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  • Bentham Team

Spring Checklist for College Applicants

Here are the actions you should be taking this spring to make sure you’re ready for college application season. By the end of the summer you should be finished drafting and revising your Common App Personal Statement, so you will have time in the fall for the supplemental essay questions each school will throw at you and for other applications like the UCs with their pesky personal insight questions. You should know by the end of the summer where you want to apply early decision and early action, you should have your recommenders secured, and you should be ready with ten solid activities for your activities list. Don’t forget, the first semester of Senior year is tough, even worse than Junior year, so don’t procrastinate!


These are the steps to take to get you ahead of the game!



Ask for two teacher recommendations now

Your teacher will be surprised and flattered to be asked early; it means you really value the teacher and the class. The teacher will more closely observe you in class and note your good qualities after you make the request, and will have ample time to write a thoughtful, well-observed letter with strong examples of your intellectual curiosity and notable abilities. The teacher will have time to write your recommendation over the summer when there is more time to think and write. A rushed recommendation will fail to make an impression on the admissions office, so even if you aced all your classes, the admissions office will choose applicants whose teachers told more vivid and memorable stories. Be sure to select a teacher who knows you well and who probably writes well. It doesn’t have to be the teacher of your hardest class.


Many students find it understandably awkward to ask for a recommendation, so they avoid asking. Don’t wait until senior year to ask.  Not only are you going to be under a lot of pressure in the fall of your senior year, but so will your teachers. And if it was hard for you to ask when you were a junior, it would be so much harder to ask as a senior. The teacher is going to be irritated if asked in the fall, and this will color the teacher’s attitude towards you in the recommendation. You will also be somewhat diminished in the teacher’s eyes. Aside from these factors, the teacher just won’t have the time to do a good job if asked too late. The teacher will have many other letters to write, then, and will be forced to do a rush job. 

Create a Common App account

Your future starts here”, as the homepage says. You are going to be spending a lot of time with the common app, and it’s time to get this relationship started. You can use the website not only to apply to college but also to look at schools and see what their essays and requirements are. It’s very easy to start an account, and it’s free.

Research Colleges

Once you have created your account, you can start looking at colleges. The ignorance of many students about to apply to college is staggering. Students routinely say, for example, that they want a large college because it will offer more subjects. In fact, “small” colleges offer as many subjects as large ones. Did you know that some colleges require you to take a lot of courses and other colleges allow you to take mostly what you want to take? Did you know that at some schools it’s easy to study abroad, and at others, it’s more difficult? Look at a variety of schools before you make your final college list. 

Look at your Activity List - do you have enough solid activities?

It’s very instructive to take a look at the activity list and think about how you will fill it in when the time comes. There are a variety of categories that will help you think about everything you do outside of the classroom. Do you have ten solid activities? Or are you going to have to include something like walking the dog or something you only did as a freshman?  Now is the time to think about how you might bolster your activities by deepening your activity, seeking to be an officer, or doing something meaningful over the summer, such as a college class, establishing a nonprofit, or doing some substantial volunteering.

 Look at model essays and get started

Search the web for sample college essays, and educate yourself on what makes a good essay. Then start prewriting and drafting your essay. Remember, writing the essay is a process. Show it to a trusted reader or two (but not more than three!), and do another draft. College essays get better through drafting and revising over and over again. Don’t wait until the fall to get started! 


It’s not always easy to do all of this alone or to find highly experienced essay readers and activity list specialists. If you want some assistance, contact Bentham Admissions!


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