Here is what I just told two high school juniors who plan to apply early decision to Williams:

Generally, it helps to apply early — Williams likes seeing that an applicant knows and loves the college and is committed to attending if accepted (caution might be appropriate on applying early if, for example, the applicant needed to and expected to get grades and/or scores up over the last few semesters of high school, was shaping up to be a newly-flourishing late bloomer, or had had some sort of serious setback in the junior year). In addition, the application season is new, there’s excitement in the air, and there are fewer applications to be read in the earlier pool.

If I were in your shoes, I’d download a copy of the 2008-2009 Common Application now (it won’t change much, and the new version will be available over the summer in plenty of time for applicants to take into account any changes), and get all the details assembled over the summer if I could. If you are going to be applying online, become familiar with how the forms work and their limitations (note, for example, that only the simplest of formatting will be preserved but there’s still a lot you can do with formatting; also, some answers are space limited, so it can help to think ahead about paring down and using fewer, but very well-chosen, words). Assembling details and filling in the information accurately can take longer than one might expect and it’s good to have the information at hand so that more important things, like the essays (and your school work and extracurricular commitments), can get the attention they need in the fall. Senior year will be very busy, and the application process can become as demanding as pasting an additional course into an already tough schedule would be. Try to get whatever you can done over the summer.

The summer is often a good time for stepping back and thinking. Who are you? What are your strengths and interests? What are you looking for from getting a college education? What do you want to convey to the admissions people? What’s the best way to do that? Making lists and jotting down seemingly random thoughts can help. Try not to spend the summer obsessed with college admissions but also recognize that applicants can often craft a much better application with forethought and planning, rather than through stumbling to complete the paperwork during the hectic fall of senior year.

I haven’t heard yet whether Williams plans to use the same prompt for the Williams essay. I wouldn’t try to write that one until I was sure of the prompt, unless I just wanted practice in writing a college admissions essay.

Depending on your school’s policies about this, it might be a good idea to alert teachers that you will be asking them for recommendations, and to give them a resume or list of your activities and accomplishments to make writing the recommendations easier (or at least assemble such information over the summer so that you can give it to them as soon as school starts in the fall). They may want to get a draft done over the summer, knowing how crazy October can become. In any case, if you have a recommender in mind, don’t wait to mention it to him or her — many of them have to limit the number of recommendations they write, and you won’t want to miss out and have to rely on someone who doesn’t know you very well.

If you might be doing an arts or athletic supplement, the summer is the time to learn how to do it, and to start planning what you might include. It’s also a very good time to check on what has to go where when, and to make a rough schedule of interim deadlines. Look into the processes at the other schools where you’ll stand ready to apply, and check out the details, such as deadlines, whether they use the Common Application, and whether there are special school-specific requirements such as an additional essay.

If you are, or may be, applying for financial aid, the summer is a good time for your family to get samples of the forms, figure out what details you’ll need to supply, and make a plan for assembling the information. Parents often find it very helpful to understand the process in advance, especially when they find themselves assembling the information, trying to do their taxes, working, and trying to enjoy their senior’s last few months of high school, all at the same time. It’s a scary year financially. If you aren’t already talking about paying for college, the time of the more relaxed “summer mode” may be a much better time to broach and explore the subject than during the more hectic academic year schedule. You can probably borrow a decent book about the financial aid process from your public library.

Keep learning about Williams. Keep feeding your enthusiasm. Have a fun summer, relishing the big years ahead and the chance to enjoy your family and friends.

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