Are you a senior who just realized college applications are open and have no idea where to begin? Or maybe you’re still in denial? No judgement here BTW for the procrastinators in the room!! Applying to college can feel fairly overwhelming. It’s a big task, not to mention one that is quite ambiguous, oh and a bit vulnerable/scary/whatever else you’re feeling insert here. For starters, you’re not alone. We’ve all googled How to get into college or What’s the acceptance rate to University Impossible or Best engineering programs in California, and while that will throw you into a rabbit hole spiral, or just get you a bit lost online in a game of comparison, it’s totally okay to feel a bit out of sorts with the whole thing. So here’s 6 tips to get you centered, motivated, and gaining momentum towards applying AND getting into college.
1. Know WHERE you want to apply before strategizing HOW to apply
You walk down the hall and your friend says they’ve already started the Common Application. Eek! What?! Here’s the thing, if you don’t have a solid list of colleges how do you even know you need the Common Application? Or at least, how do you know if you should strategize your Common Application before your UC application? Building your college list and knowing your due dates and application portals is a big first step. Knowing you have a BALANCED list of colleges (at least a few you feel confident you’ll get in AND you’d actually attend) in addition to those more reach schools is really important. Need help with that? Click HERE.
2. Organize your apps
There’s a million ways to organize your due dates, requirements, etc. What is important to remember (hint hint, strategy) is to find a system that works best for YOU. If you like the notes app on your IPhone, use that, if you like an old fashioned planner to write in and add fancy post-its, go for it, if you want an excel organizer, HERE’S AN EXAMPLE.
Let’s say you have 9 colleges to apply to. Four of them are on the UC application, 4 are on the Common Application and one you need to apply directly on the universities website. You know the UC application is due on November 30th, and you have an opportunity to apply Early Action to a few and the rest are due in January. You’d strategize your early November 1/15 apps, UC app, then the others. You know the UC’s don’t need letters of recommendation, but the others do, so you make a note to request from your teachers and/or counselors for the Common Application ones and begin working on essays. You keep track of the usernames/passwords for when you inevitably log in from a school computer and it’s not automatically saved like it is at home. You have links to the application portals in one spot, and you know what’s due first. Boom. Easy peasy.
3. Write all essay prompts on one document
Visualizing all of your essay prompts on paper (or a Google doc) is a GREAT way to see if topics overlap, so you’re not reinventing the wheel. For example, the UC prompts are 350 words and shorter. But you might find that one of your UC essays can become a main 650 word essay for another app. Let’s say you have five supplemental essays for different universities, but a handful of them are asking essentially the same question. You can outline your main ideas and tailor them rather than write five brand new essays.
4. Schedule time dedicated towards applications
There’s nothing worse than having a looming deadline that you know is real, but there’s no actual plan to do it. It’s like having your Gov/Econ exam be 90% of your grade without studying, and as it gets closer, the anxiety seeps in, but you feel too paralyzed to start. Nope, not a great strategy. Actually schedule times in your day or week to work on applications. It doesn’t have to be every day. It could be once a week, or an hour here and there, or even 20 minute increments. Just schedule uninterrupted set time where you can focus.
Make sure your space is clean, organized and free of distraction. Put your phone in the other room, turn off notifications (or even put it in airplane mode) get your snacks out of the way, ask your family to respect your space, or hole up at a coffee shop where you don’t know anyone. This is where you have to be honest with yourself. If you know you can only handle 20 minutes, set a timer, work, then take a break. Schedule it, own it, and complete it.
5. Meet with admission counselors
These are the people who work for the university you’re applying to. Every college has one, and they are a phenomenal resource. They know the majors, the departments, the application priority deadlines, and all the ins and outs. They are also often one of the first people to read your college applications. So yes, they can help advocate for you if it seems fit, or they can give you a tip or two on how to present a better application. They can also help if there’s things like an optional interview, or a student on campus you can connect with, and they can even help you get a window into campus life (which bonus…helps with a WHY US essay). Email them, attend a college fair, or meet with them at your school!!
6. Apply authentically – AKA – you do you
When you’re writing your applications, you’re writing your story. Not the story you think admission officers want to hear. College admission counselors read THOUSANDS of applications. Don’t force an essay just because you think the topic sounds better. Think about what you’d want them to really know about you. Even the things that you don’t think matter, but really do. LIKE
- If you were supposed to participate in an activity that got cancelled due to COVID (they need to know!)
- If you have a committed family responsibility that took you away from extracurricular activities
- If you advocated to take a class at a higher level
- If you had a rough semester because of an illness or anything else
- If you have a quirky talent that makes you, you
There are spaces throughout the college applications (like additional comments) where you can provide CONTEXT to help a college better understand what you did or did not have access to. So if you were the only high school student to work at the local restaurant, boast about it, or if you maxed out in the math curriculum, let them know!!
Think about who you are and what you represent. What your goals are, your dreams, your career interests, anything! Make sure you’re all over your app, and not just in a generic way, brag, write, provide details, help them see a 3D application rather than a 2D app that looks like everyone else.