Summer is prime time for all rising seniors to get a head start on college applications to reduce the stress of the fall semester. For students with learning differences or ADHD, a summer start is especially crucial as so much of the admissions process is organizing all of the application components and staying on top of the tasks involved up until the deadlines. The most time-consuming portion of applications is the dreaded “college essay,” typically the section students put off as long as possible. Yet, getting the essay out of the way over the summer is a huge relief, and a huge advantage.
Franca Rawitz of ReadySetCollegeNYC put together this excellent guide for parents of rising juniors and seniors.
Important Summer Steps on the Road to College
What exactly should seniors be doing over the summer?
- Prioritize Applications – Update your school list and then prioritize which applications should be completed in what order. Colleges that offer Early Action allow candidates to submit applications in November and receive a reply by mid-December. There is no obligation to attend (if accepted) as there is with Early Decision so submitting Early Action applications is always an advantage.
If the student has already chosen a top choice school and does wish to apply Early Decision here, this application becomes the first to complete.
- Get essays done! – Most students do not realize how many college essays they will be required to write. Depending upon the number of colleges to which the student applies, there can be three to six essays for EACH school. Hence beginning the essay writing process early is critical to relieving the stress that naturally goes along with completing applications.
- Continue test prep for fall SAT/ACT and/or SAT Subject Tests – Many students hope to improve upon their scores by spending more time on test prep over the summer and re-taking exams in the fall. However, it is important to weigh the pros and cons of continuous test prep. How much will the student benefit? Would the time be better spent on fine-tuning essays and applications, and/or visiting more colleges?
Strategizing how the student with LD/ADHD will make the best use of the summer months is key. Striking the right balance between too much pressure and responsibility, and making appropriate progress on the admissions journey, is truly important for keeping the process manageable for families.
- Plan fall college visits – There are always more schools to visit in the fall so scheduling these early is a benefit. Many seniors also spend overnights at colleges which often help students decide if they wish to apply Early Decision or not. Most importantly, overnight visits give seniors a much better sense of a campus.
Summer is also the best time for families of rising juniors to open the dialogue about college and to start considering campus tours of colleges in the fall. These days, spring is too late to begin these visits as there is simply not enough time to tour enough colleges. Because admissions now places so much weight on “demonstrated interest,” these campus trips have become critical, hence the more schools families visit, the better.
Most students with LD/ADHD will need some level of additional support, and specific accommodations, in college. Learning what these are, how to find them at colleges, and how to determine the level of support that will be needed, adds an extra layer of research for families.
What are the first steps juniors can take over the summer?
- College Guidebooks – Parents can pick up any of the college guide books on bookstore shelves. There are also college guidebooks specifically for students with LD/ ADHD, which describe the varying levels of support at the different colleges. Start a preliminary list based on location, size, and possible major (sciences vs. humanities) as well as the prospective level of support the student will potentially need.
- Begin Sat/ACT test prep – Whether or not the student has taken the PSAT and/or PLAN, it is advisable to take a diagnostic SAT and ACT over the summer to determine which exam makes the most sense. If it is possible, students should begin practicing for a fall test. This leaves ample time for re-testing in the winter and/or spring. If the student has already decided to take the re-designed SAT next spring, make sure to find a tutor who is familiar with the new format. Do not try to take both ‘old’ and ‘new’ exams.
- Test-Optional Colleges – More and more colleges have decided not to require SAT or ACT scores as part of admissions review. These schools are “test optional.” Typically, these colleges will require something in lieu of test scores such as an additional essay or a graded writing sample.
The stipulations vary from college to college so it is important to truly understand the requirements around standardized tests. Many assume that the “test optional” schools are the less selective colleges, but in fact, several top universities, including Wesleyan, Bowdoin, and Bates use this model. For a complete list of test optional college and universities, visit fairtest.org.
- High School Counselor – Meeting with a high school guidance counselor or academic dean who knows the student well early in the fall gives the family some idea of how much support the school envisions that the student will need in college. Some counselors may be able to provide a list of colleges to families to begin exploring.
Franca Rawitz, founder of ReadySetCollegeNYC,, is an independent college counselor who empowers students to take control of their college journey and to achieve success in a sensible and strategic way. Through personalized guidance and 24/7 support, she allays student anxieties by organizing and overseeing the entire admissions process and transforms the college journey into the exciting experience that it should be.