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Summer: Time to Think About College:

With summer in full swing in Santa Monica, the palm trees sway in the ocean breeze, lovers walk hand in hand along the surf and teenagers everywhere start wishing their parents would get off their backs about college. Having just completed a stressful school year, these kids would obviously rather work on their tans than their applications. While they do deserve some down time, there are a few things they should make sure to accomplish before school looms up again in the fall. Both incoming high school seniors and incoming college freshman have their work cut out for them, but the tasks aren’t as daunting as they seem.

Incoming High School Seniors:

To those who have just completed their grueling junior year of high school, congratulations! Make sure to catch up on all the sleep you’ve missed due to AP tests, the SATs and the ACTs, but don’t forget to get a head start on the college process, which can sneak up quickly during the frenzy of senior year.

Though parents might be tempted to use the carefree months of summer to travel around visiting different colleges, it is best to wait – if possible – until fall. While a summer visit can show off a school’s beautiful campus and interesting architecture, you’d miss out on the opportunity to attend classes in your field of interest, spend a night in the dorms with current students and brave the cafeteria. One can only see the essence of a college while it’s in session.

Put those research skills to good use! Skim through the piles of glossy college brochures that come in the mail, but make sure to look past the catchy marketing slogans and staged multicultural photos. Search college guidebooks and online for unbiased sources that can share an accurate portrayal of a school’s pros and cons.

Start getting friendly with the Common Application, as it will haunt your life for the next several months. Once you work your way through the pages of mindless data entry, you will have to complete what is arguably the most important piece of the college process: the personal statement. This little essay can be about virtually anything, so look back on your experiences and pick a topic meaningful to you. While it’s fine to go to a tutor or a family member for help, make sure it’s your voice that shines through. This is your chance to show college who you truly are apart from your test scores and GPA.

Your final task is to have a happy summer. Some believe that you’ll never impress a college without a laundry list of expensive, “enriching” summer programs like Duke University’s $965 “Constructing Your College Experience.” But, contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to go to a college to learn about college to get into college. There are so many summer programs out there that you are bound to find one that’s right for you. Ask yourself, “What do I truly love doing?” If you can’t stand children, don’t sign up to look after a village of them in Kenya. If you suffered through AP Bio, don’t enroll in science camp. If money is an issue, as it is for most of us, look for a job you’ll love. If you blow all your family’s savings on pricy, exotic summer programs, you might have trouble affording the fabulous universities that accept you.

In the end, what will really impress colleges is your honest passion for whatever it is you do – something you can’t buy. Contrary to popular belief, living your life around college admissions is not living your life, so make sure to spend some quality time with your family, friends and Mother Nature before senior year begins.

Incoming College Freshman:

Way to go, graduates! You’ve managed to overcome senioritis, get into a fabulous college and leave high school with a snazzy diploma. Now comes the fun part: preparing for the wonderful year that awaits you.

As soon as you find out your roommate assignment, get in touch with him or her. Discuss the practical matters of who will bring what. A general rule of thumb: whoever lives closer to the college brings the large, heavy objects – refrigerators, trash cans, etc. – while whoever has to fly merely makes a financial contribution. Also, get to know one another! See what you have in common. Learn one another’s pet peeves so you won’t bother each other after months of living in close quarters.

Take a good look at that course catalogue. If your college hasn’t mailed one to you already, chances are you can find it online. See which classes catch your interest. Look for classes in a variety of disciplines – college is a chance to explore new fields and develop new interests, so don’t limit yourself to your best subject in high school. Also, make sure to check professors on ratemyprofessor.com or get recommendations from current students. A terrible professor can ruin even the most interesting class.

Enjoy and appreciate what you’ll be lacking at college, be it home-cooked meals, parties with friends you’ve know forever or the Pacific Ocean. You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. Also, be understanding if parents exhibit certain my-child-is-leaving-for-college symptoms such as spontaneous bouts of tears or the implementation of harsher rules. While you might be ready for independence, they’re still getting used to the idea.

A parent’s concept of summer may clash with his or her child’s, but there can be a happy medium between fun and forms. As long as the aforementioned tasks are accomplished, senior year and the first year of college should sail by smoothly. This is a time of growth and exploration – enjoy.

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