As summer gets closer, high school students might be heads down in end of the year exams and finals, sports playoffs, or crossing off the days until they can sleep in. But there are a few tasks they should attend to while school is still in session that will help make college applications easier. Paying attention to these important college admissions tips for high school juniors will put them in a better position to work on applications over the summer and meet all of their fall application deadlines.
Learn How Your High School Supports College Applications
Each high school has a specific process for how they send supporting documents to colleges. This includes high school transcripts, a school profile that describes the school’s curriculum and student demographics, and counselor and teacher recommendations. In some cases students have to log into their school’s student management software and request documents weeks in advance. This information is often available on the pages for your school’s counseling center, but it might be in an email or a presentation you haven’t read yet. If you cannot explain your school’s process and timeline, this is something to find out before break. You don’t want to miss an application deadline, because you didn’t follow directions or submit your request early enough.
Ask Teachers if They Will Write Letters of Recommendation.
Many colleges require or consider letters of recommendation from teachers. You should approach teachers now and ask if they are willing to be one of your recommenders. They give them a “brag sheet” that briefly outlines your contributions and achievements in their class. The brag sheet is a starting point they can use for writing the letter of recommendation. If you want them to write about how you added to class discussions or were supportive of other students, give them examples of that. If you want the letter to focus on your academic ability, remind them of when you went above and beyond the classroom requirements. Some teachers and high schools will have a standard format for brag sheets (see the first item about knowing your school’s process). If they don’t have a form to follow, this brag sheet for letters of recommendation from Common App will get you started.
Who should write letters of recommendation for college applications?
Colleges specify in their applications if they require a recommendation from a Teacher and if they allow additional recommendations from Others like coaches and employers. Military college programs like the Naval Academy or ROTC scholarships may require recommendations from teachers of specific classes like English and Math. You probably want to approach a couple teachers from core academic areas (English, math, science, history/social sciences, and/or foreign language). But if you have a great relationship with one of your elective teachers, they could be a good option too.
Get a Copy of Your Transcript with Grades
After your final grades post, you’ll want to get a copy of your high school transcript. Most applications have a place to input your high school courses and grades. You’ll want to have the transcript so you can use the same course name in your application and correctly input each of your grades. This will also remind you of items you want to address in an additional information section.
When the last day of school arrives, celebrate knowing that you can enjoy a much needed break and also that you have what you need to work on applications and essays over the summer.
For most high school students, exposure to the military is limited to books and movies. Even those from military families may wonder what it would be like to personally have the restrictions and responsibility of military life. Service academy summer programs offer high school students a chance to experience what life as a cadet or midshipman is like. This can help students know if they really want to apply to attend an academy.
These programs are relatively small and cannot accept all of the students who apply, so take the time to submit a quality application. You don’t need to apply the first morning the application is open, but don’t procrastinate either. The applications may require essays, transcripts, and recommendations that you can’t produce at the last minute. The application periods vary for each academy, but generally require applying in the winter or early spring of junior year. Check out the end of the article for additional programs, including some for younger students.
What Are Service Academies?
You might have heard of the Army-Navy Football Game, one of the longest running rivalries in college football. But you might not really understand that service academies are both military training centers and colleges.
There are five federal service academies: US Naval Academy (Navy & Marine Corps), US Military Academy (Army), US Air Force Academy (Air Force & Space Force), US Coast Guard Academy, and US Merchant Marine Academy (civilian maritime professions or a military commission). Each is a college, run by the federal government, that offers an undergraduate education and immersive military training for future officers.
Students (called cadets or midshipmen) attend college classes, gain leadership experience, and go on summer military training. At the end of four years, they earn a Bachelor of Science degree and become officers in the branch of the military associated with their academy. Students receive a 100% scholarship that covers tuition, room & board, and a monthly stipend. In return for the tuition-free education, graduates serve for several years in the military. As a result, applications are competitive and should be started in spring of junior year.
Students who are interested in applying to a service academy should also consider college ROTC programs. College ROTC programs are another pathway to becoming a military officer. ROTC scholarships can pay for tuition, fees, books, and a monthly stipend.
