Rising Seniors: Think Ahead to Fall


I have to admit that I dislike seeing spring fashions appear in stores during the depths of winter. That's almost as annoying as seeing grocery stores haul out their Halloween candy, ghosts and goblins right after Labor Day. And who can ignore the “pre-Black Friday" sales that descend on us as soon as the pumpkins and skeletons disappear after October 31? Rushing the season is something that gets worse every year, it seems. I plead guilty today with this article, which hopefully will help all you about-to-be rising seniors prepare to construct your Common Applications this fall, as you begin your college process journey.

I've always been an advocate of getting a solid head start, so I'm hoping that you'll ponder this information as you enjoy your summer break. Think of it as a means to bring out the best about who you are when you address the admissions committees at the various colleges to which you'll be applying. Think of it as a way to market yourself. If you don't “sell" yourself in the best possible light, no one else will, that's for sure. Your competition will be formidable.

Your junior year will soon be ending. Maybe it has already ended. Either way, when you have closed that last textbook and handed in your final assignment and exam, you have become a rising senior, and this is when many, if not most, rising seniors start to wonder what their college futures will hold. Those who are well prepared use the summer before senior year to square away their thoughts about which colleges they'll pursue and the details involved in doing that. Of course the Common Application is the starting point for most college applicants these days, although there are some less-well-known alternatives.

Start Thinking About Essays

One of the most important aspects of college applications is revealing who you are and how you think. Probably the best way to do this is through your essays. The Common Application requires you to write a significant essay in response to one of a number of different prompts. You'll also have to write your answers to some so-called “short responses."

The Common App supplements required by many colleges, especially the most competitive ones, further tax your ability to present your best personal qualities. There also may be an additional required statement or two -- or even a full essay -- plus brief questions about the more subtle aspects of who you are. The purpose of my advice here is to give you some guidelines to rising seniors reveal qualities about yourself that you may not have thought about before.

What follows is a series of questions that will help you bring out those formerly little-known features about your personality, humor and other qualities. Once you've answered these questions, you'll be able to use the information in a number of places in your applications.

I suggest that rising seniors copy this questionnaire, print it out and work on your responses manually, using a pen or pencil, not a keyboard. Keep the notes you make handy because they'll be strong “marketing" material for you come application time.

Take your time with this and be as expansive as possible. Keep in mind that you're presenting who you are and the environment from which you're coming to people who have never met you.

Here we go ...

- What is your high school's track record for sending its graduates to the Ivies and other top colleges? Can you cite some specific outcomes from recent graduating classes?

- Does your school's college counselor have a lot of experience with highly competitive college admissions? Do you have a good relationship with your counselor? His/her recommendation will be crucial. Will your rec from him/her be top notch?

The following mix of questions will help adcoms get to know you a bit better. Don't obsess over your answers. Write what first comes to mind, and don't worry about grammar, spelling or sentence structure. Have fun with these.

- What single achievement are you most proud of? It can be something “public" like being a student-government officer or something more personal, like teaching yourself how to ride a unicycle or learning to deal with a bully.

- What's the most difficult thing you've had to do in your life?

- What do you do better than almost anyone else? Again, it could be a highly visible achievement like leading the basketball team in scoring, or perhaps you're the only one in your family who can get your little brother to eat broccoli.

- What's the nicest thing you've ever done for anyone? Name a few, if several come to mind.

- What do you think your teachers say about you when you're not around?

- What do you think your friends say about you when you're not around?

- What do you worry about most (besides college admissions)?

- What really makes you laugh?

- What's your all-time favorite book and why?

- What are your favorite foods? What foods do you avoid?

- Where do you think you will be and what will you be doing 10 years from now?

- If you could do one thing over in your life, what would it be and why?

- If a highly selective college had to pick between you and one other applicant, why should they pick you? Elaborate on this one a bit. Don't make it too short. Be both serious and funny, if you can. Feel free to make a list of five or 10 reasons (“sales" points) why they should admit you over another applicant.

Prep Work Gives You A Leg Up

So there you have it. If you take the time to answer all these questions carefully and in depth, you'll have a solid arsenal of material to use in your applications, especially with those sometimes challenging Common App supplemental essays and short responses.

Again, your goal for your applications is to tell those admissions committees who you are and how you think. The answers that rising seniors provide to the above questions will help you do that, so use the summer to perfect your marketing approach. This is an important part of your college process and is far better done in advance rather than at the last moment, on the eve of a deadline. Trust me!