Spring of junior year is usually dominated by standardized tests for my students. They’re taking SATs and ACTs in February, March, and April, AP Tests in May, and SAT Subject Tests if necessary in June. For my especially busy students, I may not even see them for a whole month during this time. But with canceled test dates and sidelined activities, we actually have time to meet and work on college applications. So we are.
There are some parts of the process that you can absolutely tackle now, and some parts of the process that it’s better to wait on. One thing I’m starting now is filling out the Common App. Thanks to a revamp two years ago, students can now fill out the Common App before it officially opens on August 1st and all their work will roll over. While we now know that there will be at least one optional COVID-related essay, we can expect that the major sections will stay the same. So feel free to dive into the Profile, Family, and Education Sections. Start coming up with the list of extracurriculars that you plan to include in your Activity section, and see if there are any quarantine-specific activities you might want to include (your new signature recipe, the biggest puzzle you and your family tackled). This is a simple place to get a head start.
One thing I would wait on this year is finalizing your list. Reach, target, and safety designations are changing in real time as colleges make unprecedented decisions. While your safeties will likely stay safeties, your reaches and targets may shift over the next few months, and this is a place where more information can help make better decisions. So, continue to research colleges, think about which ones you’re most excited about, and then make your final selections as new details come out this summer.
And one thing I don’t recommend starting quite yet is essays. Every year, I have a couple students who want to write all their essays in June. But ultimately, one of two things happens: when they revisit that essay in September, they feel totally disconnected from it and want to rewrite it; or, the lack of a concrete deadline turns a one-month project into a four-month project, with the student making endless revisions and tweaks. Neither of these scenarios results in your best work.
But that doesn’t mean you just have to sit back and twiddle your thumbs. Once AP exams are finished, my students will start brainstorming the stories they might want to use in their personal statements and supplemental essays. They’ll take more time to put these stories on paper, so we have a really good selection to choose from when they start writing this summer and fall.