July 7, 2024

A call to rising seniors: Get a head start on applications!

By Angela Kim, Instructor

The start of senior year is a notoriously stressful period of time in the life of a high school student. AP Classes, extracurriculars, and, most importantly, college applications all compound and make seniors feel extremely overwhelmed and burnt out. 

To prevent this, summer is the perfect time for rising seniors to work on their executive functioning skills, a set of cognitive processes essential for handling oneself and accomplishing objectives. These abilities require advanced mental processes that aid in planning, organizing, strategizing, focusing on and recalling details, managing time and space, controlling emotions, and tracking progress to complete tasks efficiently.

Here are a few critical actions rising seniors can take to leverage their executive function skills and give themselves a leg up going into this important (and hectic) year:

Track important deadlines

Seniors and parents should know that each college has a different timetable for application submission. Students would benefit from using a planner to keep track of everything, whether a digital platform like Google Calendar or a physical calendar. Students may consider assigning each college/university a different color so there is a visual coding system within their planning tool. Students should spend time setting this all up over the summer to take the load off doing so once the school year is underway.

Start a master to-do list

Keep in mind that there are several components to complete college applications: an application form, a main personal statement (650 words), supplemental essays for each school, and an interview (a few schools). Writing down something vague like “apply to the University of New Hampshire” is likely overwhelming and may lead to the student procrastinating. Instead, help your student create a detailed to-do list with the specific and achievable actions they must take to apply to each college or university. Students can cross off items as they complete each task to show progress over time and build momentum toward reaching their larger goal(s). 

Map out a weekly routine

As mentioned above, senior year is chaotic for many students as they attempt to balance a rigorous academic load with extracurricular commitments and the college application process. For this reason, rising seniors need to map out a comprehensive weekly routine for the fall that integrates their various activities and commitments. What standing commitments do they have? What times can they fit in homework blocks? When might it make sense to tackle application tasks? And where can they add in greater efficiency and optimization? (ex. Can they make better use of study halls at school, listen to audiobooks en route to activities, etc.)

Demo reminder tools

Rising seniors would be well served by dedicating some time over the summer to playing around with various physical and digital reminder systems. That way, they can try different tools of different sizes and find an option that works for them. For example, while some students use physical reminders like sticky notes, others do well utilizing a digital reminder platform like Google Keep. Either way, reminder tools are a necessary piece of the puzzle for incoming seniors to successfully follow through on all of the tasks on their plate (without parental nagging being the dominant reminder system!)

Adopt a flexible mindset 

Incoming seniors should go into the school year with a flexible mindset, and summer is the best time to adopt that line of thinking. Recognize and preview the hectic nature of the fall term. Then, talk through how to adjust the plan if it proves too overwhelming. For example, your student could apply to fewer schools, drop an extra AP class, or take on fewer extracurricular commitments. Coming up with a “Plan B” in advance can be a helpful way to discuss adjusting to the semester’s demands as needed.

Do a focus audit

Help your student identify strategies to maximize their focus and attention. What type of work environment allows them to focus? What are their biggest distractors? What time of day do they work best? Take some time over the summer to engage in reflective thinking with your student so they can hit the ground running come the fall. Summer might even be a good opportunity to practice some of these productivity tips as a family (ex. Put phones on silent after a certain hour, use apps like Forrest to leave devices alone for designated time periods, download time-tracking software like Rescue Time etc.)

In summary, rising high school seniors would be wise to use their summer break to get a jumpstart before fall. By tapping into their executive function skills, they can decrease stress and increase success in balancing college applications with academics during this critical period in their academic journey.