For prospective college students who want to start school next fall, the application clock is ticking.
Many early decision and early action applications are due in November, and the regular admissions deadline is often in January. College-bound high school seniors have just a few months to finish writing personal statements, collect letters of recommendation, submit standardized test scores and complete other application requirements, if they haven’t already.
Students are usually juggling these responsibilities while also taking classes, playing sports and participating in student clubs.
“No matter how organized or unorganized you are, it’s going to be incredibly stressful,” says Zachary Taylor, who applied to four colleges and is now a freshman at Loyola Marymount University.
There are, however, a few ways to be more organized and less stressed. Below, Taylor and other freshmen share their advice on how to survive college application season.
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Set early deadlines: Lidaou Edjeou is an 18-year-old student at Indiana University-Purdue University—Indianapolis who has fully embraced college life. She’s taking six classes – in subjects like yoga and accounting – and has joined student clubs such as the African Student Association. “Freshman year is going good,” she says. The lead up to freshman year, however, was a little stressful.
During her senior year of high school, Edjeou was involved in student government and worked on her school’s yearbook, among other extracurricular activities, and took the SAT.
Some nights, she says, “I would have like two hours of sleep, because I was still up doing my homework.”
In between studying, homework and after-school commitments, she also applied to more than five colleges, she says.
The sooner they turn it in, the less time applicants have to worry about one section of the application that they have limited control over.
“I would give them two weeks to write it,” she says when talking about her recommendation writers, even if the letters weren’t due until many weeks later.
Waiting until the last minute to collect and submit application materials can be risky. There are sometimes technical difficulties with application websites, she says. If prospective students wait until the day an application is due to turn in a letter, and run into a website issue, they could miss the deadline.
“You should never procrastinate these things,” Edjeou says.
Establish a manageable pace: Brianna Hardy spent weekends and some weekday afternoons during her senior year of high school working on college applications.
Hardy only applied to two schools, but she did so while managing a packed schedule that included being the executive vice president for her school’s student government. She also wrote an optional personal statement as a college applicant, which she saw as a worthwhile addition to her workload.
“Even though it’s extra work, it gives your application the extra boost that you are looking for,” says Hardy, who’s now a 19-year-old freshman at College of Charleston in South Carolina. “It makes you stand out as an individual and your application won’t look like everybody else’s that comes in because of course everybody doesn’t write the same personal statement.”
As a high school senior, she treated her application process as one big assignment that she’d have to slowly work at to finish – a tactic that she encourages current college applicants to use.
“Every night I would dedicate a certain amount of time to each class to actually study, and I would think about me dedicating my time to the application as like actually me working for a class,” she says. That made the application process feel more manageable, she says.
Applying, for her, was more like a marathon and less like a sprint.
“Take it day by day,” she says.
“We got into lots of arguments about her nagging me,” he says.
But the nagging worked. Taylor finished the first draft of his personal statement shortly before the start of his senior year in high school, leaving him ample time to refine it. And extra time was something he ended up needing as he neared the end of the admissions process.
Taylor, who is studying film production at Loyola Marymount, had to make and submit videos when he was a college applicant. One of his videos, which he made with the help of a friend, didn’t initially turn out well.
“When I came back home and edited the video, there was something wrong with how I had like formatted the camera or set up the shots or whatever,” Taylor says. “Every single shot that we had taken was completely unusable.”
Since he had started working on his application materials early – thanks, in part, to his mom – he had time to fix things. He’s since thanked his mother for staying on top of him.
“Listen to your parents,” he says. “They’re right.”