1. Complete your Common Application

The Common Application is accepted by hundreds of colleges and is a great place to start. If you know you’ll be applying to colleges that do not accept the Common App, such as the University of California system schools, you can work on them as well, using the Common App as a prototype.

2. Write your Common Application personal essay

Applying for college can take up as much time as a regular class during the senior year. By preparing a personal essay in advance that can be tailored to different applications, the student can spend more time on studies and extra-curricular activities once school begins.

3. Collect reference letters

Normally reference letters come from junior year teachers who have taught the student for the last full year. Teachers usually appreciate having the extra time over the summer to write a reference when the memory of the student’s achievements is fresh.

4. Visit (or plan to visit) campuses

While summer is not the ideal time to visit campuses because there aren’t many students there, this is the time high school students are free and parents’ schedules are usually more flexible. These visits can also be made in the early fall and should include sitting in on a class, looking at the dorm rooms, eating in the cafeteria, and meeting with coaches and professors in areas of interest.

5. Develop preliminary list of colleges

Review college websites, the Fiske Guide, student review sites like Niche.com, and other sources of information you’ve found helpful so far. Create a list of colleges to consider. The goal is a balanced list that includes good-fit target schools along with some reaches and ‘likelies.’

6. Participate in interesting activities

Summer is a time to act on interests through internships, volunteer work, clubs, or paid positions. Try something productive and creative, preferably in an area of interest.

7. Keep a summer journal

A journal can help students chronicle their activities as well as determine what they want and need for the next few years. Journals also serve to help improve communication skills, critical for later success.

8. Plan to take a final SAT or ACT if needed

Rising seniors should have taken SATs and ACTs at least once by this point but may want to take a final test in the summer or fall. Sign up early to ensure you get a seat at a nearby location. Students should establish a preparation plan for a least a month or two before the exam date.

9. Begin scholarship search

Use web-based services to begin a search for private scholarships. Fastweb.com is one free search platform that provides access to a consolidated database of available scholarships.

10. READ!

IECA experts point to reading as the best way to improve vocabulary and prepare for standardized tests. While reading, have a dictionary handy to look up unfamiliar words.

From a survey of members of the Independent Educational Consultants Association