I came out of the whole college application-decision shebang somehow smiling and in one piece. But even so, I wish there were a few, small, simple things I knew before actually starting on my applications. So student to student, I’ll try to lay out a few suggestions that’ll hopefully help.
Before you start reading any further, know that I’m making the following assumptions:
- You’ve done some thinking and have an idea of where you want to attend college.
- You’ll begin your college application process in the near future.
- You have an idea of what’s required in terms of essays, supplements, and forms.
- You’re Type A to some extent.
The most important thing is to
Especially if you’re applying to more than one school, it’s important to have all the deadlines and materials sorted out. The last thing any applicant wants is the wrong essays going to the wrong school, or even worse, to write the essays and find out that the last day to submit was a week ago—which, surprisingly, is not uncommon. Staying organized takes care of those avoidable but sizable mistakes.
First, find out when everything’s due. Most schools have a web page dedicated to outlining all their deadlines, nothing a simple Google search can’t find. On top of that, find out specifically what materials are due, what forms, and what essays.
There are a lot of tools to help you organize that information. The Common Application itself, which most people will be using, is a great, effective tool. When I signed onto my Common App profile for the first time, it was way simpler than I expected and a bit of a relief; it does a great job of keeping track of all of your schools in an easy-to-follow format:
There are some schools though, that don’t use the Common App, and you’ll have to do some scouting to find out whether the schools you have in mind do or don’t. If they don’t, they’ll have their own version of an application that you need to fill out independently of the Common App.
Another thing to keep in mind is that for Regular Decision, most schools have a January 1st deadline. There are some, however, that have deadlines months before that, or even months after. Early Decisions applicants will have deadlines before Regular Decisions applicants. It’s a good idea to check and record those dates before it’s too late, especially for non-Common App schools.
The Common Application isn’t the only tool that’s out there. Especially if you’re working on the computer, (which will probably be the case since more applications are becoming paperless) organize your materials into folders for each school.
I’ve also found that computer desktop notes can help you stay on top of things, especially the little things that need reminders, like asking for transcripts to be sent, asking for teacher recommendations, finishing essay drafts, or recording interview dates.
In any case, as I was working through my applications, I found that staying organized, no matter how I did it, played a crucial part in lowering stress and making my work more efficient. And it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that organization makes itself apparent in your actual application.
Preview and anticipate
It’s never too early to get a feel for application questions and materials. Maybe the most important thing to think about early on are the essay questions. Research your schools and find out what they ask. Toward the end of your junior year and over the summer, think about how you’ll respond.
You’ll have to answer one of the following prompts on the Common Application:
- Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.
- Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.
- Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.
- Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.
- A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community, or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.
- Topic of your choice.
Here are some other prompts to consider:
- What 5 keywords describe you?
- Why are you interested in College X?
- What academic class has been your favorite and why?
- How did you spend your previous summers?
- Write a letter to your future roommate.
Back up your work
Most applications are digital because it’s easier, faster, and more green for both you and the admissions office. But that means that most of your work and essays will be done digitally too. And that means they’ll be prone to loss.
Try to make sure your essays are always in at least two places, always saved, and always updated. I have the pleasure of telling you from first-hand experience that a flashdrive might be your best friend. Me, being an invincible teenager, thought “dropping your laptop” only happened in the movies.
How you handle the application process might decide how well you perform on Decision Day. I won’t be offended if you don’t use desktop notes or spreadsheets or back up your data, but just know that little steps can make an impact on the ease and effectiveness of applying.
That said, good luck!