How to Finish College Applications Before the Deadline

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December dawns, and the January 1st deadlines loom. Now begins the final crunch for college applications season, and the period of greatest stress for most students. Our students often feel this stress, and helping them manage it is a big part of what we do at Ivy Scholars.

In this article, we’re going to share our best tips and tricks for managing your applications (and stress) as the application deadline looms. We hope that these will help you manage your own stress levels, and allow you to get all your applications in with time to spare. Let’s jump in!

To Begin: Planning

This is somewhat cliche as advice, and we do acknowledge that fact, but it is cliche for good reason. A solid plan and organized approach will enable you to see everything you have to do, and chart your progress towards your goals. Here is how we recommend you do so: 

  1. Find the due dates for each college. While most of them are due on the 1st of January, not all. Be sure you know when applications are due for each, and arrange in order on your calendar. 
  2. For each college, determine what is required. All essay prompts, all supplemental materials, and any odd requirements. Most will only need what’s in the Common App, but check to be sure. 
  3. If you have not yet filled out the Common App, do so now. Do not leave this until the last minute. Also, do not skimp on the activities list; this is often the first thing colleges read, and is how admissions officers form a first impression of you.
  4. Organize your supplemental essays by type. There are 9 kinds of supplemental essays; use our guide to writing them to organize your prompts. This will greatly cut down on the total amount of writing you will need to do. 
  5. Plan out when you will finish with each essay, both drafting and editing. You know how fast you write, and how much free time you have. Use your schedule of when applications are due, and what each requires, to determine when you will need to finish each essay by. 

Of course, creating this schedule is only the first step; sticking by it is much more difficult. We don’t know what works best for you, but there are numerous apps for scheduling and accountability, alongside good old fashioned paper planners and calendars. The exact method you use does not matter; the important bit is choosing one that works for you and sticking with it. 

Writing and Editing

The essays are the most important part of the application still remaining to you, and are often the most time consuming element. You may already have some essays completed from the early round of applications, which can save you time. This is where we recommend you begin: seeing what you already have, and how you can reuse existing material. Don’t create more work for yourself unnecessarily.

The key when writing is knowing when an essay is good enough. This is very difficult, especially if you’re stressed. There are two extremes, both of which are counterproductive. The first decides a single draft, or maybe two, is good enough, and so turns in a sub-par essay. The second spends so much time and effort working and reworking a single essay they run out of time or energy to do more. The goal is to find a balance between these paths. 

We usually go through 2-6 drafts of an essay with students. Using cross application, however, means that the further you get in the process, the faster it should go. You don’t need to rewrite an essay entirely from scratch if you are repurposing most of it from a completed draft. 

Know When to Ask for Help

There are resources out there for you, and while you may not have access to all of them, there are still networks which can support you during this time. Everyone knows how stressful college applications have become, and many people are willing to work to support you. 

The first, and most important, are school guidance counselors. While the resources high schools provide vary widely, most do have resources for students who are currently applying to college. You can ask your counselors to review your essays, for advice on where to apply, or just for tips on managing the stress that tends to build up during application season. 

Your English teacher at high school is another key resource, especially for essays. While they will not have time to go over every draft, you can ask them to review one or two for you, or for advice on writing generally. While your voice in your essays should be your own, good grammar and a strong command of language will enable you to express yourself fluidly. 

Your parents can also give you help with editing, but make sure they do not rewrite your essays greatly. They should help with tone or grammar, not the overall content of the essay. You are the one who is applying for admission, and it is your and your voice admissions officers want to see. For parents specifically, check out our guide on how best you can support your child through college applications. 

Independent counselors are another resource you can turn to, though we realize not everyone wants to. We have an article on whether hiring one is the best choice for you. If you’re worried about cost, check out our pro bono program, which provides free assistance to a select group of high school students. 

Managing Stress

The applications themselves are not the only problem; the stress they cause and the secondary effects stemming from that are often more detrimental. Therefore, managing this stress is one of the most important components of making it through the deadline season intact. 

The most important thing you can do is remember to take time to breathe. Spending every hour of every day worrying about school, or college apps, or standardized test, or extracurriculars, or any of the other hundred things that weigh on the minds of teenagers is a recipe for a quick burnout. 

We understand that simply telling you to relax is not a reasonable solution, so we recommend setting aside time in your schedule to simply be. Time for friends, or hobbies, or just lying around and doing nothing with intention. Having this be a scheduled thing allows you to do so without guilt and worry. There is a plan, and by sticking to it you can make room, mentally and physically to relax for a spell. 

Some students may need additional help managing the stress of application season. Professional counseling is always an option, and can be beneficial to many high school students. We are not this kind of counselor, but have seen how helpful it can be for our students.

A Note on Testing

Many colleges went test optional in response to the Covid 19 pandemic, and many of these have remained so, including all of the Ivies (and most top 50 schools, with Georgetown and MIT being notable exceptions). 

This is good news for students who are overwhelmed when preparing for tests, and who want to take something off their plate as deadlines near. If you are unsatisfied with your current standardized test scores, you can simply choose not to submit any instead of sitting for another round of testing. 

We realize that not all students will want to take this approach, but we do want to offer some reassurances. Not sending in your scores will not automatically harm your chances of admission; instead admissions officers will place more weight on your academic history: your grades, courses taken, GPA, and class rank. We hope that this will help relieve some stress for you, and potentially take one item off your already overcrowded plate. 

Final Thoughts

College applications are incredibly stressful, on top of the already stressful time that is high school. The looming deadline of January 1st (for most colleges) simply intensifies this, and leads to cascading stress and anxiety for many students. We hope the techniques we’ve included in this article will help you manage both the approaching deadline, and the stress it induces.

If you want further advice on time management, we have another article which details several successful strategies. If you would like help completing all your applications before the deadline, schedule a free consultation to learn how we can make your life easier, and your applications more impactful. It’s not too late to get help on your college application journey.

Need help with college admissions?

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Wendy Y.
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Many people are dissuaded from seeking a college counselor because they think they can get into their desired college(s) either way. Honestly, going that route is a bit short-sighted and can jeopardize your odds of acceptances after years of hard work. The sad truth is, the American education system (even if you attend a fancy private school and ESPECIALLY if you go to a public school) doesn't really tell students how to write a compelling and authentic application. Going into the admissions process alone, without speaking with an advisor, is like going to court without a lawyer - you put yourself at a significant disadvantage because you don't have all the facts in front of you, or the help you need to negotiate the system.

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