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JUNIORS, GET A MOVE ON

Put down the remote and cross things off your college to-do list.

High school may be the time of your life, but the summer before senior year may very well be the most important time of your life. It's the time to prepare for your last year as a high school student, to figure out what colleges you want to apply to and (kind of) narrow down what career you want to pursue. So perhaps when you're lounging around the community pool, sprawled out across the couch watching Tosh.0 or bored with the playing cards you bought for a three-hour plane ride to NYC, you rising seniors out there can use some of these tips to help prep for the coming year.

Get your required reading done.

The last thing you want to do at the beginning of your senior year, especially if you're taking Advanced Placement classes, is cram to read all of the books you should've read during the summer before your teachers start giving you the lengthy projects that go with them. If you have almost three months to read Huck Finn, why start off senior year on the wrong foot with your nose in SparkNotes?

Take a college trip.

Summer is the perfect time for campus tours. Go to at least two different colleges to see what's out there, or try a specialized summer camp for a subject or field you're interested in at a potential college. Get a feel for the campus to help make your final decision before the stress of application deadlines weighs you down. Helpful tip: Most campus tours are scheduled online and fill up quickly, so make sure to contact the school's admissions office or website for appropriate before-you-arrive procedures.

Collect letters of recommendation.

Letters of recommendation are an important part of the college application process and are required for most scholarships. These letters will give admissions officers or judging committees insight into things like your personality and work ethic. You aren't the only senior who will want a recommendation letter from a teacher, so it's best to ask your favorite teacher, counselor or administrator as soon as possible before everyone else does. Helpful hint: Unless you know these teachers extremely well, provide them with a brief resume of your high school achievements to refresh their memories and give them more to brag on you about.

Earn a scholarship so bright, you'll need haterblockers.

If you already haven't completed the required 75 service hours for Bright Futures' highest award, you best get on it. Summer is the perfect time to get them done, with summer youth camps and soup kitchens needing volunteers. Check the St. Petersburg Times, online ads and community centers for volunteer opportunities.

Also, try studying a bit for standardized tests to raise scores to Bright Futures-worthy levels. Reviewing that "easy stuff" from Algebra I or subject-verb agreements might make the difference between a 1280 and a 1320 on the SAT.

Research before starting too many apps.

To ensure you truly want to apply to a certain college, check with its current students and websites like Collegeprowler.com to narrow down your choices. Check out a school's majors and whether it offers programs you're interested in, as well as its admissions requirements. The last thing you want to do is apply to a college and not have appropriate credits.

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