By Jon Fortenbury, Schools.com
By Keith Edwards, Digital Vision

Even an hour a day this summer researching colleges could make your college decision that much easier once school starts.

I spent countless hours during the summer before my senior year of high school researching colleges on the Princeton Review. I know this sounds both sick and sad, but it kind of became a hobby for me.

A ridiculously useful hobby.

By the time application season came around, I knew where I wanted to apply.

If you’re planning to start college in a year, here are three reasons why you should spend the summer researching colleges.

1. Summer often comes with the most free time

Even if your parents have forced you to get a summer job, summers still usually provide the most free time for students. In between camps, work, trips and summer programs, you should still have ample time to browse for colleges. With such a stressful decision like choosing a college, it’s nice to make it during a non-stressful time. Your head’s clearer and there’s much less pressure.

I’m not saying you can’t have fun this summer. Perhaps do what I did: research colleges at night or in the morning, before or after your fun plans or work. This way you’re both enjoying your summer and being productive.

Plus, senior year comes with enough worries of its own. Not only are you trying to make sure you graduate, you’re also planning homecoming, prom and your post-graduation life. And of course, you’re filling out college applications, receiving admissions letters, setting up dorm arrangements, registering for classes, etc.

Why not add one less thing to your senior year plate and decide over summer where to apply?

2. If you’re indecisive once school starts, it could cost you

How terrible would it be to postpone researching college until school starts and then not be able to make a decision before applications are due? I suppose you could apply to a large list of schools regardless, but in-depth research during the summer may help you narrow down where to apply.

According to the U.S. News & World Report, the average cost of college applications for spring 2012 (the most recent data) was $37.88.

Of course, there are plenty of schools with higher application costs, with Stanford topping that list at $90. You can save yourself a nice chunk of cash by putting more thought into where to apply and cutting down on applications. Why not give yourself the most time possible to make that decision and start this summer thinking about it?

Otherwise, you may end up applying to too many schools or taking a ridiculous route to choosing where to apply, such as choosing between schools based on if it’s sunny or cloudy out that day or by flipping a coin.

3. Deciding sooner could mean early decision or early action applications

If you spend this summer researching colleges, you may decide on a school much sooner than the rest of your classmates, allowing you to go for early decision or early action applications.

According to About.com College Admissions Guide’s Allen Grove, early action applications usually mean applying in November and getting a decision from the school before the new year.

At many colleges, the acceptance rates are higher for early action applications, according to Grove. If you’re not accepted before the new year, you’re considered again with regular admission applicants.

Early decision is a little bit different, according to Grove.

Like early action, you still often apply in November and hear back before the new year, and admission rates are usually higher than regular applications. However, if you’re admitted, you have to attend the school or lose a large deposit. You can only apply to one school early and if you’re accepted, you have to withdraw your applications from other schools. Early decision is a more common offering than early action.

If you spend the summer researching colleges and fall in love with a school, early action and early decision are attractive options.

You don’t have to spend the rest of the year juggling multiple college applications and decisions. However, only take this route if you’re set on a school and know you can get in. Spending more time thinking and researching may help you become more sure.

Trust me when I say that you can balance both sitting by the pool and researching colleges. Even an hour a day this summer could make your college decision that much easier once school starts.

Senior year has enough stress as it is. Do your future self a favor and lighten up that burden ahead of time.

You’ll be much happier that you did.

Jon Fortenbury is an Austin-based freelance writer and human being. He’s been published by the likes of the Huffington Post and AOL.com and thinks stick bugs are a hilarious transition in evolution. He blogs at jonfortenbury.com about education and his love for Zooey Deschanel.

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