Summer Bummer College Guy Rant to Seniors - PART 2 - A comprehensive "to do" list featuring "The Grid"

Hey seniors - everyone in the swing of things by now? Hope so. 

As promised here’s the second installment of my back to school - AKA my “Summer Bummer” - newsletter. This is essentially a loooong one-size-fits-all “to-do” list for seniors. Those of you who’ve been meeting with me will find it familiar (though there’s some new and expanded sections, such as “THE GRID”). Those of you who’ve not met with me….well what are you waiting for? Have your parents give the College Guy a call (my number is below in my signature) and I’ll tell you how the business end of my operation works.

BUT even if you’re not spending simoleans on me, take my advice and READ THIS CAREFULLY AND IN IT’S ENTIRETY. Ix-nay on the ell-say own-phay - read this on computer or better yet print the whole dang thing out and have it handy on your desk cause you’re not likely to find a more comprehensive list of what to be doing now with regards to the college process.

Listen, it’s not unusual for seniors to want to avoid the entire topic, and procrastination results. We all do this when we’re faced with something daunting and new and a bit scary. Even though this list looks long and complicated the message I want to give you is: “Aint no big thing!”. The vast majority of colleges are “safety” schools for most of you reading this, and I’ll argue that you’re just as likely to get as good (if not better) an education at any of them than you are at the hundred or so “reach schools” which reject more than half of their applicant pool. 

So, without further ado, here’s what I strongly suggest you should be working on, and a simple timetable for it:

November 1st: Your list of colleges (6 - 12) finalized

December 1st: All applications submitted (note that this is a “fake” deadline - most colleges’ deadlines are on or after January 1st, 2019!)***

February 1st: “Follow Up” package of materials (extra stuff and semester grades) sent

If you’re considering applying early decision or early action you’ll want to make the following adjustment to the above timeline:

October 15th: Decide for sure where you’re planning to apply early

Nov. 1 - 15: Early Decision Applications are Due

There’s also an option to do “Early Decision Round 2” on January 1st to your second choice school, in the event you don’t get in to your first choice Early Decision. I can explain this further to you if you like - give me a holler and I will.

***Exceptions to the Jan. 1st deadline are the University of Washington (Nov. 15th), University of South Caroline (December 1) and all nine of the U. California Schools (Nov. 30th). 

Here’s your “to do” List, in no particular order. If you follow my timeline you have till Dec. 1 to get this all done, so there’s no rush. However I suggest that you “nibble” away at each of these a bit at a time. 

1. Make a resume. Those who’ve met with me should use the “Kristin Smith” example I've shared with you on google docs. If anyone else wants to see it give me a holler and I’ll get it to you. 

2. Finalize your fall testing plan and prep using Kahn Academy a full four weeks before each test.

The SAT (and SAT Subject Tests) is offered on October 6th, November 3rd and December 1st. 

The ACT is offered on October 27th (September 22 registration deadline, and December 8th.

I think Kahn Academy SAT prep is an adequate (not to mention free!) preparation for the ACT as well. For those taking Subject Tests contact me and I’ll give you my take on how to do a modicum of prep for them.

3. Continue working on the Common Application. For those of you who haven’t started the common application, what are you waiting for? See your guidance counselor or give me a call! Chop chop!!!!!

3a. Get all the easy parts (Profile, Family, Education and Testing) “green checked” now!

3b. Put some thought in to the “Activity” section - list 10 activities and write interesting descriptions for each one.

3c. Check out the “questions” and “Supplemental Writing” that colleges ask in the “Dashboard” section of your CA. Make a list of what written responses you need to do, college by college, with the question and the word count. You may see some overlap where you can ‘kill two (or more) birds with one stone” - writing one resonse for several colleges.

3d. Do the FERPA release (you only need to do it for one college and it replicates for all on your list!) and then make a list of each of your colleges noting how many teacher recommendations and how many “other” recs you’re allowed to have. Include “optional” in the count.

4. If you’re thinking of applying to schools which don’t accept the common application, register for and begin their applications now. Examples of schools which don’t take the common app are the nine University of California system schools, Georgetown University, University of Washington, McGill in Montreal, etc.

5. Work on your essay, and then work on a second one (to include in the “additional information” section under “Writing”). Remember that prompt #7 on the Common App is "Topic of your choice”, so you can write about anything! Recall that a good essay “describes the seed, not the watermelon”. Make it specific, make it real, and most of all MAKE IT INTERESTING. Reread my July Rant “How to Write an Essay” if you need to (its on my web page, URL below in signature). 

6. Request letters of recommendation. Make a list of three teachers and three “others” you’ll ask. (An “other” is a coach, advisor, employer, family friend, peer, etc. who knows you outside of the classroom). Plan to send up to two extra letters with your application, and save a couple more for a February follow up package (more on that another time). 

7. Meet with your Guidance Counselor. Share your resume, your list of schools and your timetable. Most important, discuss the letter of recommendation that your guidance counselor will be writing for you. Ask if there’s anything s/he needs from you that you’ve not already gotten to him/her. Get clear on how and when you need to request the guidance office to send your transcript and school report to each of your colleges in a timely manner.

7a. If you qualify for application fee waivers, request them. Anyone who has legitimate financial need is entitled to a fee waiver for every college you're applying to.

8. Keep researching colleges and working on your “Top 10” lists (one for reaches, one for safeties - ask me if you’re not sure which list a particular school belongs on). This is perhaps the most difficult, and certainly the most perplexing task of all. With over 2,400 accredited four-year Colleges and Universities to choose from in the US alone, how does one come up with a reasonable and realistic short (6 - 12) list? If you’ve visited my office you’ve “thrown the darts” at my college map. 'Nuff said. If you’re struggling with this question, call me for a free consultation. That’s why I’m here!

9. Write “Pen Pal” letters (emails) to admissions officers and professors and key faculty members who represent your area(s) of interest at each of your schools. The purpose of these letters is to introduce yourself, to ask a specific question or two and thereby get noticed, and to perhaps learn something about the college you didn’t know before. Attach your resume to each communication. See me for more details or examples.

10. Do “THE GRID” - make a chart where you list each college you’re planning to apply to on the left hand side, and then capture the following informationby carefully reviewing each school’s admissions web page instructions:

* Are there special requirements/applications for auditions or portfolios?

* What is the school’s interview policy - are they offered and how do you go about getting one? (Most schools offer alumni or Skype or electronic options) 

* Is there an Honors Program and how do you apply for it?

* Are there special “stand alone” scholarships which you may be eligible for and how do you apply for them?

I call this “reading the fine print” for each of your colleges - you don’t want to miss something important!


Well there you have it - 10 things to be thinking about and doing while you juggle your AP Government and Senior English class requirements. Relax, get to the beach one last time this weekend, and tackle these items a bit at a time.

From your application avatar, your Early Decision Doyen, your literate list-maker,


P.S. Parents and students: heed my advice from “Summer Bummer Part 1” and get your FSA ID (user name and password) so you’ll be all set to tackle the FAFSA when it “goes live” on October 1st. I’ll send a reminder and instructions for getting FAFSA and CSS PROFILE done when it’s closer to financial aid application time.

P.P.S. If you know someone who would appreciate receiving them, put them in touch with me and/or forward this bad boy along to them. 


Gary L. Canter
College Placement Services
210 St. John Street
Portland, Maine 04102
(207) 772-9711

College Placement Services provides high school students and their families
assistance with all aspects of the college search, selection, application
and financial aid process.