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  • Michelle Silbernagel

Summer College Prep Plans

Updated: Jun 14

Relax. Recharge. Engage.

What should students do this summer to stay on track for college? From freshmen to graduating seniors, students and parents -- Here's a little something for everyone.


Freshmen: Rising Sophomores


Congratulations you survived your first year of high school -- and your first global health crisis.


In terms of college preparation, as rising sophomores, you are in the exploratory phase. You have the luxury to explore your interests, from academic subjects to extracurriculars. Part of this process includes discovering what you are not interested in.


But first, take a beat. This advice pertains to all students, regardless of grade level. Now is the time to recharge and unplug. You’ve been online for weeks. Move away from the blue light of your devices. Mow some lawns, walk some dogs, read a novel in a hammock, host a neighborhood playdate for the littles in the neighborhood.


Enjoy your time connecting with friends again in person when allowed. To the extent possible, explore your offline interests. Seek out and get involved in some community opportunities that interest you.


Full, COVID-19 Phase 3 level activities may be a ways off and Phase 2 may limit some of your physical and social extracurriculars. Once your blue light-to-natural light ratio is more in balance, you can jump back online to take advantage of the wealth of opportunities for learning, volunteering, and interest and career exploration.


Read about virtual opportunities here. Scroll through this counselor-curated spreadsheet of more summer options to see if anything catches your eye. Note, this spreadsheet was last updated June/2020. Reach out if you are interested in more current info.


Parents of Rising Sophomores


Are you a bit uncertain about how well your student absorbed the end of year curriculum? You and your student can take advantage of Khan Academy’s vast library of educational resources.

Sophomores: Rising Juniors


You are in the preparation phase of the college admissions process. You may find navigation a bit tricky as you try to make specific plans during times of change and uncertainty. My best advice is to stay informed, particularly with regard to the ever-changing testing landscape.


In the not so distant past, testing was pretty straightforward. Students applying to colleges took standardized exams for admissions. Full stop. Today, a few colleges (though fewer every day) still require tests, most will consider tests if submitted, and a handful are test blind. Fairtest.org is a good resource to track test-optional status.


Each student's approach to testing will be informed by their individual context -- their access to test sites, their academic preparedness, the colleges on their list, the majors they are considering, and whether standardized tests are required to be considered for merit aid in this unusual application year.


As the weeks progress, stay on top of the testing landscape and make the most appropriate plan for you and your college goals. This article highlights the key considerations in the current environment.

Subscribe to my newsletter, Touchstone Tips, to receive, timely, need-to-know college admissions-related information.

Rising juniors can also take advantage of the summer to dig deeper into their interests and extracurriculars (see the resource list at the end of the article for ideas). Getting a job falls into this category. Working at a part-time or summer job in high school demonstrates responsibility and dedication and is just as valued as volunteer or club activities. I’ve been amazed to learn just how many mask-wearing teens have been able to take on part-time jobs as a result of the flexibility provided by remote-learning. Summer will provide even more opportunities.


Parents of Rising Juniors


Have you had the “affordability talk” with your teen? As your child progresses through their junior year they will explore colleges and identify their college priorities, such as -- size, public/private, distance from home, culture, etc. Where does the cost of college rank on the list of factors?


Also of note, the 2020 tax year is the base year on which your FAFSA is considered. The FAFSA is the form that is filled out in order to receive federal and state financial student aid and is often required by some colleges and universities for merit aid. You can get an early estimate of what to expect in terms of financial aid by using the FAFSA4caster.

Juniors: Rising Seniors


Juniors, it’s getting real. You are entering the application phase of college admissions. If you haven’t already, it’s time to engage - - with the college application process itself, but also with the colleges.


If you can’t visit colleges in-person this summer, get online. Research and visit virtually. Take an online tour or sign up for an information session. Many colleges offer major and department-specific opportunities. Contact the admissions representatives at the colleges you are interested in via email with your follow up questions. Some colleges track this kind of demonstrated interest among their applicants and may consider it when making admissions decisions.


What exactly should you do this summer?

Take some time to recharge and destress. It's been a crazy spring with a lot of adjustments. One of the best ways to reduce stress and create calm is to have a plan. Create a college application checklist of tasks to tackle this summer. Different colleges have different application requirements. You'll gain a sense of calm and control if you outline what you need to complete for which colleges and by when. Many of the tasks can be started this summer, which will lessen the stress of the senior year.


> Finalize your college list

> Complete your activities list (required by some colleges)

> Identify the application requirements for each college

  • Testing (self-report vs official) /( required vs optional)

  • Letters of recommendation

  • Number of essays and/or interviews

  • Application deadlines

  • Fees

  • Grades (self-report vs official transcript)

> Start applications: Create your Common Application and/or Coalition Application account > and enter your profile information. Save the college-specific entries until August, when the new information is updated.

> Write the personal statement essays


If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, take it step-by-step. Make a “To-Do” list with some achievable dates and tackle it task by task. Review the list of resources at the end of the article for task-specific guidance.


Parents of Juniors/Rising Seniors


You may find this New York Times article helpful: How to Normalize the College Search Process for Juniors,


Admissions advice from a group of admission counselors about how to support your rising seniors.


Yes, there is a lot of flux and much uncertainty in the process right now. Control what you can and let the rest go. Please reach out if you need guidance for your particular situation.

Seniors: Rising College Freshmen


Congratulations! The class of 2024 is going to be one for the history books in so many ways.

You are to be commended for shifting with the tides and adjusting to online everything. Your experiences with your new college classmates over the next few years may shape higher education for decades to come.


As you prepare to transition to college, work with your parents to get these documents in order before you leave home.


If you are still uncertain about attending college in the fall and considering a GAP year, consider the research while thinking about your options.


If you are interested in tracking the plans of the top 100 universities for fall, check out this visual map. And here is a list by Chronicle of Higher Education of nearly 1,000 college and university fall plans.

Summer College Prep Resources


College Essay Jumpstart: Join me and my colleague on July 9th, for a free, online webinar for rising seniors. 1:30 - 3 pm.


RACC Virtual College Webinar Series: June - July

This series of webinars about college admissions is hosted by The Regional Association of California College Counselors, but much of the college admissions guidance is generalizable to all students, regardless of state of residence. Check it out.


Strivescan. A virtual goldmine of college-specific and general admissions advice can be found among these recorded webinars.


A recorded discussion hosted by Grown and Flown with Brennan Barnard and Dr. David Gleason discussing the current admissions landscape and related pressures for classes 2021 and 2022.


Virtual Extracurricular Suggestions


Counselor Crowd-Sourced Spreadsheet of online summer opportunities (last update, June 12, 2020)


Summer 2020 Virtual Engagement Opportunities


COVID-19 Specific Resources for College Admissions


College Research Series


Recommended College Admissions Resources


The Touchstone College Advising Support Blog with posts on topics from defining college priorities to building a balanced list.


Touchstone Tips Timely, relevant info about college admissions delivered straight to your inbox (approx 2x month). Or follow me on Facebook (click icon below this post). Or follow me on Facebook (click icon below this post).


Touchstone College Advising That's me. I provide personalized guidance to reduce stress and achieve success. I'm just an email or phone call away. 425. 410. 8148.


Bonus Resources:

Because college will prepare you for the future, but you and your peers will design the future you will live in.

15 Resources for Discussing Racism, Policing, and Protest

Anti-racism exploration and advocacy, from thought exercises to specific resources.


Relax, recharge, and enjoy your summer. Let's hope for some sunshine and more in-person social interaction. Be well, Michelle



© Touchstone College Advising 2020

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