Hey Seniors (like that?) and parents of same,
Just finished watching the Black Hawks stun the Bruins in the final 90
seconds of their hockey game - amazing series and two incredibly worthy
Hey it's summer vacation, so we can stay up late now and then, right?
So here's a reprise of an email I like to send before the grass gets too
long and your summer job gets too weary. I love the first couple days of
summer cause it all lies ahead - sort of like anticipating a great meal or a
long-awaited event. Sometimes savoring the first few moments is the sweetest
In mid-August I'll send you my "Summer Bummer" email to remind you that
there are soon-to-be eight weeks before the October SAT (talk about a buzz kill, right?!) and it's time to get cracking on the serious (but mellow)
self-prep system I suggest you all follow, but for now let's not sully the
warm weather and sense of freedom and anticipation with a hearkening to your tasks.
Instead let's talk about that senior year you'll find yourself in the midst
of in three short months.
Assuming you've signed on for an ambitious senior schedule (and you should have - there's little benefit to coasting your final lap) and you've got a relatively full plate of activities, you're going to feel stressed when mom,
dad, or the College Guy gently whispers in your ear the question many have been annoyed by in the past:
"So how's your college application process coming"?
"Geez Louise," you'll think, "I don't even know where the hay I'm going to
send my applications, and I'm too stressed about AP Calc to give it my
So look, nobody loves the start of summer more than me, and I'm loathe to
rain on the parades of all you bright eyed and bushy tailed rising seniors,
but take it from the College Guy - follow these suggestions for 10 things
you should be doing this summer and I'll be willing to bet you a vintage
1997 U.S. News and World Report "America's Best Colleges" (don't laugh, it's a collector's item on ebay!) that you'll be thanking me for it over
Veteran's Day Weekend when many of your classmates are going crazy, but you're cool as a fool cuz you've done some of this stuff ahead of time.
Here we go with the College Guy's 10 Things for you rising seniors to do
1. Volunteer Somewhere
If time is money, and if your time is valuable, then you've got something to
offer someone or some agency. Find a venue to do good work.
Keep it reasonable. I suggest a 3 - 4 hour shift each week...if you find you
really like it you can always increase your time. If you've gotten yourself
in to a not-so-cool situation you can always thank your supervisor and
gracefully bow out - for crying out loud you're just volunteering, right?
(But then go find another).
And for you sharp-as-a-tack students, make your volunteer gig be at a place that reflects/highlights a career interest of yours or in an area you're
curious to learn more about. You'll then have something to respond next fall
to the college interviewer or short answer question which asks: "What do you think you want to study....and why???"
2. Finalize Your Senior Schedule
Don't wait till you get back to school. If you haven't yet received your
senior schedule ask for it now, and make sure you've gotten the classes you really want. It's your senior year and you're allowed to be a bit pushy.
School administrators work a reduced summer schedule, and some guidance counselors are off till mid-August, but you can still send emails to
guidance, teachers, and if necessary your principal. You may be told to wait
till the school year starts to straighten things out - at the risk of being
a troublemaker I'd suggest you politely email back and say "no, I'd like to
get this worked out now".
And if you can't get or find what you want, consider taking a course at USM
or SMCC (if you live in the Greater Portland area) or from whatever two or
four year school is close by. Fall class schedules are already out at most
3. Have Fun and Relax
Yeah, I'm definitely trying to get on your good side here but I really mean
this. If you're stressed about life over the summer what's going to happen
to you when you're in the midst of a demanding senior schedule and something goes wrong and the industrial waste hits the mechanical air agitator. (Get it? :)
Use the summer to recharge those batteries and stoke your engines for what lies ahead. In fact, learning to breath deeply, relax and enjoy the passage of time is a lifelong skill you should be seeking to perfect ALL THE TIME. If you're not having some fun, you're doing something wrong.
4. Write an Essay. Then write two more.
I wrote you last month about essays, and in a few weeks I'll send you
another rant about "How to Write an Essay", but remember some simple
principals of essay writing:
- keep it under 650 words
- be yourself, and don't worry about impressing anyone
- make your essay like an Altoids: Curiously Strong. (That means well
written and interesting).
- lose the notion that your essay will tell anyone who reads it "who you are
as a person". It won't. But a good essay will give the reader a snippet, a
tease, a quick view of an aspect of who you are. Make them want to see/read more.
Then write a second and a third essay.
Make one essay respond to one of the five new Common App prompts:
And the others should fall in to one of these categories:
- a career essay (what do I want to study and why);
- an experience essay (a good story from your life with a moral or
- an activity essay (something you do regularly and with enthusiasm).
Don't over think, and don't feel like you're writing some sort of magnum
opus. You're not. It's just a first draft. Send it to me and I'll give you
some quick (and honest) feedback. And that's no lie.
