I am not going to lie and tell you college applications are easy or stress-free, but here are some steps to minimize the tears, hair-pulling and tension caused by this unfortunately infamous process.
- Establish School List
Obviously you can’t begin planning and applying to colleges if you do not have your list of schools established. Do not panic, this is not set in stone. I recommend 5-10 schools with a few schools in each of your own reach, target and safety categories. If you have some you are still on the fence about, count them in for now. It is better to have the materials and deadlines on hand when you start than to have to scramble around gathering them when you decide later. You can even visit them after you have applied if necessary.
- Create Materials Chart
I start each application season by making a chart for each of my students. This chart includes all application options and deadlines and the requirements for testing, recommendation letters, essays, financial aid and any other materials the schools may ask for. This takes a lot of time, but putting it all in one chart at the beginning makes it a lot easier for you to see what materials you need all at once and saves you the time you would waste later going back over your colleges’ websites to find it. You can now look at one document and find everything you need.
- Organize Timeline
It is nearly September and most seniors have already started the school year or will very soon. You will be balancing school work, extracurriculars and college applications all at once from here on out. Similar to the planning chart, but with deadlines and a lot of other details added in, the timeline is HUGE. It is important to establish a timeline so that all parties involved understand what needs done and when. It will force you to prioritize and set goals. Remember your recommenders will most likely have lots of other letters to write, give them a warning of at least 6 weeks! Test registration deadlines are coming up fast. If you are planning on retaking the ACT or SAT, register NOW. When creating your timeline, include the deadlines given by each college, but add your own deadlines EARLIER in order to give yourself some extra time for revisions, technical errors, etc. You do not want to be that kid who sends in your application at the last minute and ends up with a technical error or discovers an essay is missing…
- Write Away
One of the most stressful parts of the application right along with testing is the essay. Now that you have created your requirements chart, you will see exactly how many essays you need to write and where you are able to recycle them. Do not put this off until the last minute. Get your rough drafts done in time to have at least 2 other people read them including an English teacher. This will give you time to perfect your grammar and write the best essay you can!
- BE YOU
Last, but definitely not least: you do not want to go to a college which thinks you are something you are not. They want to get to know YOU. Be honest and realistic with both yourself and your potential schools. Pushing yourself to be someone you are not may land you in a school which is not a good fit. Do yourself a favor and be real, BE YOU!