Benefits of Attending a Service Academy Summer Program
Students Get a Better Sense of What Attending an Academy Is Like
Service academy summer programs are packed with presentations from academy leaders, demonstrations of military gear, and tours academic facilities. But it’s not all passive watching. There is hands on training too: obstacle courses, basic squad tactics, damage control exercises, and more.
Summer Programs Are Led by Current Cadets & Midshipmen
This gives participants a chance to talk to someone currently going through the academy. Their descriptions of academy life up to date and often less filtered. They may explain why they chose their academy over other opportunities or the good and bad side of being there. There are other opportunities to meet cadets and midshipmen, like admissions information events, but service academy summer programs offer several days of interaction, not just the chance to ask one or two questions.
Students Learn if They’re Physically Ready for an Academy
Service academy summer programs often start with morning fitness training, and include other physical activities throughout the day. Just getting from one side of campus to another may involve a fair amount of marching or jogging. In addition, academies usually do a full administration of their fitness test for all participants. If your score is strong, you might not need to take the fitness assessment again. If it’s not so great, you can use this as a practice test and go home knowing what you need to work on.
Service Academy Summer High School Programs
The following Service academy summer programs are one-week orientations for rising seniors, usually held before the incoming freshman class arrives. Training is primarily led by current midshipmen and cadets, along with recent graduates. The cost includes room and board, but students are responsible for their own travel arrangements. I’ve put these in rough order by when the applications open and close. Because of the high number of applications, late applications are not usually considered. Applications are typically open in late fall to spring of junior year, but vary by program. Most applications for summer 2023 are closed, but session dates and application timelines are posted as a guideline for what to expect next year.
US Air Force Academy Summer Seminar
The US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO trains officers for the Air Force and now the Space Force. Its Summer Seminar gives seniors an opportunity to experience life as a cadet. Seminar dates are typically mid-June. The Air Force Academy Summer Seminar applications opened December 1 and close January 15. The program typically costs $300.
The US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD prepares future Navy and Marine Corps officers. It hosts the Naval Academy Summer Seminar or NASS. This is an introduction to “academic, athletic, and professional training.” There are three sessions in June.
2023 Session Dates: Session 1: June 3 – June 8, 2023 Session 2: June 10 – June 15, 2023 Session 3: June 17 – June 22, 2023
The Naval Academy Summer Seminar application opens January 4 and closes April 15, 2023. The application must be completed in one sitting. You cannot save and come back to it later. Cost: $550.
US Military Academy Summer Leaders Experience
The US Military Academy in West Point, NY holds a Summer Leaders Experience or SLE. This offers an immersion in cadet life for rising seniors. Classes, physical and military training are held in the first two weeks of June. Rolling admission application for the Summer Leadership Experience opens February 1 – March. Cost is $625 and need-based scholarships are available.
2023 Session Dates: Session 1: June 3 – 9, 2023 Session 2: June 10 – 16, 2023
US Coast Guard Academy Academy Introduction Mission
The US Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT holds the latest of the academy summer programs. The Academy Introduction Mission (AIM) runs in July. This summer program has a reputation for its realistic exposure to life at a service academy. For 2022, the Coast Guard Academy held a total of four AIM session, three on campus and one virtual session. The application for AIM is usually open February 8 – April 15. Cost is approx $750. Some need based scholarships are available.
2023 Session Dates: Session I: 2-7 July, 2023 (On Campus) Session II: 9-14 July, 2023 (On Campus) Session III: 16-21 July, 2023 (On Campus)
US Merchant Marine Academy
The US Merchant Marine Academy in King’s Point, NY does not hold a summer camp for high school students. Contact USMMA directly for information about touring King’s Point.
How to Apply to Service Academy Summer Programs
Applications typically ask for grades in academic courses, an activities list, an essay, and PSAT, SAT, or ACT test scores. Students should prepare to be physically active in a military setting during the summer programs. Some applications require a letter of recommendation. While academies may not require test scores for their summer programs, test scores remain a significant part of the eventual academy application. So, I encourage students to take the PSAT junior year (or earlier if offered) and consider taking the SAT or ACT in fall/winter of junior year.)
