The Truth About Getting Ahead: Starting College Applications in the Summer (Huffington Post)

More students are applying to more schools, leaving a small window for completing all those essays and applications on time, especially in the madness of senior year schoolwork. With more writing and less time to complete it all before early and regular decision deadlines, is it wise for students to build some essay-writing time into their summer breaks?

The simple answer: Yes, rising seniors should get a head start on their applications this summer.

The college admissions process is competitive, with almost a third of students applying to seven or more schools. For those looking to apply to selective institutions, it’s necessary to get a head start. Colleges know this, starting a trend of releasing essay prompts before applications actually open, allowing students the chance to start on their essays in the summer months.

The Universal College Application, which includes Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Princeton, among others, as member schools, opened on July 1. Other colleges and universities have opened their applications or revealed essay prompts ahead of the standard Aug. 1 date, includingWake Forest UniversityUniversity of Chicago, and University of Virginia.

Even the Common Application has given students a sneak peek at the2014-15 essay prompts, months ahead of its Aug. 1 open date.

Getting a head start doesn’t mean students need to be ready to hit “submit” by the end of July (although some schools will allow students to!) By brainstorming essay topics and working on essays now, seniors will already have a leg up on applications before they start the school year, alleviating stress and the overwhelming workload that comes with balancing senior year academics and applications in the fall.

Read Kat Cohen’s article for reasons to get started on your college applications this summer

What’s That College Really Like? 6 Ways To Be A Wiser Visitor (Forbes)

Cynics will tell you that campus visits — a centerpiece of the Great American College Hunt — are largely a waste of time. No matter how diligently parents and their college-bound teens scour the country, all those dorms, libraries and food courts end up blurring together. The result: visitors finish their road trips exhausted and hardly any wiser.

The cynic are wrong. But it takes a maverick’s touch to get full value from a campus visit. I’ve been talking to lots of parents, school administrators and students lately, aiming to develop an underground guide to such expeditions. I’ve also been testing ideas during our family’s own college-hunting journeys.

Here’s what I’ve learned about turning even a four-hour campus visit into something memorable and instructive. The key insight: don’t dwell on whether the law school was founded in 1894 or 1903. (It’s been there long enough, either way.) Instead, break away from the pack.

Read George Anders’ article for 6 ways to make the most of a college visit.

50-50 Highlights: Test Optional Colleges (DIY College Rankings)

Students everywhere who struggle with standardized tests appreciate the increasing number of test optional colleges. However, it’s important to understand that there isn’t any one definition of “test optional.” Furthermore, just because a college states that it’s test optional for admissions doesn’t mean that tests aren’t required for scholarships or course placement. So be sure to check out the colleges for their specific requirements.

Of the 408 50-50 schools, at least 68 are test optional. According to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), 25 report that the SAT/ACT is “neither required nor recommended” and 43 as listed as “recommended.” Some of the “recommended” schools still require tests as part of their scholarship process while other don’t.

Read Michelle Kretzschmar’s article for the complete list of test-optional schools.

Top 25 Colleges with the Best Weather (Travelers Today)

Trying to decide how to pick the right college can be difficult but some may want to consider the weather around their school as a factor when deciding. Best College Reviews Reviews, a ranking service for American colleges and universities, has released a list of the 25 colleges with the best weather in the United States.

Best College Reviews collected data from the National Weather Service and took note of the average temperature and days without cloud cover to create the rankings. They also looked at what warm weather activities each campus offers.

Weather may not be a huge factor when it comes to deciding on a college but some may consider it after the brutal winter we had in 2013-2014. Weather could be a tiebreaking factor when a student is having trouble deciding between two colleges.

“Higher education is stressful enough, especially in today’s expensive educational environment, that one could argue students may get more bang for their buck in a relaxing climate,” James Arney, the article’s author, said about the list. “The trend lately in higher education has been to pamper undergraduates with lavish dorms and recreation centers, but these 25 schools all boast amazing weather, which is something colleges either have or they don’t. No amount of money can buy a frigid northeastern campus or a Malibu climate like Pepperdine’s.”

Read Katie McFadden’s article for the top 25 schools with the best weather!

The Most Expensive Colleges in Each State (eCollege Finder)

Click on the picture for more information!

How many college applications is too many? (Reuters)

On the surface, it seems to be a simple question: How many college applications should you submit?

The answer may be more than parents may think, and the reason is that the admissions process has become less predictable, college consultants said.

“I have one student this year who was waitlisted at the University of Chicago and accepted at Yale, Harvard and Columbia,” said Shirley Bloomquist, a college counselor in Great Falls, Virginia with 30 years of experience.

Another student with similar credentials was accepted to the University of Chicago but rejected by Yale. “It’s much more variable than it used to be,” Bloomquist said.

There’s a chicken vs. egg quality to all this uncertainty. The national college acceptance rate has steadily declined in the past 10 years, but that’s in large part due to the growth in applications each student submits, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s latest “State of College Admission” report.

The percentage of freshmen who applied to seven or more colleges rose from 9 percent in 1990 to 29 percent in 2011, before declining slightly to 28 percent in 2012, the report said. Seventy-seven percent submitted three or more college applications in 2012, compared to 61 percent in 1990.

Read Liz Weston’s article for more information.

College Scholarship Scams You Can’t Afford To Ignore (Huffington Post)

Scholarship deadlines for the 2014-15 school year are quickly approaching, and college-bound students across the nation are scrambling to finish their applications.

While receiving free money is an exciting proposition, students should know that some offers are just too good to be true. The federal government has won $22 million in judgments against scholarship scam artists, according to a 2012 Federal Trade Commission report. estimates that victims are cheated out of as much as $100 million each year.

Read Katie Jenkins’ article for the top scholarship scams to look out for