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Three Steps College-Bound Underclassmen Should Take This Summer

With summer quickly approaching and things finally beginning to return to normal, this is an important time for students in their freshman, sophomore or junior years of high school. Underclassmen – especially in the 11th grade – should be looking ahead to their senior year, when they will go through the often stressful process of applying to college. By beginning to prepare now, you can make the entire process much easier and significantly increase your chances of acceptance.

There are three key steps we encourage underclassmen, and especially juniors, to take in the spring and summer each year:

Step 1: Compile your college list

Whether or not you already know where you want to go, your first step should be to develop a strategic college list. A college list is a list of schools that match your strengths, talents, and interests, and includes a mix of reach, target, and safety schools. Consider things like how competitive they are to get into; what programs they offer; what the school’s culture and atmosphere are like; and where they are located geographically. I generally recommend that students select between 4-6 reach schools, 3 target schools, and 3 safety schools, but your list can be slightly longer or shorter.

Step 2: Develop your Application PositioningTM

It goes without saying that the top colleges in the country are incredibly selective. What many students do not realize, however, is that these schools are not looking for the most well-rounded students. Rather, they are looking for the most well-rounded class. This means that it is imperative for applicants to highlight what makes them unique, demonstrating to their dream schools what special talents, skills or experiences they will bring to campus. At The Ivy Dean, we call this approach of identifying and highlighting unique traits that will be most interesting to a prospective college “Application PositioningTM”. Think about what particular strengths set you apart from other applicants, and then plan to emphasize these features in your applications.

Step 3: Plan your activities

Now that you know where you want to go and what you will focus on when you apply, it’s time to decide how you will spend the next few months to bolster your profile. This is a key opportunity to find summer programs or classes, community or volunteer positions, paid work, projects and other activities that will improve your applications. Be sure to choose activities that align with your Positioning, because they will help you to present yourself in a specific, strategic light to any schools you apply to. I also recommend that you keep track of what you do as part of each activity: simply make note of any key tasks you performed, goals you achieved, recognition you received and so on, so that you can easily capture these details in future written applications and interviews.

While the process of applying to college may feel daunting, it does not have to be. The key is to begin early and seek out assistance whenever possible. Remember, my team and I are here to help – our company’s mission is to use our extensive experience to give students their best chance of being admitted to a top college.

Please feel free to contact us at any time to schedule a free consultation, and be sure to view our other blog posts for more tips and insights regarding the admission process.


On paper, I am by no means a perfect student. However, thanks to my Application Positioning, I was able to maximize the strengths that I bring to a college to compensate for other factors. Thanks to The Ivy Dean Team, I will be attending Princeton University, my dream school, in the fall.

Douglas R. – Princeton University

Dee provided excellent advice and guidance throughout the application process. Her overall expertise in admissions, professionalism and warmth made the experience a great one. I was thrilled that I was accepted to several of the most selective colleges in the country and will be attending Stanford in the fall.”

Laurel P. – Stanford University
It's my pleasure to inform you that I've been admitted to my first choice college: the University of Southern California. My dream is becoming reality! I am thrilled to get the chance to belong to the USC and to start a new adventure there. It is also thanks to your great help that I've been accepted, I'm very grateful! Thank you so much for everything.
Sonia G. – From Switzerland
Our son and daughter wanted to go to colleges in the same city but they had different interests and different strengths. She matched them each with their ideal college, one Columbia University and the other NYU, and worked to get them admitted. We couldn't have been more pleased.
Niki and Roger S.
I was a serious student but also wanted a university where I could continue competitive cycling. There weren't many schools that met my needs and fit my personality. From her experience, she was able to hone right in on what became my first choice school. I graduated last year and the entire college experience was awesome.
Colin J.
My parents and I didn't know how helpful it could be to have someone who understood things from the inside working with us. Ms. Blackman was able to identify just what would make me the most attractive candidate to colleges.
Bob M. – Harvard University