Due to limited capacity in these service academy summer programs, they sometimes prioritize students who live far from the school or in under-represented geographic areas. Students should submit a well-prepared application early in the application window. Students should not assume a turn-down letter for a summer program means a lower chance of an appointment to that academy. If you are interested in attending an academy, you should lean in to complete your application early by the fall of senior year.
In addition to the academy camps for rising seniors there are other opportunities to get exposure to a service academy or the military. Some are open to students in earlier grades.
Naval Academy STEM Camps – One-week STEM intensive camps for rising 9th-11th grade students in June. This camp focuses more on STEM experiences than military orientation. Each grade level attends during a specific week of camp. Application opens January 4 and closes April 15, 2023. Cost $800 (includes food and lodging at the Naval Academy).
2023 Session Dates: Rising 9th Graders: June 5 – 10, 2023 Rising 10th Graders: June 12 – 17, 2023 Rising 11th Graders: June 19 – 23, 2023
Note: Sessions vary by grade level. Students may only attend the session designed for their grade.
West Point STEM Camps – Week-long, hands on STEM camps for middle school (rising 7-8th grade) and high school (rising 9-10th grade) students. West Point faculty and cadets teach classes and hands on workshops. All participants must show proof of full Covid-19 vaccination. Application usually closes in March. Cost: The Center for Diversity and Leadership in STEM pays the costs of tuition, food, and housing. Participants must pay for transportation to and from West Point or Newark Airport.
Summer 2023 Cancelled. West Point hopes to resume the program in 2024.
Villanova University Navy ROTC Summer Seminar – This is a 4 day/4 night introduction to Navy ROTC on the Villanova University campus for rising seniors. 2023 is the second year for this program, which is the only ROTC specific summer program for high school students I’m aware of. Cost $625 includes food and lodging on campus. 2023 application deadline: May 13, 2023.
2023 Session Dates: June 19-23, 2023
Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) conducts STEM Summer Camps at military bases around the country. These camps focus on military construction and engineering, and are open to rising 10th-12th grade students. Applications open December – April 15,. Cost $100-800 depending on camp, but sponsorships may be available for some camps.
Year Round Military High School Programs
Students interested in deeper exposure to the military might consider a year-round program.
Many high schools have Junior ROTC units associated with a branch of the military. Students in these units usually have a Junior ROTC class as part of their school schedule, as well as associated after school and weekend training. Activities may include fitness and obstacle course training, flight familiarization, marksmanship, cyber security competitions, and ceremonial events. Students in some Junior ROTC units may also be eligible for an academy nomination through their Junior ROTC unit.
Sea Cadets – Run by the Navy League of the United States and supported by the Navy and Coast Guard, Sea Cadet units have regular meetings through the year, as well as a two-week summer training camp and additional advanced training opportunities focused on seamanship and seagoing topics.
Civil Air Patrol – Part of the Air Force Auxiliary, CAP Cadet squadrons typically meet weekly with a longer event once a month on a weekend and a one-week summer encampment.
Sea Scouts, Civil Air Patrol, and Junior ROTC do not require students to join the military. They do offer opportunities for doing hard things and being active in small group leadership experiences. 8-15% of incoming service academy freshmen participated in one of these organizations.
When I applied to the Naval Academy, the application was a packet of paper forms with space for hand-written essays and bubbled in activity listings. The format has changed over the years, but the need for organization and timeliness remains. Applying to any military academy or ROTC scholarship requires organization and attention to detail and deadlines. If you’d like guidance with this process, please schedule an inquiry meeting.
Colleges want to know what students do outside the classroom and especially how their extracurricular activities demonstrate experience with their intended major. How can would be historians gain skills in the discipline, find out if majoring in history fits their goals, and make a difference in their community? I collected a few history related activities for students. This isn’t an exhaustive list of extracurricular activities, but hopefully it will help generate ideas you can put into action.
National History Day Competition
National History Day (NHD) is history competition based around an annual theme. Students research using primary and secondary sources, then present their analysis and conclusions in one of five categories: documentary, exhibit, paper, performance, or website. Each category is judged separately according to criteria appropriate for that type of presentation. The 2023 theme is Frontiers: People, Places, Ideas, which could include so many directions for historical research.