5. Do a college resume of your activities, school affairs, sports and work.
Not a boring 'professional' one page job which just states the facts -
you're not applying for a job at Unum or TD Bank here. Make it two or even
three pages (if you're a busy boy or girl, tell what keeps you busy). Be
creative: Photoshop in some eye candy and write 'annotations' (make 'em
descriptive and clever) of your more interesting sports, jobs, activities,
hobbies. Don't be afraid to show the person reading your resume what you do, where you've been, and who you are.
Those of you who have met with me have templates for such a beast, and have heard me tell you all the groovy things you can do with said resume. Those of you who haven't met with me - what are you waiting for? Give me a holler. I'll send you an example.
Two things to remember with your college resume:
a. "If you've got it, flaunt it!"
b. You don't have to show it to your friends. 'Nuff said.
6. Research schools - Create a "Top 10" List and when you add to it you must remove schools from it (so you never go over 10). Expect this list to be fluid and changing. Try to balance reach and safety schools. Keep going till November 1, when you'll make your final decisions of where to apply (early decision is a slightly different matter. Call me if you want to discuss
Get leads from relatives, teachers, friends, friends' parents, coaches,
bosses, anyone who knows you somewhat and is willing to respond to your
query of "Do you know any good colleges I might check out". (The more
specific you can be in your question, the better the leads will be).
Use the search programs at collegeboard.com and Naviance (if your school
uses it. If it doesn't, cb.com works fine).
Use studentsreview.com. Don't ask, just go there. Read the positive and
negative comments about your schools.
Get familiar with collegeconfidential.com
Explore colleges' web pages, get names and emails of admissions contacts for your region, coaches (if you're a jock) and faculty in your area(s) of
interest. Then see #7.
Make sure to get on every college of interest's mailing list by finding and
filling out the "Request Information" link on their admissions page. Look
hard - it's there!
7. Write 'Pen Pal Letters' of introduction/inquiry
Write (or email) to the admissions officer who covers your state or region,
as well as to faculty (professors, coaches, theater directors, etc.) in your
areas of interest. Introduce yourself, include your resume, and ask a
question or two (this you have to work a bit at - call me for ideas) to ask
You may find out something that will make you fall in - or out of - love
with that school. And you'll have a potential resource, maybe even an
advocate, when you apply.
It'll raise your verbal scores on the SAT and/or ACT you'll take next fall.
It'll keep you in practice for the world of reading that awaits you when you
finally get to college.
It's one of the best things you can do - period.
Read whatever you want: Stephen King, Rolling Stone Magazine, the "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" Series. The only prerequisite for what you read is that the author must have a better vocabulary than you (there should be some words you have to look up. The more the better!)
Ergo, People Magazine doesn't make it.
9. Fill out the Common App on August 1 when it comes out.
Seriously. The whole thing except the essay(s) and activity sheet.
Check out the "supplements" to your particular schools. Some of 'em will
have some extra writing for you to do.
Take you 45 minutes not counting the essays and short answers, tops.
Then have someone help you edit it.
You'll add the essay(s), short answers and the activities (use your resume
Much of the stuff you've heard about how hard it is to apply to college:
don't believe it - it's a hype.
Applying to college is easy.
Applying to college WELL, and SMART, is a bit more of a trick, but trust me
when I say it ain't rocket science.
That's my story and I'm sticking with it. Get in touch with me if you want
10. Do a "Show and Tell" piece.
Check this out:
Get the idea?
Prepare some eye or ear candy - it doesn't need to be a video. Can be
creative writing, a photo essay, an art portfolio or audio tape, a web page,
etc. I had a student do a video of him making origami (quickly) one year. It
Getting in to most colleges is easy. Getting in to selective colleges (there
are maybe 100-120 of them, out of 2,400 total) takes luck and sometimes a
"hook". Your show and tell piece about how to throw a curveball, or the
computer you built in a fish tank filled with mineral oil for coolant, or
demonstrating the difference between a double axel and a lutz may just make the difference.
Okay, there's your summer to-do list. If I may be so bold, let me add a
11. Come meet with me.
I'm a consultant. People pay to work with me. A good college consultant does things your guidance counselor doesn't have time to do, because s/he does this full time, all the time. I'll skype with those of you who don't live in
greater Portland. Call or email me - there's no charge to shmooze, and I'll
respond to you.
Oh, and I work all summer.
Now go work on that tan!
From your collegiate connoisseur, your pen pal pundit, your application
aficionado, your resume rhapsodizer,
Gary L. Canter
College Placement Services
210 St. John Street
Portland, Maine 04102
College Placement Services provides high school students and their families assistance with all aspects of the college search, selection, application and financial aid process.