• Mr. Jeff Neill

What I Would Do If I Were You (or "How to spend the summer before senior year")


Dear rising seniors,


Let me join the chorus in congratulating you for having reached that most distinguished goal of high school, the senior year. You have endured much and accomplished much, all in light of the unexpected end to your junior year. Throughout it all, you have done much this spring to ensure a positive future. Senior year will be terrific! So be sure to take some time to get some rest this summer so that you can make the most of it come August, whatever comes our way.


That said, it has become an annual tradition to write this note to each class at the conclusion of their junior year on how best to spend this last summer of high school. You may not have homework over the next two months, but there is plenty to do. Please take the time to read through this note, which we have come to call the “what I would do if I were you” note. We base much of this on our many years of counseling students, but, more recently, much of this comes from the recently graduated seniors ahead of you. Heed our advice and get as much out of the way over the summer as is humanly possible! You’ll thank us all later!


From a practical perspective, this is your LAST weekly assignment for the school year and summer! This message should guide your work through to the start of school in the fall!


  • Get your applications completed. So much of the Common Application, the Coalition Application, the UCAS application (for the UK), the University of California application, the OUAC (for Ontario), and other applications throughout the world require some very basic information... but a lot of it; it merely takes time to complete, mostly. The good news is that many are able to be started over the summer. Take some time and get these applications completed. Often you will need information from your parents, so be sure to come back to school in the fall with as much of these applications complete. Also, be sure to use your ISD email address when you create these accounts!

  • Complete a Main Essay. Regardless of which country or countries you are applying to, get a solid, final draft of a “main essay” completed. If you are using the Common App, get one done. As part of our classwork before we moved online, you all were meant to have begun one US-style and one UK-style essay; revisit those drafts and either build on them or start from scratch. If you are applying anywhere outside the US, we recommend you use this worksheet for the UCAS to get your Personal Statement done. Applying to more than one country? Get them all done! The primary point of resistance by students is that they hope to write about some experience they will have this summer. Don’t rely upon that (especially given the COVID-19 situation)! Write one now. If you have a better idea or topic later, you won’t regret having already done one now, and you can likely meld whatever you do now into a really good supplement essay later.

  • Research your colleges thoroughly. Keep digging at your list. Keep looking at search engines. Keep researching college websites. Look at your majors. Read our ISD College Counseling blog. Look at the courses you would take. Ask questions about the social life, campus culture, food, professors, etc. Keep at it! If you can visit, wonderful! If you cannot, then you need to be prepared to answer the question “why this college?” through the research that you do. You will likely have to answer supplement questions about these places later! Research looks different to every student, as we have discussed, but we generally recommend to keep looking at places until you can identify things you like and things that you do not. Then dig deeper. Keep in mind that we recommend that you begin the summer with a list of 12-15 schools and that you whittle that down to your final list -- typically 6-10 -- by September.

  • Finalize your college list. Many students wait until the fall to finalize their college lists, but, for the vast majority, this can be done over the summer, especially this year since you are unlikely to gain more information come fall. Apply that research and a sense of likelihood of admissibility and finalize your list. We absolutely recommend less than 10 colleges, but we insist that you have at least two “likely” schools. One point of push-back is that some of you are still waiting on standardized testing. If you are planning to take fall tests still, then our recommendation is to work from the “likely” end of your list up to the “reach” end. An increase in testing in the fall might adjust some “far reach” and “reach” schools but is unlikely to impact the “likely” and “possible” end, so it makes sense to get that done now. Regardless, we require that your final college list be completed somewhere around September 1, so you still have to trim your list by then anyway.

  • Demonstrate Interest. One of the areas of the application process for many US schools that students tend to neglect is demonstrating interest (DI). This is, in essence, any indicator to a college that you are likely to enroll if admitted; the opposite is to be a “phantom applicant,” where the first time a college knows of you is when your application arrives. We actively encourage DI of all of our students as is appropriate. Consider the following: applying Early Decision, do a virtual tour of the campus, email the rep with questions that you have culled during your research, complete online questionnaires, participate in online forums or Q&As, sign up for interviews, etc. All of these things are effective uses of your time this summer. Don’t overdo it, though! Establishing a relationship with a college representative based on your genuine interest and legitimate questions is one thing; emailing them simply to demonstrate interest is quite another. Remember: good DI is simply good research and engagement with the college process!

