you’re bound to have over the summer could prove life-changing, and would make great material for your college essays.  

Waiting until the end of summer to begin drafting your college essays will allow you to give this task the attention it deserves. You’ll also be able to reflect on your summer experiences when you’re writing your essay.

Preparing for college life and beyond.

All of these things help you follow or determine your passion, and by doing that, you help build your college resume and prepare yourself for the life experiences to come.

Summer is meant to be enjoyed, but if you can make the summer before senior year fun AND productive, you’ll set yourself up for more success down the road!

Need a little more guidance?

For one-on-one support and other resources to help you or your child get into (or pay) for college click here.

If you enjoyed this article, don’t miss these posts either:

3 Reasons Why Taking the SAT and ACT Might be a Waste of Time and Money

How To Motivate Your Teen To Visit Colleges…and Survive Visits As a Parent

College Essay How-to: Who is someone you admire?

How To Motivate Your Teen To Visit Colleges…and Survive Visits As a Parent

What’s the best way to learn if a college is going to be great fit for your teen?

How can you help your teen choose a college that personally inspires and excites them–rather than choosing a college because that’s where his or her friends are going?

How can you get a good idea if a college will be a springboard for your aspiring young adult so you can feel more confident in the investment?

…By making college campus visits!

Campus visits can answer these questions quickly and clearly for both you and your teen. Your teen can get a true “feel” for what it would be like to stay in the dorm, to use the labs, library, gym and other facilities, to feel at home given the size of the student body, to hang out on campus and around town. Rather than imagining college based on media hype or his or her friends’ opinion, your teen can see for him/herself.

Plus, as a parent, you can help your teen compare and contrast college options since you know your teen’s preferences and tendencies so well. Walking on a campus, touring with a student guide and speaking with faculty can offer assurance in ways a brochure or website never can.

How do we decide which schools to visit if my teen has a list of 10 or more?

If time and travel allow, start with 3 colleges that provide a broad overview of the types of schools available–a small, private college, a mid-size private or public university, a big public university. These will give your teen a good overview of the wide range of options they have for schools. Once they decide (after visiting!) whether they prefer small, medium or a large student body, your teen  can start to narrow their search and spend the majority of time looking at colleges in that size range.

Should we make a campus visit during spring or summer break?

Many families plan college tours during spring or summer break since it’s the most convenient time with school calendars. Certainly, a visit to the campus during a break is better than no visit at all.

Summer campus visits can be most important for high school juniors/rising seniors. As juniors are finalizing their college list, a summer campus visit can be considerably helpful for writing applications in the fall. Likewise, given how busy the fall of senior year will be, it’s usually not enough time to go on a campus visit, especially if a teen plays a sport or participates in clubs like marching band or Model UN.

However, it’s ideal to plan a visit when school is in session. Being able to see college students “in their natural habitat” will give your high schooler an even greater understanding of what their future could be like at that college. With students and faculty on campus, your teen can even sit in on a class lecture, see a sporting event or marching band practices, check out the library in use, schedule a meeting with a coach or professor, etc.

A fun activity for you and your teen to do would be to plan to eat in the dining hall. You may not have the time to go out and find a restaurant during the day of the tour, so the dining hall would be a great way to find out what the food is like on campus. Check for cleanliness, the variety of quality foods, and accessibility. (If the campus is big, there may be multiple dining halls to consider.)

Encourage your teen to talk with students while visiting the campus (not only the student guide). It can be inspiring and helpful for your teen to hear what college is like directly from a student! This may be the most important part of your campus visits and an opportunity that too many college-bound students do not take advantage of. Teens can ask them any questions they have or about their general experience at the school. (Your teen may get more nuanced answers than from tour guides, which can help broaden their perspective on the student community at any given campus.)

Perks of planning ahead

Another benefit to arranging a college visit while school is in session is that you can call ahead and schedule a tour led by a current student. I recommend reserving your college tours at least 30 days in advance so that tours are not booked by the time you arrive.

Not only is it helpful to have a guide to lead you and answer your teen’s questions, but this “demonstrates interest”. By demonstrating interest in a school by making an effort to visit, scheduling a tour, asking questions and following up with a thank you note, your teen can signal their interest to admissions. This can help when it comes to reviewing your teen’s college application if an admissions officer is making a final decision between an applicant who has shown interest in attending versus one who has not.

In addition to the admissions office tour, you might also want to book an appointment with the financial aid office. Learning what options are available to your family could make a huge difference when the time comes to choose a college.

Get my free guide

Throughout the year, I visit dozens of college campuses and learn something new every time. With each visit, it’s important for me to write notes so that I keep track of all that I learned. Please download our Campus Visit Checklist so that your teen remembers what they learned and keep track of how each college would be a fit for their goals, interests and needs.