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Summer Volunteering for Students & 7 Other Ways to Get Ready for Junior Year

Though we work with college-bound students every day, identifying the most useful resources from the endless number of blogs, organizations, and consultation websites is difficult even for us. Type "how to prepare for college" into a search engine and you'll be wading through more than 140 million results. This sheer volume of information coupled with the fact that your child may have his or her own summer agenda (that involves as little schoolwork as possible), can make even the most dedicated student squeamish. No need to worry, however. We've compiled a list of ways your child can get the most out of this summer, and have offered some excellent resources to help you begin.
  1. Volunteer Consistently - Volunteering may seem like a no-brainer, but colleges aren't looking for a fair-weather commitment. Many high schools now require students to complete a certain number of community service hours to graduate, and doing an assortment of projects at random isn't going to impress an admissions committee. Consistently working with one organization is much more likely to make a favorable impression because it adds credibility to your child's interest. The best way to approach your son or daughter about volunteering is to suggest an activity in which your child is already interested. Also, one of the best things about volunteering is it's rarely a solitary activity; volunteering doesn't necessarily mean missing time with friends. Your child can get a group of friends to help weed a public garden, assistant coach a little league team or act out children's books during story hour at the public library. If your child has an idea to start a new initiative, he or she can organize a neighborhood outreach to collect clothes or canned food for the homeless or gather school supplies to send to areas devasted by recent flooding. Not sure what's available in your area? Check out volunteermatch.org or idealist.org to find projects that suit any schedule or interest.
  2. Read - Novels, newspapers, magazines-it doesn't matter: if it gets your child to read, encourage it. The single best way for your child to improve standardized test scores and stay fresh over the summer is to read regularly. Reading daily is a low-stress activity that can have a significant impact on your child's reading speed and comprehension (both critical parts of the SAT and ACT). College admission tests weigh reading comprehension heavily, but speed can also affect how a student performs on an exam. Reading speeds can improve even with limited daily efforts. Something you can do to assist your child is to share the reading process with your son or daughter. Ask your child to choose a book from the College Board's 101 Great Books and read it together. Set aside a day each week to discuss the book over dinner or while driving in the car.
  3. Tour Local Colleges - Even if your child has no interest in staying close to home for college, participating in a campus tour can facilitate the discussion about what he or she likes or dislikes about a campus or school. You'll get first-hand experience about what questions you should be asking and what parts of a visit can really affect your child's opinion of a college. Discovering the exciting or hectic aspects of college life will allow your son or daughter to select the best options when he or she begins the application process. Try to plan several visits to different schools in a short timeframe so it's easier for your child to make comparisons while the experiences are fresh. Your child may even surprise you by gaining a legitimate interest in one of the schools you visit. Before you head out, review this college checklist which covers things to do and examples of questions to ask.
  4. Start applying for scholarships - Scholarships add strength and interest to an application. If something your son or daughter accomplished has already set them apart in a formal competition, colleges will usually want to know more. Schools are always looking for applicants that can draw positive attention to their school and if your child has a track record of being a high flier, this may be enough to move his or her application up in the pile. Also, scholarships aren't just for money anymore. Students today are applying to the most competitive admission pools ever. Qualifications that once set students apart, such as taking AP classes, are almost mandatory to be considered at many top-tier schools. Also, not all scholarships require hours of work or a flawless academic history. Scholarships sites such as fastweb.com will email scholarship information to your son or daughter based on a list of interests and activities your child selects. However, a few dishonest individuals are seizing this opportunity to defraud students as well. To avoid these traps, make sure you know how to spot a scholarship scam.
  5. Take a practice SAT or ACT - There will be at least one rainy/gloomy/too-hot-to-go-outside day in every summer vacation. Students should take these opportunities to give themselves a trial run for one or both exams. Discovering early-on which test they are best suited for can save months of headaches and stress. Though your child may have already taken the PLAN, or will take the PSAT in the fall, preparing early will familiarize him or her with content and structure, and aid in forming realistic goals for the testing experience. You can purchase books of retired SAT or ACT exams online which include instructions on timing and scoring. You can now instantly score any of the exams in these prep guides and get in-depth performance review including a breakdown of performance by section, content tested, question type, and question difficulty at Tutoring Resources.
  6. Review junior year course selections - The classes that a student selects in high school can be one of the most telling and influential pieces of his or her admissions application. Junior year curriculum should contain a minimum of one challenging course or, for students concerned about their success in honors courses, a supplemental class. An English class can be supplemented by a creative writing class, or if history is your child's forte, he or she can look into a course on government and politics. Summer is typically the time when schools design course schedules, so if your child is thinking of reconsidering his or her course rigor, the earlier the school can make this adjustment, the better. Another incentive to act early is many AP classes require summer work or projects; waiting until school has started again to make any changes may make it very difficult for your child to catch up.
  7. Participate in a job shadow - If your child already has a career interest in mind, encourage him or her to shadow someone in a related field. This experience can provide a great deal of insight into what aspects your child does and doesn't like about the job early on-and it can be a great topic for scholarship essays if he or she has an interesting experience. Your daughter may know she's interested in a career in biology, but spending the day in a lab may give her exposure to careers that she wasn't even aware of. If your son isn't sure what he wants to do, shadowing can spark a new interest, or conversely, help eliminate careers he discovers aren't a good fit. Job shadowing may not help your child to get into college, but it's certainly a way to assist him or her in narrowing down schools based on career interests.
  8. Start a blog - There are tons of free blog-hosting networks available that only take about 10 to 15 minutes to set up. Your child can choose to focus on any topic-sports, fashion, creative fiction, or simply post daily updates. Blogging is a great way for colleges to notice your child down the road if he or she puts forth a solid effort and gains an audience. More importantly, writing on a regular basis will keep your child fresh for when school starts again. It's a great mental exercise to write about a single topic for 25-30 minutes and this is excellent practice for the SAT or ACT essay. Here's a great article to help you compare features of free or inexpensive blogs to find the right one to host your child's page.

From the first day of junior year, your child's life will be pushed into overdrive. Getting a jump on preparing for the college transition over the summer can make life far easier during this hectic year. Many students make the mistake of waiting until senior year to bulk up their high school transcript, but colleges look for applicants with long-term commitments to activities and will dismiss things they believe to be fluff. Pick a few areas to focus on over the summer and the shift between high school student and college student will be well underway by the time your child starts applications.

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