Make yourself a better college candidate over summer break


Yesenia Montenegro

Juniors receive dozens of letters and brochures from colleges, but how can they stand out in their applications?

by Yesenia Montenegro , Editor

1.Find a volunteer opportunity

Volunteer work is one of the biggest factors that colleges look for in potential students. Volunteering shows engagement, leadership, and time management, and it’s something you probably should be doing already. When you volunteer, you’re helping out the community while improving your college application at the same time. Call your local churches or use websites like VolunteerMatch, which provides you with volunteer options in your area. If you don’t want to commit to a long-term volunteer project, VolunteerMatch has lots of unique one-time options. I made an account and some of the one-time events were volunteering at the Delaplaine Art Center, raising a future guide dog, or volunteering at a Girl Scouts camp. 


2. Try improving your test scores by taking another SAT/ACT and studying for them

Even if you’ve already taken the SAT this school year, it’s a good idea to take another one to improve your score. Even a small improvement could make a big difference when colleges are looking at your scores.

The next SAT date for this summer is August 24. Make sure you sign up by July 26. However, don’t attempt to take the test without preparing and studying because it probably won’t be worth it and won’t improve your score.

Khan Academy is a great resource to study based on how you did on your last SAT or PSAT. It tells you specifically what you need to work on and what you did well. All juniors should already have College Board accounts from taking a previous SAT, so linking it to Khan Academy is very quick and easy. Other options are tutoring, for example at FCC. If you don’t feel ready to take it in August, study over the summer and sign up for the exam on October 5. The registration deadline for this test is September 6.


3. Go on a college tour AND show interest in the school

While you should be hoping that colleges are interested in you, most colleges also want you to show interest in them. Taking a college tour and talking to some professors or administrators allow you to build contacts early. Many colleges hold open houses or visiting days over the summer, so it is a great time to look at a school more closely. When you visit the campus you can get a feel for what you like and don’t like and what you should really be looking for. I recently went on a college tour at American University. I was able to meet the admissions counselor and talk to students. Although most of the teachers weren’t there because summer break had already started, I was able to see some classrooms. I learned a lot about the programs the university offers and what the dorms are like. If you are very interested in a school, follow them on Twitter and Instagram. If you are very interactive with their posts, they may notice your interest in the school. “I was constantly covering football games for The Lance and tweeting about them on Twitter because I want to do sports journalism in the future. I followed the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism on Twitter and as more people were seeing my stories and posts, they followed me back,” said Jason Byrd.


4. Start writing your application essays and have them proofread by someone with experience

Application essays can seem intimidating, especially when the prompts are complicated. However, many colleges release their essay prompts early so that you can start looking at them and start drafting your answer. You’ll have plenty of time to talk to parents and teachers to help you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! While you should be the one writing your essay, there’s nothing wrong with someone proofreading your work and making sure its as well written as possible. The NEHS plans to hold a workshop for students in the fall, but you must have a draft. 


5. If you can, travel and gain experience

Travel experience is a great addition to your college resume. Service trips are a great addition to a resume, but family travel can be the subject of college essays. Try to make the most of your break by volunteering and getting to know the community and culture of another country. Make your travel meaningful and an experience you will want to remember. For a more local option, try to go to museums or walking trails. Washington D.C. has a total of 17 free museums that you could visit. You don’t have to travel very far to learn something new and gain experience that could be helpful for college essays.