What to Do Over Holiday Break to Stay on Track With College Admissions


With the holiday break coming up, you're probably looking forward to spending quality time with family and friends. But in the absence of homework assignments and classwork, you can also carve out some time to stay on track with your college admissions plan.

Ideally, high school seniors have already finished their college applications before winter break — but not everyone does that.

“I recommend seniors finish their applications before the holidays because high schools and colleges slow down, and if there is a problem, it can be more difficult to solve during the break,” explains Mandee Heller Adler, founder of International College Counselors in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

For younger students, Adler has this advice for making the most of the break between semesters: “Juniors can use part of their time off during winter break to study for the SAT or ACT, and ninth graders and sophomores can start looking into summer programs, get ahead on their coursework, and I recommend that they read books for pleasure, which will help with their SAT and ACT preparation,” she says.

According to Sharon Genicoff, a school counselor at Bergen County Technical High School in Teterboro, N.J., and co-founder of Next Generation Consulting, here is how seniors can use the time during holiday break to check important admissions items off of their lists:

1. Don’t assume counselors are checking email over the winter break: Before you leave for winter break, speak to your school counselor about your approaching application deadlines. If you have a Jan. 1 deadline, they may want to send your transcripts and letters of recommendation ahead of time. If teachers send letters of recommendations, check in with them as well.

2. Send your test scores through the official testing agency website: If you do have a Jan. 1 deadline, don’t wait to submit your test scores as it can take up to two weeks for colleges to receive scores. Also, check to see if the schools where you're applying will accept self-reported scores, as this will save you some money.

3. Make sure your applications reflect any changes: A lot may have happened since September — maybe you dropped a class, earned honor roll first marking period, were inducted into National Honor Society or joined a new club. Review what you have previously listed on your application and make any necessary updates.

4. Avoid any “surprise” supplemental essays: If you left essays for the last minute, this is the time to complete them. Often, students write their personal statement essays first and neglect the supplemental essays for each institution. However, this is how many colleges determine if you are a fit for their college community and whether you have done your research on what makes them “them” and you “you." On the Common Application, supplemental essays will be found in the Member Questions section, but may not be visible until you indicate your academic area of interest. Avoid any surprises and complete your questions as soon as possible so you can anticipate the essays you have left to write.

5. Make improvements to essays: If you did write your essays, take one last look to make sure you have put your best work forward. This means proofreading and editing. Perhaps you visited a college campus in the last few weeks and you have a new perspective as to why you want to attend that institution — add this to your essay! Lastly, if you haven’t done so, share your essays with one or two trusted mentors. Don’t over edit or over share your essays — at the end of the day, you want each essay to reflect your voice, not someone else’s.

6. Complete the FAFSA and CSS Profile if required: It may be hard to sit down as a family to complete the FAFSA/CSS during the school year because everyone is so busy. Make a plan to sit together as a family over the holiday break and complete the financial documents needed for the institutions where you're applying.

7. Submit before Dec. 31: Don’t spend your New Year’s Eve submitting applications! Give yourself a few days because if you do have any issues submitting an application, it is unlikely colleges will be answering their phones on New Year’s Eve or Day. In fact, most colleges will close for their own holiday breaks so make sure you have all questions answered before Christmas Eve.