Depending on your local area, there may be initial contests at the school, district, Regional, or Affiliate level. Winners of Affiliate level competitions go on to the National competition. The Affiliate Coordinator for your area will have details on local contest dates, deadlines, and supporting organizations. Each new NHD contest cycle begins in June, with the conclusion of the previous year’s competition. This is a well-known history related activity across the US, with a number of history organizations supporting student projects.
Library of Congress Veterans History Project
The Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP) is a program that collects, catalogues, and digitizes oral histories, photos, and diaries from US military veterans. You could start small, by interviewing veterans in your family or neighborhood. But this could also become a significant activity by collecting larger sets of histories from veterans.
Some successful projects have concentrated on veterans from a particular era or conflict; special categories of veterans, such as Black or women veterans; veterans from a local area, retirement facility, or veterans’ organization. Often, Members of Congress are eager to support larger collection efforts. The VHP website has a list of partner organizations listed by state. These organizations may have ongoing projects that students can join or might offer support to new collections.
Local Historical Societies, Historic Sites, and Museums
There are historic sites, local history societies, and history museums in almost every community. You might be familiar with Historic Sites and Historic Trails that are part of the National Parks Service. These have volunteer opportunities through the Volunteers in Parks (VIP) program. You can find the volunteer coordinator in the Get Involved section for each site.
You should also look for historic sites, museums, and historic societies run by state, county, or local groups. Because local historic organizations often run on shoestring budgets, they are often in dire need of volunteer help and may be more flexible with age or experience requirements for volunteers. Possible volunteer activities might include preparing exhibits or brochures, cataloging artifacts, staffing booths at local festivals, serving as a docent, or assisting with group events. Some areas have specialized history libraries and archives within state or local library systems. You might even have access to historic ships or aviation museums.
Model United Nations
At first glance, Model UN might not seem like a history related activity. But current conflicts often derive from historical grievances. What’s more, many Model UN conferences include historic crisis simulations. In a historic simulation, students might debate the treaty ending World War One, Fall of the Berlin War, or the Cuban Missile Crisis. Many conferences require delegates to submit a position paper representing their country’s policy on the stated committee topic.
To get started, look for a Model UN league in your area, MUN conferences for high school students sponsored by colleges, or online conferences. You can even start small with a single committee conference at your own school. If you decide to organize a small conference, plan to create background guides to give delegates a common framework for committee debates.
Similar activities might include Girls State and Boys State, Youth in Government, Mock Trial or Moot Court, and debate competitions.
Historic Marker Projects
You might be familiar with roadside historic markers. These are large markers that describe historic events that took place at or near the spot where the marker is placed. These markers are often suggested or sponsored by local organizations. Students interested in history might research the history around a local site or individual and nominate a new marker. In my county, the efforts of local students were so effective that the county board of supervisors created a county-wide Historic Marker Project to encourage submission of nominations. You can find the process for nominating new markers by searching for the name of your state and Historic Marker.
You might also find that existing local markers are in need of refurbishment. This is another project that students could take on, but be sure to coordinate with the entity responsible for markers in your area and follow their guidelines for cleaning and restoration.
Digital Transcription Projects
Digitization of historic records makes them widely available to historians around the world. But an image isn’t easily searchable on its own and optical character recognition software often struggles with handwritten records. Digital transcription projects are crowd sourced efforts to record the contents of digitized records and catalog them in searchable formats.
The Smithsonian Institution Digital Volunteer Transcription Center is a long-running transcription project open to any volunteer. Recent projects included a collection of material relating to the life of the first successful dirigible pilot in the US, a 1925 scrapbook from a graduate of Prairie View College (now Prairie View A&M University, and audio transcriptions of the Adventures in Science program from the 1950s. Available projects change frequently.
You can find other projects run by state and local museums and archives by searching for “history digital transcription projects.” Digital transcription projects can be independent activities pursued whenever the student has time available or they can be ongoing projects done on site at local museums, historical societies, and archives. Don’t be afraid to approach a local group to ask if they have a collection that needs to be transcribed.
