Set up interviews as early in the summer as possible since it will be harder to get them later. Colleges will tell you that interviews are optional, but we think they're a good idea. Bring your family along on summer visits. Every college is beautiful and easy going in the summer so you won't learn as much about these schools as you will on fall visits. But take this opportunity to visit the campus and discuss what you are looking for.
WAITING LIST WHARF
What if your first choice places you on its waiting list? In recent years, schools have been accepting some students from their waiting lists, so don't lose hope. Let the college immediately know that you're still psyched and send an update on your activities.
COLLEGE ESSAY ESTATE
Have a good time with the essay. Avoid the formulas ("We spent the summer in France and it was really interesting!") and don't be afraid to let your individuality stand out. Before you send out your essays, make sure they are perfect!
EARLY DECISION BYPASS
More than half of the freshmen at many top schools applied Early Decision or Early Action. You should too, if you know where you want to go and you're reasonably happy with your grades and test scores. Apply early to your first-choice school by November 1, and you may be finished with your journey by mid-December. What's the catch? If you go Early Decision, you're committing yourself—if you're accepted, you're going there. Early Action doesn't have such strict rules, but fewer schools offer it.
COLLEGE VISIT CROSSROADS
Visit your favorite college with a friend and stay the night. (If you don't know anyone at the college, call the school well before you go and ask the admissions office to put you up with a student.) Look beyond the nice classrooms and the big library. Hang out with the students and you'll get a good sense of whether a school is right for you. To learn more about the college visit, check out our book Visiting College Campuses.
It's time to ask your teachers for recommendations. Which teachers? The ones who know you well and like your work. By the way, don't just hand these teachers a form; talk to them about the things that you enjoy and at which you excel.
Don't clutter your year with a lot of useless extracurriculars because you think that the colleges want to see them. Colleges would much rather see you focus on a few worthwhile activities than divide your time among lots of them.
SAT, ACT, SAT SUBJECT TESTS TOWN
If you're happy with your previous SAT or ACT scores, skip the fall test altogether. If you think you can do better, consider taking the SAT or ACT again in October or November of your senior year (prep begins in late August). If you still need to take any SAT Subject Tests, now's the time.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is available from your guidance counselor or by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID or visiting fafsa.ed.gov. Go to the Financial Center at PrincetonReview.com/college/finance to learn how to complete this form and get the most money in financial aid.
Want to jeopardize your chances of getting into a school where you'll be happy? Then procrastinate. Shoo-in candidates can ruin their chances for admission by sending things in late. Don't get neurotic, but stay on top of things. Let your recommenders know your deadlines, and make sure you've given your counselor everything he or she needs to send along with your transcripts.
ROLLING ADMISSIONS AIRPORT
Don't put rolling admissions applications on the back burner. Some colleges admit applicants on a continuous basis. At these schools, the earlier you apply, the more spaces there are available.
LAKE ACCEPTANCE LETTER
Basically, you've been camping out by the mailbox keeping your fingers crossed for fat envelopes or long e-mails. Some colleges are going to accept you. Some won't. Don't take it as a personal insult. Compare college financial aid offers as part of your decision process.
Inquire about grants, scholarships, work-study, and loans. If you need help check out PrincetonReview.com/college/finance. If your family's status has changed in any way that might affect your aid package (for instance, a job change by one of your parent), be sure to let the colleges know.