Personal Essay
Although the prompts for the Common App personal essay have changed, the purpose has not: to demonstrate your ability to write and think well through a short narrative. Your older siblings or relatives will still be able to get you through the writing process –by mostly calming you down– but consider it best to share with them the newer prompts when asking for help.

When approaching the personal essay prompts, keep in mind that you are trying to show college admissions officers how well you will adjust to college life. You do this by showing you are academically minded, you have and will continue to challenge yourself in areas you feel both comfortable and uncomfortable, and will handle the transition from high school student living in your childhood bedroom to college student living in the dorm.

Financial Aid
It’s just not you that needs to be prepared for the college application process. It’s also your parents. And their role will be vital. You will have to discuss financial matters with them like never before; in particular, their financial matters will matter to you in terms of what loans, grants, and scholarships you will be offered.

To make your application for financial aid official, you’ll have to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. But, you’ll have to wait until January, however, to start work on the FAFSA. This form requires your parents’ financial information for all of 2013 in order to determine financial assistance.

College Visits
Time to make good use of your driver’s license. If you can’t make time right now to take a half day road trip to visit your top college choice, then make it a day trip elsewhere. Do some research on nearby schools that meet your search criteria, and then go visit them. Make an appointment for a student-led tour and learn about what’s available, what’s important at these schools, and how these features meet your own needs. There’s a lot to learn from college visits. And once you do make it to your top school for a visit, you’ll be an expert observer and questioner.

Remember: The school you pick will be what you call home for the next four years and where you return to relive the best memories of a lifetime. The more research you do, the happier you’ll be.

Letters of Recommendation
I like you. Do you like me?

Come the first day of senior year of high school, teachers become inundated with requests from students to write recommendation letters. The best and favorite teachers even more so. And this is at a time that is extremely busy for teachers–the opening of school. If you’re reading this before school starts, accelerate your recommendation requests to right now. Your teacher will have your name on top of their list. And maybe they’ll take a crack at your letter over the summer, when things are calmer and there’s no rush to meet important deadlines.

If you’re a real go-getter, compile a short list of accomplishments in that teacher’s class and throughout the school and community in letter form. (Early struggles shouldn’t be overlooked; it shows your tenacity.) Your teacher will admire your eagerness and be able to refresh in her mind of your experience together. Top choices for you to pick from are Junior and Senior classroom teachers in advanced classes.

Summer Work
Not everyone has the opportunity to spend their summer in an unpaid internship. If you do, then take advantage of the chance to work in an environment that interests you. Connect with your parents, relatives, or neighbors to open doors to work being done in your chosen field. If you can’t seek unpaid work, then try to gain access to the elements of the profession that most interests you. And bring that experience into your personal essay.

Common App
Remember that kid that was your best friend for the whole summer back in third grade? Of course not. As tight as that friendship was in the months of July and August, the month of September buried all those memories further back in your brain than the causes of the War of 1812.

Like your childhood friend, the Common App is going to offer the same type of intensity. Until you’ve wrapped up your applications, hopefully by the first of the year, the Common App will be the place where you collect your recommendation letters, transcripts, essay, and the like. Besides being able to quickly untangle yourself from the site come the spring, the Common App lets you research and apply to multiple schools from one location with a click of a button. As long as your school participates. Like the University of Maine does.

Note: The Common App will reopen August 1 for the fall admissions season. It needs a break, too, you know.

In the meantime, make a list of schools that interest you based on location, size of the student body, costs, and areas of study offered. A lot of students are able to quickly create a perfect college environment in minutes when asked the right questions. Consider: small college like high school or big college like a New England Patriots home game. Consider: right in the middle of a large urban area or nestled into the woods like Henry David Thoreau’s summer camp. Ask: annual tuition of $60,000 or a lot less.

Visit individual college websites and do some research. You can also ask friends and former classmates who have just finished their first year at college -either by living there or at home. They can help you consider important features of the life you’re about to live.