Living History and Reenactments
Some students find a period of history so interesting that they want to immerse themselves in the events they study. Reenactments and living history allow them the opportunity to dress, eat, and act as they would have in the past. Local historic sites often have costumed guides to interpret the site to visitors. Military reenactments engage in group encampments and staging battle engagements from periods as diverse as the American Revolution, World War Two, and Ancient Rome.
Reenacting can be a history related activity that is quite addictive and sometimes expensive — presenting a Roman centurion requires more investment than a 19th century farmer. Look for living history days or marching through time events in your area to connect with local reenactors.
Get Creative to Find History Activities
If the suggestions I’ve mentioned don’t float your boat, use them as creative springboards. Instead of veterans, maybe you want to interview older neighbors who remember your community before the freeway was built or when they helped integrate the local library. Your local historical society might want help creating a display for the government center. Or your high school might want to do a display to recognize the anniversary of a milestone event.
Students interested in history might combine some of these activities. For example, you could help a local library digitize and share local newspapers. Or you could create a living history impression to research in a National History Day presentation. Or you might help a historic site create traveling trunks with reproduction documents and artifacts to loan out to area classrooms and groups.
One fun aspect of getting involved with history related activities is that the other volunteers are not only also interested in history, but often witnessed historic events themselves. When members of my family volunteered at aviation museums, fellow docents were not only former pilots, but often had experience flying the actual aircraft on display.
It might feel like vacation just ended. Maybe the notes from finals and AP study guides are still on your desk. But summer is the right time to for seniors to work on college applications. Most colleges open their new application cycle on August 1. Senior year starts just a few weeks later, with many class assignments, events, and activities competing for scarce time. Early deadlines might feel like they are far in the future, but they will loom up faster than you anticipate. These college application tips will help you get started on your applications and take some of the pressure off of senior year.
Make an Activities Master List
Most applications ask students about how they spent their time outside the classroom. Activities don’t have to be an official school club or team. They could include jobs, family responsibilities, volunteer efforts, participation in faith-based groups, and important hobbies. This isn’t just to pad your resume. Colleges are giving increasing attention to the fact that some students spend many hours a week working or caring for siblings or that a student may not be in a school club but devote their free time to beach cleanups or creating film productions.
Create a list of that includes what you did, what your responsibilities and impact were, how much time you spent each week, and what years you were involved. Go into details about projects, what you did and how you felt about completing them. If there is a teacher, coach, or adult mentor who might write a letter of recommendation, make a note of their name and contact info. Your list should lead with the activities that are most important to you, rather than strict chronological order.
Be expansive when writing this master list. The purpose isn’t to create something that is ready to attach to an application, but to create a detailed document that you can draw from when working on your applications. It’s ok to include bullet points, paragraphs describing an event or a responsibility, or a list of awards or performance pieces. When you are done with this activities master list, it will be easier to pull out the most significant activities and what you did in them to fill out the activities sections of applications, make a brag sheet for recommenders, or create a resume.
Pro Tip: It can be a good idea to ask your parents or a close friend if they remember any activities you’ve forgotten. Short term activities like a cyber camp or film conference might slip your mind, but might be combined with other activities in your application to demonstrate a thread of a deep and enduring interest area. When my own kids applied to college, looking back at old calendars brought up several items that we had forgotten about.
Create a Common Application Account
The Common Application is a portal used by hundreds of different colleges, from Aberystwyth University (Wales) to York College of Pennsylvania to process student applications. Students enter their personal information, school info, and activities on one main page, that is then sent to any participating college. The advantage for students is that they don’t have to enter basic information on a multitude of different applications. The advantage for colleges is that students are more likely to apply, if it’s a relatively easy add on rather than a totally separate application portal.
The Common App does an annual rollover to the new application cycle. The good news is that much of a student’s data is preserved in the rollover, so a rising senior can input this data during the summer and be a step ahead when the new application cycle starts. Student accounts are frozen for about a week during the system refresh, usually around the last week of July.