  • Complete your resume. At last count, over 40% of Common Application colleges and universities allowed for the uploading of a resume; however, the Common App only allows for 10 extracurriculars to be listed, and there are significant limitations on the length of your descriptors. Additionally, you will need a resume eventually, so you might as well get one done now. To be clear, we in College Counseling are not resume experts! We can provide some basic criticism and guidance, but our best advice is for you to look online and to follow the model provided in templates, such as those found in Microsoft Word. Once you’ve worked through your resume a bit, perhaps having gotten some feedback from your college counselor and your parents, consider creating an account at vMock (http://www.vmock.com) and uploading your resume for some pretty amazing constructive feedback.

  • Supplements. Colleges and universities in the USA often require supplements, which are school-specific questions within the application and which often include one or more additional essay questions. When additional essays are required, the question is typically some manifestation of the more basic question, “why us?” As mentioned previously, students should be able to answer this question about any college to which they apply. That said, the specific form of the essay questions is not typically released until the Common Application rolls over on August 1. However, students should check colleges’ websites throughout June as many will post their supplements there when they are finalized. If they do not, it is a good idea (think DI above!) to email the representative in late June or early July to inquire whether they have finalized their supplement prompts yet. At the very least, we encourage students to look at previous years’ supplements. And be sure to look at these for all of your colleges. No two answers should be the same, but there is great wisdom in finding paths of efficiency through the supplement process.

  • Test prep. If you are still testing in the fall, find some time to prep. Be sure to know our recommendations. Remember that we do absolutely recommend test prep for all students, but be sure you understand what we mean when we say this and make a plan. The more prep you can get out of the way over the summer, the better. Check out the opportunities and discounts through Revolution Prep.

  • Test registration. Registration for SAT and ACT tests for next academic year will open at some point in the summer. Also, the COVID-10 situation is forcing the testing agencies to expand their offerings. Keep checking the websites to see when things go live and be sure to register early. There is typically a rush to register before the registration deadlines during the opening days of school. Avoid this chaos!

  • Keep playing with Cialfo. Cialfo is software with lots of bells and whistles and with many more coming out. Keep checking it and using it! (And remember: we can see when you last logged on!)

  • Begin mapping out your fall semester. As you finalize your college list, essay plans, testing schedule, and the like, take some time to map out what your fall semester will look like. Consider early action, early decision, and scholarship deadline possibilities. We recommend that students submit applications (and their standardized testing, if required) at least two weeks before the posted deadlines, and we require that their work with their College Counselor is done two weeks before a deadline. Begin penciling out what you might want to get done by when. This will help ease some of the anxiety as you see what lies ahead of you.

  • Confront Reality. Fortunately (unfortunately?), we are incredibly accurate with our LPR predictions. When we categorize a school as “likely,” “possible,” “reach,” or “far reach,” we are accurate, and students need to take time to see what these mean for their college lists. We will provide these evaluations after you receive your IB predictions at the end of the school year and thereafter as requested. With the exception of students with known “hooks” (legacy connection, development interest, athletic recruitment, or portfolio-based applications), gaining admission to “far reach” schools is virtually non-existent. Take time to reflect on this. Of course, we will not tell you that you may not apply to schools, but we will insist that you apply thoughtfully, which means with a full complement of research, to every school. Be sure that you understand our LPR assessments and move through the summer with a firm sense of your likelihood of admissibility. Difficult conversations are best had early!

  • Keep in touch with your counselor. The Counseling office is officially closed June 13 through August 7, but your college counselor is available throughout the summer via email. We may not get back to you right away, but we hope to remain in contact as you work through your summer. Keep us posted!


Ultimately, it is our recommendation that all students be done with as much of this as possible so the fall can be reserved for wrapping up supplements and refining applications. More importantly, the more that you get done over the summer break, the more time you will have to focus on your academics and on being a senior! Consider how you spend your time this summer carefully!


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