Hola seniors (like the sound of that?), as well as their proud (and perhaps nervous) parents – how goes it? Seen any good movies in theaters lately? KIDDING!!! I know, I know, this COVID is a serious matter and no amount of Dylan lyrics (see my last rant) or lame jokes is likely to loosen you up BUT FEAR NOT, the College Guy is here! I’ve not been languishing these past four months and instead have been busily devouring tons and tons of late breaking, informative, soon-to-be antiquated and overwritten news about the pandemic and the effect it will have on you and your college search, selection application and financial aid options and I can unequivocally tell you the following:

Wait for it….

Neither I, nor anyone else, has a clue!!!!!!!

But hold on before you sign off buckaroos, because what I’m about to give you is perhaps the best advice you’re going to get as you enter, tentatively, big toe first in to the cold and forbidding great white shark infested waters off Maine (again, my bad for an insensitive joke) or wherever you hail from (if you’re landlocked ignore the joke – you don’t wanna know!). After exhaustive research I believe I have the best and most up-to-date research for how, when, what and why you should be taking action, NOW, to get the proverbial ball rolling and make headway in these uncertain times.

Couple rules of thumb: First, relax, take a deep breath, and don’t listen to anyone making you uptight with dire warnings and predictions. They don’t know any more than we do, and they’re giving you the wrong message.

Second, this to parents: print this bad boy out and leave it on the kitchen table for junior – er, senior – to read. Sadly many (most) teens are too busy snapchatting, instagramming and watching tiktok to have time for email these days, but it’s imperative that they start cause a lot of colleges AND the Common Application communicate via email. AND most of my words of wisdom will come to you via email. So parents, your job is to give your liege a heads up to READ MY RANTS!!!! when they arrive!

Okay, so this is part one – as the subject line says – of a two parter. The second one will be sent Monday and will coach you through signing up for and filling out the Common Application which just went “live” today (it’s EASY!). This Rant will focus on some things you can (and perhaps should, you can be the judge of that) be doing NOW and for the duration of the summer in preparation of the coming school year. This may seem like a lot of work but remember you have plenty of time to get things done. Also keep in mind that things will most likely get busy in the fall and there’s no time like the present to get crackin’ on this stuff.

So here are some things I suggest you do, in no particular order (and I apologize if you’ve already been doing this stuff – you go to the head of the class! 😁):

* Try writing your first essay! Reread my “How to Write an Essay” rant that was emailed in March (you can find it on my web page if you didn’t keep the email, or ask me if you want me to resend it to you. The essay can be on any subject you want, keep it under 650 words, and make it interesting. If you want to see the seven “prompts” given to you by the Common Application (of which you’re to choose one) here they are:

Common Application Essay Prompts

Note that the last prompt is “subject of your choice”, so that’s why you can write about anything!

*After you write your first essay, write a second one. Same rules: subject of your choice, keep it under 650 words, and make it interesting! Why a second essay? Be patient grasshopper, and all will be revealed shortly.

If you would like to share a draft of what you come up with with me, I’ll send you some quick feedback. No charge and no obligation – but it could be helpful to get my opinion on whether you’re on the right track.

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* Make a resume. I have a particular format and style I share with clients which I’ll be glad to share with you if you contact me. The idea is to NOT make it a typical “just the facts” document which professionals use (NOTE TO SENIORS: you’re not yet a professional, so don’t pose as one!), but to share all sorts of cool and groovy stuff about yourself. Ask your parents to remind you of things you can put there – mothers in particular have good memories of jobs, volunteer thingys, clubs and activities and awards and all your other exemplary accomplishments^ and characteristics which might be good to add to a resume. You’ll get use out of having this in requesting recommendations, writing “pen pal letters” to coaches and admissions and professors, and it’ll be part of your college applications. Trust me – it’s a good thing to have.

^Keep it to post-8th grade unless your name is Greta Thunberg – colleges don’t care about your ancient (elementary and middle school) history.

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* On this year’s common application there will be an optional (which I’m recommending everyone do) new mini-essay about COVID as part of the new common application. 250 words. Easy peasy. Take a stab at it!

Community disruptions such as COVID-19 and natural disasters can have deep and long-lasting impacts. If you need it, this space is yours to describe those impacts. Colleges care about the effects on your health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces.

Do you wish to share anything on this topic? Y/N
Please use this space to describe how these events have impacted you.
Common Application: COVID-19 Mini Essay

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* Regarding SATS. (What I’m about to tell you may not be sound advice for everyone, so please call me for further elaboration if you wish.) Even though standardized testing will be optional at nearly all colleges you’ll apply to, I think you should plan to take BOTH THE SATs AND THE ACTs TWICE THIS FALL: first time in September or October, and again in December (scores tend to improve on retaking the test, due to familiarity with the process). Again, call me if you want further explanation / convincing.

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* PREPARE for both the SATs/ACTs the same way, by linking your college board account to Kahn Academy, and then use their free, customized prep system according to this schedule: 45 minutes a day, three times per week, for eight weeks. Start this week – the week of August 3rd – to prepare for the September 26th SAT test date.

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* Consider who you’re going to get Letters of Rec from. I suggest you send an email to several teachers and “others” (coaches, advisors, employers, adults who know you out of the classroom, peers) asking them if you can count on them to write for you. The early bird gets the worm – even if they’re not working this summer, you’ll be “getting a place in line”. (For more about recommendations – you guessed it – contact me with questions or for free advice).

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* Begin (or continue) doing college research and work on your “Top 10” lists. Do the “four step process” and continue to evaluate and compare schools in advance of the November 1st date I recommend you have a finalized list. (If you’ve met with me previously you know what I mean here. If you have not…you know the drill).

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Look, you all have two jobs: coming up with a cogent list of schools to apply to in a timely fashion (which I define as Nov. 1); and doing an application which will give you the best chance of getting accepted and getting merit money from the schools which offer it. I give everyone a December 1 deadline to apply (even though most colleges’ deadlines are Jan. 1 and later)^ and encourage folks to submit a “one-size-fits-all” application, and to “over apply” (which means to give schools everything they ask for and then give them a bit more in hopes of making a positive impression.

^For students considering early action and early decision the deadlines each move up by month: know where you’ll apply by October 1, get those puppies sent out by Nov. 1 (or 15th, which is the deadlines for most ED and EA options).

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There’s a third job which falls on the parents – figuring out how to pay for college. Two message here: it’s not as complicated as you may think it is, and financial aid works, which means unless your last name is Rockefeller you’re more than likely to qualify for some sort of discount. Hence, don’t be scared off by $50, $60 and even $70,000 schools. They have deep pockets, and they very well may want your kid.

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I offer a free 30 minute consultation to anyone, and as I’ve mentioned several times above I’m happy to schmooze by phone or email if you reach out to me (contact information below). You can formally request a Zoom or Skype consultation at my web site (also in my signature below) or just pick up the phone and call.

Stay groovy, be smart, safe and sane, and for crying out loud enjoy yourselves!

From your intellectual interlocutor, your cosmic consultant, your peripatetic pedagogue, your perspicacious pundit,

Gary the College Guy