We’ve all been there – six midterms, two papers, three quizzes, and five college essays. The first semester of your senior year is probably also the most underrated semester of your high school career; if you don’t balance your time now, you aren’t just risking a semester grade – you’re putting college applications on the line. So, we have some tips to make sure that you can both keep up your grades and write amazing essays, because yes, you can do both.

  1. Create a calendar.

So you were always that kid who never wrote their homework down in an agenda book because you were ‘too cool for school’. Now isn’t the time, and trust us, the five seconds it’ll take to write a to-do list will be SO worth it.

But your regular agenda book probably won’t do the trick this time.

Try a monthly wall calendar in front of your desk, a desktop calendar on your laptop, or a print out of a monthly calendar in a folder. Mapping out your entire month onto a calendar that you see every day will help you remember and manage deadlines effectively. If you can see that next week, you have two exams, you can use the few days you have free the week before to get started. During crunch time, you can’t afford to procrastinate, so week-long and day-long agenda books won’t help.

  1. Break down tasks.

Now you have a calendar…but you can’t seem to get started! Break each assignment, exam, and essay down into multiple, smaller deadlines (use our last minute essay planning guide to map out your college essay-writing process). Write down the number of words you want to write for a paper, or the chapters you want to study for an exam.

Leave yourself some grace days – if you’re already having a hard time keeping up, you definitely have more to do than you can physically handle. You’re going to need some break days, and even if you don’t schedule them in, you’ll end up taking them anyway. To avoid getting behind, you should just plan for lapses. Mark your deadlines in one color, and mark your checkpoints in another.

  1. Know how you work.

It would be so much easier if we all worked the same way – we could give you the exact keys to success! Of course, that’s not the case. You have a particular style of studying that works really well for you. Pay close attention to your study and writing habits by asking yourself questions like:

What time of day am I the most productive?

What environment (home, library, coffee shop) do I get the most done? Is my favorite spot different depending on what I’m working on?

Do I learn more from long intense study sessions and a few long breaks? Or a lot of short study sessions with short breaks?

Use these questions to guide your scheduling and work. If you know you do your best writing at the neighborhood Starbucks, go there to work on essays. If you are most productive at 2am, you can try taking naps and staying up late, at least until the end of the first semester. Knowing how you study will also be an incredible asset when you have to manage a college workload next year.

  1. Make daily plans and to-do lists.

Take the time every day after school to plan out your evening. Write down how long you will spend on each assignment and stick yourself to it. Try something like this:

3:00pm SGA Meeting

4:00pm English Essay

5:30pm Math homework

6:30pm Meet for Bio project

8:00pm Skype with Admissions Hero Consultant

9:00pm Work on Common App

10:00pm Edit Supplement

11:00pm Reading for English

If you have to work on an essay due a week from today, plan for 90 minutes. When the 90 minutes are over, jot down how much you got done and what is still left. If you finish the rest of your work at a reasonable time, return to whatever you didn’t finish. Otherwise, use your break days to catch up before your deadlines.

As you go through your day, make a to-do list for yourself, and every time you think of another thing you have to do, even if it’s as small as sending an important email, write it down. Not only will you get personal satisfaction from crossing off action items, but you will avoid letting little details slip through the cracks. When most of the work you have to do is so major, it’s easy to forget little – but still important – tasks.

  1. Take care of yourself.

Sleep! Eat! Drink water! You may think that your sanity is at the bottom of your priority list…but remember that the only reason why any of your assignments matter is because you stand to benefit from them. If you run yourself into the ground while trying desperately to become successful, none of your hard work will be at the level that it could have been.

Take time out of your day to take care of your own needs – notice: needs, not wants – so that you can actually write coherent essays and be awake during your finals. Hanging out with friends who have already gotten an acceptance from a college and then sacrificing your sleep to finish assignments will ultimately decrease your focus in the long run.

  1. Spend time on college every day.

Slow and steady wins the race! Make sure that at least half-an-hour a day is spent preparing your common application, working on an essay, practicing interview questions, or something else on your list of application to-do’s. Don’t put off applications just because the deadline feels far away – ninety percent of your high school career was focused on getting into college. One month of indiscretion could cost you the hard work you’ve done throughout your high school career. This is a time to really focus even though it’s exhausting. We have faith that you’ll make it past this – just look forward to next semester!

First semester of senior year is definitely tough. But you’ll definitely make it through this – getting into your top college will make your hard work worth it, and we are confident that, with these few organizational changes, you’ll be able to tackle your to-do list with newfound energy.