Data entered in the Common App tab will rollover. This includes the subsections for Profile, Family, Education, Testing, and Activities. Sections that do not roll over include answers in the My Colleges tab (which includes college-specific questions) and invitations to recommenders (or recommendations that might have been uploaded). So you should wait to enter responses to these sections until after the rollover has occurred. This Application Guide for First Time Students can help you create your account and start filling out the application. This year there will also be a set of free Common App walk through videos called the AXS Companion. These videos are a joint project of IECA and Oregon State University and feature a bunch of fabulous Independent Educational Consultants showing step by step how to complete the application.
Pro Tip: If you are primarily applying to colleges in California or colleges that have their own application, you might not use the Common App portal for your applications. In that case, take the time to research the applications you will be using so you have a better understanding of what you will need to submit.
Start Working on Your Essays
A strong essay should be primarily about you. It’s your opportunity to tell the admissions readers the rest of the story that they don’t get from reading your transcript, activities list, and test scores. Don’t procrastinate work on pre-writing exercises that helps you define and share what values, experiences, and goals make up your story.
Many colleges use similar essay prompts from year to year. The Common Application has announced the Personal Statement prompts for 2021-22, which includes one new prompt to replace one that wasn’t used often. This means that you don’t have to wait until applications officially open in late summer to start thinking and writing about who you are and what strengths and attributes you will bring to the college community. If this is an area you want help on, maybe an Admissions Decrypted Essay Coaching Package is something to consider.
Pro Tip: You should always write essays and other supplemental writing responses in a document and paste them into applications. This allows you to use spell check and word count tools and protects you from losing hours of work if there is a system glitch in the application.
Start Working on Applications Now; Have More Calm Later
Each of these tasks takes time, usually more time than expected. Getting a head start on completing college applications can relieve pressure from looming fall deadlines and allow headspace for putting together a high-quality application. Don’t panic when you can’t access your Common App account during the system refresh. Use this time to work on other tasks (like essays) so you are ready to go when rollover is complete. I hope these college application tips are useful. If you’d like help with your college applications or college planning, get in touch.
You might be thinking of the first snowstorm, pumpkin pie,
or settling in for a long winter nap; but have you considered what to do over
summer vacation? While summer might be
months away, applications for many summer programs are open in the fall and
Summer months offer a solid block of time that doesn’t have
the distractions of the school routine.
It’s time you can use for exploring areas of interest that might otherwise
get pushed to the side. If you haven’t
yet made plans for the summer, it’s time to start thinking about how you’d like
to use that time. Here are a few ideas
to get you started.
Summer can be a time to work on an area that gave you
trouble in the past or to branch out into new areas. Summer school sessions might be a time to
knock out a course that is required for graduation, in order to open up your
school year calendar.
Many colleges offer summer academic sessions open to high
school students. Some offer college
credit, while others are oriented towards giving a preview of college
life. Be aware that even though a program
is offered on a particular college campus, it might not make an acceptance
there more likely.
Work & Internships
Summer jobs have long been a rite of passage. Not only do they bolster the bank account,
but they give students real life skills like punctuality, following directions,
and communication. A job is likely to
get you outside your regular social circle and give you experience dealing with
customers and supervisors.
You might also
consider an internship. These are typically
a position at a company or organization to work on a project, but may be
unpaid. The expectation is that in
return for entry level work, the intern gains access to a field that they
wouldn’t yet get a job in and thereby gains experience and insight. Some companies and organizations have a
formal internship program. Others might
be responsive to requests to create an internship position. Don’t overlook volunteer positions. A long-term volunteer position for the summer
could operate much like an internship.
Travel and Experiential Learning
Summer may also be a time for travel. Many high schools offer short travel programs
through foreign language clubs. A number
of student foreign exchange programs run summer programs that combine culture,
language learning, and living with a local host family.
Summer camps have long been popular and not only because of
the enduring appeal of s’mores. Camps
range from outdoor adventures to music and language immersions to intensive
sports training. Short academic camps in
art, robotics, coding, or test prep might be available through your parks
department, libraries, or museums. Some
students go back to the same camps year after year and progress from camper to
counselor, gaining valuable leadership experience in the process.