7 Steps to Ensure You Stay on Top of the College App Process
Deadlines are crucial in the world of college applications. Miss them, and your application will never be opened. Meeting deadlines in a timely manner and doing so without a last minute panic-session is a requirement for success when it comes to college apps. To do so you’ll need to employ careful planning, a disciplined approach, and a structured schedule.
Here, we offer seven critical steps to staying on top of the college application timeline. If you’re applying to college this season, don’t miss this important post.
1. Finalize Your College List
By the time college application season nears, you should already have a good idea of what types of schools you want to apply to, even if you haven’t chosen the specific schools that will make your final list. Before you move forward, you’ll need to curate the final draft of your college list. For more help with your college list, don’t miss these posts:
Once you’ve finalized your college list, you’ll need to decide on which one(s) you will be applying to Early Action/Early Decision and which you’ll apply to Regular Decision. For more help with this, check out the post Early Decision versus Early Action versus Restrictive Early Action.
Once you’ve got your strategy outlined, make sure that you know all of the associated deadlines. It is a good idea to create a calendar of deadlines that you can clearly track. Create one calendar electronically on your device or computer, and set reminders so that you’ll have plenty of time to ensure you meet each deadline. Post a paper copy of the calendar prominently at home so that you’ll have another visual reminder every day.
2. Aggregate Your Essay Prompts
Once you have your list of schools, you should aggregate all of your school prompts. Take note of which prompts are similar and overlap in theme, and see which essays can and will be reused across most of your applications. These essays are the ones you want to put the most time into polishing and getting right.
Don’t force essays into overlapping. If it doesn’t feel like a natural fit, you’re better off writing two separate responses or revising one response to better fit another prompt. For more information about how to do this effectively without negatively impacting the quality of your essays, check out our post How to Write Fewer College Essays.
3. Write Early and Often
After you have your school deadlines and prompts in order, it is time to start writing. The hardest part of getting an essay started is coming up with a quality, high-level idea. Make sure to allow yourself plenty of time to brainstorm ideas, to scrap ideas that don’t quite translate from theory to practice, to brainstorm some more, and of course to write, write, write.
You might want to keep a notepad or note-taking app with you at all times during this stage so that you can write down essay ideas whenever you are struck by inspiration. The more ideas you initially generate, the more options you will have. In the end, you will choose the ones that work best given each prompt. For tips of getting started with your essays, check out these posts:
Everyone goes through a unique writing process to reach their final product, but once you are ultimately satisfied with your work, you’ll need to go through an extensive editing and proofreading process. To ensure that your essay is just right, consider enlisting the help of CollegeVine’s Rapid Essay Review.
4. Submit Your Early Action/Early Decision Applications
Once your essays are complete, it will be time to send off that first round of college applications. Keep in mind that if you’re applying early decision or through restrictive early action, you may only submit one application at this time.
The higher acceptance rates through ED/EA applications at top schools might entice you to submit more than one, but doing so it ultimately a bad idea. Ivy League admissions committees have stated that they regularly share their lists of students admitted through EA/ED and if you are found in violation of the EA/ED policies, not only could your acceptance be revoked, but also your name will be tarnished within the college admissions world, negatively impacting your regular decision applications too.
5. Work on Your Safety School Application
After having submitted applications to your early schools, you might want to consider submitting your application to your main safety school. This application, if you have chosen an appropriate safety school, should not take too much of your time and getting it out of the way will mean you have more time and energy to devote to other schools later in the process.
6. Be Aware of Unconventional Deadlines
Many students get it in their heads that the regular decision college application deadline is pretty much universally January 1st, but this is not the case across the board. This is why it’s so important to create that calendar of deadlines that we discuss in step one above, for all the schools on your list.
Some colleges, like the University of California system, have deadlines as soon as November 30. Others, including specialty schools like Juilliard, the Cleveland Institute of Music, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music have December 1st deadlines. In addition, many other conventional schools have a deadline of December 31st rather than January 1st, so don’t head out for those New Years Eve celebrations before double-checking your calendar.
7. Don’t Rest on Your Laurels Just Yet
After you have submitted all of the above, you might be tempted to relax and wait to hear back from your early admissions results before writing any more regular decision essays. Don’t do this.
While your momentum is still strong, you need to keep writing for your regular decision schools, working on your essays in order of your preference and desire to attend said schools. This strategy is advantageous regardless of your early round outcome.
If you do not get into your early school(s), you will already have more applications ready for submission and will not allow your disappointment to hinder the caliber of your subsequent applications. Similarly, if you are accepted to an EA or REA school, you will have a head start on applying to only the schools you would consider attending over your early acceptance. For this reason, remember to write in order of descending school preference.
For more about this approach, don’t miss our post How to Approach Your Post-Early Application Strategy.
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