Prep Talk Blog > May 2009

Truth: Far too many students fall into the mindset that they have to get jobs that look good on a college application. The truth is you'll be better off if you follow your passion and focus on the things that matter most to you.

Use your summer to determine what it is you want for your future. If you decide to take a class or work a specific job, do so because it interests you, not only because it looks good to the admissions department at a particular school. Having solid job experience is important, but it's even more important to do something that is exciting and fulfilling to you.

Many of you are probably also concerned about paying for college and a summer job may help pay the bills. While it is true every penny can help, you can get started on financing college in other ways, such as by applying for scholarships or financial aid the summer before your last year of high school.

Other things to do the summer before your senior year:

Request financial aid information and start asking for college applications. Check out the CollegeBoard's Financial Aid EasyPlanner for help.
Begin searching for scholarships on online databases, such as Scholarship Monkey and Fastweb.
Talk to your friends who went to college this past year and find out what they are doing to help pay for college. Ask around to see which schools have good financial aid programs.
Make a note of questions that arise throughout the summer, so that you’re prepared for the next meeting with your school counselor come fall.
Read blogs, like MyCollegeOptions or FAFSA Online, which offer tips on how to pay for college.
Instead of getting a job that's a "resume-builder", try that random and intriguing gig that's always interested you. For inspiration, check out some of the weird summer occupations some celebrities have had, such as lion-taming or chicken-plucking.
Take this summer to define what it is you want from your college experience. If you want to work in a field that interests you, do it. Bottom line: enjoy your summer and get started thinking about your college options.

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Wish that preparing for the SAT or ACT didn't require costly books and programs? Here are a few free options online:, which doesn't require sign-up (no usernames and passwords to remember!), features hundreds of practice questions and answer explanations. You won't be able to take a full-length test on the website, but you'll be able to perfect your strategy. Check out the especially helpful vocabulary lists which are downloadable.

Test prep publishers also have some free online options. Peterson's offers full-length, timed practice tests, while Princeton Review sends out a "detailed score report analyzing your strengths and weaknesses" after you complete their online demo. is a free test prep haven with a vocabulary builder, personal progress reports, and tutorials adjustable by skill level.

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That's right, kids. I'm talking about senioritis, that common and infectious senior spring ailment that affects many and often leaves rescinded acceptances in its wake. Unlike swine flu, this isn't just hype. Check out these resources for methods to avoid last-minute slacking off:

  • It's no myth. The Choice reports that poor grades can and do lead to revoked admissions at colleges like University of Washington, Northwesten, and Middlebury College.
  • warns that slacking off can also lead to rescinded scholarships and remedial coursework (if you're not prepared for college curriculum).
  • says that colleges will be considering final semester grades even more heavily this year, because some schools have over-accepted students in hopes of meeting fall enrollment goals in a dire economy.
  • CampusCompare notes that if you may transfer colleges later in your education (and about half of students do), then the game isn't over. Your high school grades will be taken into account.
  • On a lighter note, SparkLife offers several amusing suggestions on how to pass your time during the final weeks of high school.

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If you're a last-minute applicant combing through the NACAC Space Availability Survey with no matches, there's another resource you can turn to if you're interested in studying in New England. The New England Board of Higher Education has published its Vacancy Survey Report, which includes results from 202 of 219 New England schools. An astounding 147 of them (or 70 percent of the schools polled) still have openings for the fall.

Vacancies are largely at four-year private institutions such as Quinnipiac University, Marlboro College, and Johnson and Wales University. Alongside these options are public universities, private two-year colleges, and community colleges, all of which represent a diverse range of options in the region. The report categorizes schools based on availability for freshman and transfer applicants, mentions programs (such as nursing) which have now closed enrollment, and also indicates if there is housing and financial aid available. It also conveniently lists schools in New England which are no longer accepting any applicants and have no further vacancies. (If you're considering calling up individual institutions, consult this "closed" list first.)

To check out the full survey results, download the report from the NEBHE website. NEBHE  strongly advises that late applicants get moving "because openings are limited at some institutions, especially in bachelor’s degree programs."

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Bummed out by a stack of rejection letters? Don't throw in the towel just yet. Though the national college acceptance deadline (May 1st) has come and gone, you just might have a second chance at scoring a spot in the university that's perfect for you. The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) has just published the results of their Space Availability Survey, a list of 258 NACAC-member schools that haven't met their enrollment goals and still have room for late applicants. 

The pickings aren't slim either. Schools on the list include the University of Rochester, ranked the 35th best university in the latest U.S. News & World Report, and Whitman College, ranked the 37th best liberal arts school. The bloggers at The College Counselor For Gifted Kids also point to options, like Ohio Wesleyan and Smith College, the prestigious women's college and liberal arts school, which are accepting transfer applicants. These are all competitive institutions with highly respected academic programs. But they, and the other 70 percent of private schools on the list, have suffered a decline in enrollment due to the recession.

At the same time, keep in mind that housing and financial aid resources have already been allocated to students accepted through regular admissions, and remaining space and funds may be limited. Fortunately, 97% of the colleges on NACAC's list still have available dorms and even if you've missed out on school-specific scholarships, you can continue to apply for government aid.

Here are a few tips on how to successfully secure a last-minute spot for the fall:

Act now. Even though some schools will accept applications right up until the end of summer, these are still limited spots and your chances of getting in are much higher if you apply immediately.

Do your own research. The NACAC's membership only represents half of the four-year colleges in America. If there's a school you haven't applied to yet and it's not listed in the survey, call the admissions office and ask for yourself. If it's a private institution, there's a decent chance that enrollment was lower this year than previous years.

Have a story ready. "Be prepared to explain over the phone, and in a letter, why you are applying so late and why the school is a good fit," says John Sullivan, dean of admission and financial aid at Eckerd College.

The prospect of going through the entire application process again may not be too appealing but if you're not pleased with your current college options, then an eleventh hour effort might just land you at a school that you'll be more than happy to attend.

Image by Pickersgill Reef and used under a Creative Commons license.

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Don Munce