Planning Summer Before Senior Year: Why It Matters and Simple Ways to Make it Count

If you are in your junior year of high school, it’s time to plan your upcoming summer! The summer before senior year is the turning point. The way you spend your summer will determine where you apply and the quality of your college application. Your choices this summer even impact the quality of your life throughout senior year (and college)!

We are here to help you make the most of this summer (including making sure that you enjoy it)! Since the expectation of creating a plan can be overwhelming, let’s organize our approach to planning summer and make it simple. Think of your summer plan of activity in three main categories: enriching work, application tasks, and fun/relaxation.

1 - Enriching Work

“Enriching work” refers broadly to any structured activity to which you apply consistent time and effort that yields some kind of reward. It could be work in a literal sense — a job — that helps you save money to spend in college. Work could be a summer internship, which results in valuable, real-world experience and a nice addition to your resume. You can take summer school, which leads to needed credits for graduation.

Your summer plan could include volunteer experience that results in providing tangible assistance to something or someone who needs it. Consider a summer outdoors program (like Outward Bound) that offers an adventure into the wilderness to test your mind and body. Summer before senior year is also a great time to take a course that enables you to explore an area of interest more deeply as you consider whether or not you might study that subject in college.

There are other possibilities that fit this category, too, but there are a few worth highlighting for future college applicants who are looking to burnish their credentials before application season — see the “Three Stand-out Summer Activities” section below.

2 - College Application Tasks (and The Summer College Checklist)

During your summer before senior year you must also designate time for college application tasks. Once the fall arrives and you’re taking some of the most challenging courses of your high school career, piling your college application workload on top of that will make it feel like you’re working multiple jobs.

If you want details on how to break down the summer college prep tasks, use our Summer College Checklist. We will show you how to check each item off the list in the best way during Parent Knowledge Night, which you can attend live in LA or join us for virtually in a live webinar.

For now, keep in mind that planning your summer before senior year means a goal of starting senior year with everything completed except for your supplemental college essays (the writings required by each individual college you apply to).

That means that your summer plan must include creating your final, balanced college list with 6 - 10 applications to submit. Summer before senior year is also the ideal time to write your personal statement (the main college essay, usually about 650 words, that goes to all or most of the colleges to which you apply). The personal statement is best completed as numerous drafts, and we say that it is never too soon to get started on it! Finally, don’t forget to start on your core applications (like the Common App, the Coalition App, and others like the University of California or the Cal State applications) once summer is in full swing.

It takes some dedicated time to get the momentum going. Keep an eye on everything else in your summer schedule. Set aside some time each week or earmark several days for intensive application work. It can make a huge difference for a student to have a structured and supportive environment to complete a quality application.

Check out our Carve Your Own Path intensive workshops as one potential option for you to receive help creating an application that you are proud of.

3 - Fun and Relaxation

It’s essential that you make some time to recharge your batteries during summer before senior year. Fall of senior year will be one of the most demanding periods of your life to date. You’ll need to feel refreshed and energized by the time you start school back up.

Which activities bring you joy and excitement? What activities best help you to relax? Catching up on sleep is unequivocally important, but it won’t help you feel nourished and balanced if you sleep your days away. You’ll need to fit both restful and invigorating activities into your schedule (in addition to sleep) if you want to put together quality college applications and be refreshed for school.

Watch out for fun activities that can become indulgences (such as video games, TV, YouTube and social media). Try to strike up a balance with the sorts of personal activities that keep you engaged physically, mentally, and/or creatively. Go surfing, take a hike, practice guitar, explore a new part of town, visit a museum, or go see a show.

Sometimes fun is the first thing to drop off of the list when things get busy. This can cause students turn more to distractions and miss out on both fun and productivity. If you make time for all three categories (enriching work, college application tasks, and fun and relaxation), your summer will set you up for success.

Remember that we are here to help! Our free virtual Parent Knowledge Night event offers support for parents who want to guide their students to have a productive summer. Our signature summer program, Carve Your Own Path, can help you clarify your plan and complete core application in just a few days! Learn more here: