You’re probably feeling excited, or nervous, or some combination of the two. It’s your senior year of high school, which also means it’s time to make the final decision about where you’re off to after graduation. Applying to college can be very time-consuming and honestly, a lot of work. But with good time management skills, you’ll be sending in your finished applications by their due dates with no problem!
1. Don’t procrastinate
Whether you’ve had the list of schools you’re applying to planned out for years or are still completely unsure about your choices, it’s time to get going on whatever stage of the process you’re at. The earlier you begin, the more leeway you give yourself later on if you run into problems.
If you’ve made a final decision about the places you’re applying, check out the website of every school you’re considering to find out what each specific application process consists of and when the due dates are. That way you’ll know how much time you have to allot for each school and which ones should be prioritized. Take note of all this info (plus specific requirements for each school) and put it on a calendar or in a spreadsheet to keep track.
“Even if you're applying early decision to a college, keep working on your applications for regular admissions,” says Kelsey Mulvey, a junior at Boston University. “I applied to BU early and knew that I'd rather have to send a bunch of withdrawal applications or delete a bunch of supplement drafts from my computer than be heartbroken AND have to apply to more schools.”
But if you think you have enough time to apply to more schools after you hear back and don't have that many others on your list, it might be okay to wait to hear back from your early choices before sending in your regular decision applications.
On the other hand, if you still need help deciding where you want to go, make an appointment with your high school’s academic advisor as soon as possible. There are going to be a lot of seniors battling for appointments during this period of time, so don’t wait until your advisor is all booked up to try to set up a meeting. He or she will be able to refer you to a bunch of different resources that will give you more info about the schools you’re interested in and help you cement your choices.
2. Make a plan
Okay, so now that you’ve settled on a list of schools that you’d be willing to grace with your presence next September, it’s time to create an application schedule.
The first step is finding out when every due date is and then planning out how far in advance you need to start working to make sure everything is sent in on time. If you need help with this, check out HC’s “6 Ways Not to Leave College Applications Until the Last Minute.”
“Print out a calendar, put only college dates on it and put it somewhere conspicuous like the fridge,” says Hannah Anderson, a junior at the University of St. Andrews. “Put the day things are due on it, but also include the day you need to send it or have it finished by so that you can stay ahead of all the deadlines.”
A great way to stay on top of things is to make a to-do list. Whether it’s on an old-fashioned piece of paper, your computer or your smartphone, to-do lists can really help you stay organized.
In fact, there are a bunch of different apps that you can download to keep track of what you’re working on. If you have an iPhone, iPad or Mac, check out iPlanner or iProcrastinate for all your to-do list needs. If you’re more of a Blackberry kind of girl, myTasks works just as well.
“People forget that to-do lists are a great form of time management,” says Kelci Lynn Lucier, the guide to college life from About.com. “They can help keep you organized in terms of things you need to do and also in terms of time. You can write an awesome essay, but if it’s late it’s not going to do you any good.”
3. Start applying!
Once you have everything planned out, it’s time to actually apply.
First, see how many (if any) of your potential schools use the Common App. Although it’s annoying, filling out all the generic information on the main part of the application is great to get out of the way right off the bat.
“As soon as you finish one school on the Common App, submit it,” says Katherine Mirani, a sophomore at Northwestern University. “You won't be able to change the main part of the app after that and it'll help you finish your other supplements faster.”
Don’t be hasty though! You should submit your school supplements as you finish them, but only after you’ve fine-tuned and edited the main part of the app.
Also, look at the topics of the written supplements as soon as possible so you can start brainstorming right away. Being able to think about what you’re going to write for a while is a lot easier than just trying to wing it. Only you know how long it takes you to go through the actual writing process, so plan accordingly. Also, try bouncing ideas off your parents, siblings and friends to see if they have any good input.
For transcripts, find out how long your high school will need to process your request and then get the right forms turned in by that date. You should give any teacher you ask to write a recommendation letter more than enough time to finish it. Then, remind him or her again at least a week before the due date if it seems like your recommendation has fallen by the wayside. It’s always better to be safe than sorry! And of course, once the recommendation is written, send a thank you note!
4. Stay on task
With Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and all the other wonders of the Internet, we all know how easy it is to get distracted from what we’re supposed to be doing. But it’s especially important during the college application process to make sure you’re getting your work done.
“Many distractions are physical things like your cell phone or chat programs,” explains Lucier. “Leave your cell phone in the kitchen for a while, or don’t log into IM, Facebook or any other chat program. It’s a definite challenge but that’s why it’s so important.”
Or try using your technology as a way to make yourself do work. Set alarms as reminders that it’s time to get something done or use SelfControl to block distracting sites.
5. Motivate yourself
Keeping yourself encouraged to finish your applications is a big aspect of using your time efficiently. Try setting specific goals for yourself during certain periods of time and rewarding yourself when you meet them by doing things like going out to your favorite restaurant or buying that dress you’ve been eyeing forever.
It’s also good to mix up the difficulty level of what you’re working on.
“You have to do the big scary stuff, but reward yourself along the way by finishing some of the easier stuff,” recommends Lucier.
For example, you might want to spend an hour filling out generic information and use the next one to work on one of the more difficult essays or your personal statement.
If you’re feeling especially discouraged about something, it’s good to just take a break.
“Applying to college should be a really exciting choice and journey for you, but it’s also stressful,” says Lucier. “It can re-motivate you to step away and think about something else for a little while. Taking a break can relax you and take that edgy feeling off.”
By following these five time management tips you’ll be able to send in your college applications without feeling like it was a painful and never-ending process. So get working pre-collegiettes! The sooner you finish, the sooner you can check out HC’s 15 Ways to Celebrate Finishing College Apps and have some fun!