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5 Tips for Dealing with Last-Minute College App Stress

In high school, the first semester of senior year is a college pamphlet-filled, application-loaded blur. Trying to get good grades, running around to extracurriculars and dealing with the college application process is a lot to handle! Of course, the college applications stress really maxes out during winter break, the apocalyptic moment of the entire process.

Are you coming into winter break extremely behind on your college applications and freaking out? There’s no need to worry; Her Campus is here to help you figure out how to get everything done!

1. Stop, Drop and Organize

The key to surviving the winter break college app craziness is organization. If you don’t already have one, create a college admissions binder ASAP! This binder should include a list of all of the schools you’re applying to, a calendar of deadlines (not just official deadlines, but also dates for when you’d like to get your teacher recommendations, tests, actual apps, etc. completed) and a checklist for what you need to get done and when.

Kate Masters, a sophomore at Wesleyan University, says that her college admissions binder saved her from near catastrophe during the month leading up to the January 1 college applications deadline. “Around the first week of December, I realized that I was falling way behind on all my applications,” she says. “I hadn’t written most of my supplements, nor had I been checking in with my college counselor to see if she’d sent in my transcript or other materials. I was actually going into meltdown mode from stress!”

However, one of Kate’s friends talked to her about creating a binder for her entire admissions process, and she said it saved her from disaster. “I quickly drew up a detailed calendar for the month ahead, writing out every single task I wanted to complete as well as the date and time on that day I wanted to complete it,” she says. Kate also had daily, weekly and monthly checklists to make sure that her different tasks got done in a timely manner.

“I’m so, so happy I took the time in that last month to get my head in the game and get organized,” Kate says. “I honestly don’t know how I would’ve finished my 11 applications without that binder.”

Jillian Feinstein, an college admissions consultant and founder of the admissions advice company CollegeApp Chick, says that creating an organized system will allow you to see when applications overlap, especially when it comes to essays. “Make sure to look at every supplement before you get started,” she says. “Often a lot of topics will be open-ended enough that you can recycle your essays and use them for multiple schools.” If you know what each college expects and see some places where the same essay could generally work, why not save yourself the hassle of writing extra essays?

2. Finish Your “Essential” College Apps First Before Starting Others

A lot of students get caught up in the frenzy of applying to college and find themselves applying to way more schools than they originally intended to. However, before you click your computer mouse excessively and break the bank on application fees, narrow down exactly which schools you want to apply to.

Sure, creating a college list seems simple, and it’s something you should’ve already done way earlier in the semester. But you’d be surprised how many students freak out and add a ton of colleges to that list at the very last second!

Kate made this mistake when applying to schools, even after creating her college apps binder. “I got so caught up in adding schools and trying to finish everything that after about a week, I realized that though I was getting a lot done, I hadn’t actually completed or sent in any applications yet,” she says. “I took another step back and drew up a college list of the top six schools that I really wanted to apply to—and I worked on those six applications first.” It took Kate a day to adjust her entire college apps calendar, and it made a huge difference in terms of her efficiency. She finished all of her necessary applications first before moving on to other schools.

Feinstein recommends separating all of your schools into different groups. “Put essays into ‘chunks’ with different deadlines,” she says. “If there are schools that you really aren’t too fond of, or are just ‘extras’ on your list, save those for last.” Doing so will allow you to focus on the apps that you truly care about instead of caving into the last-minute panic.


3. Find Someone to Proofread Your Applications for You

It can be frustrating, time-consuming and inefficient to write your applications and essays and then try to proofread and edit your own work. Instead, find someone to help you!

Lucy Cruz, a junior at the University of Florida, had her mother and brother read over her college applications, essay supplements, college-related emails and scholarship applications. “Having my family there to help me with all of my application materials was incredibly useful,” she says. “I was able to work on other applications while they edited, and then I would go back and read over their suggestions and corrections.”

Lucy also explains that having a “team” to help her with her application process helped her turn in higher-quality applications. “I remember the first time I gave my mom a college essay to read, I was stunned at how many typos and usage errors I’d made and never caught,” she says. “How could I have read all of those essays so many times and never found some of those blatant errors? It was crazy!”

Are you stumped trying to figure out who could look over your work? Feinstein has some suggestions. “The two best resources are your English teachers, who aren’t afraid to pull out a red pen or two, and your guidance counselors, who are swamped but read enough essays to know what works and what doesn’t,” she says. “Other great resources are your friends who graduated [high school] last year who are good writers.”

4. Work in Different Places

When Lucy first started working on her college applications, she typed up everything exclusively at her room. However, when the December rush rolled around, she became weary of her baby-blue walls. “I really needed a change,” she says. “But I also needed somewhere that was relatively quiet, so I started hitting up this empty café in town.”

Soon, Lucy had transformed the café into her workspace. When she wanted to get her college apps done, she’d make the short drive over, buy a latte and get to work. “It was a nice change of pace, and I was also able to focus on my college applications without the distractions of my family, friends or pets,” she explains.

In addition, there was an added bonus to working this is particular space: It had no Wi-Fi. “I’m such an Internet addict!” Lucy says. “Working on my applications at home was almost impossible after a while. I’d try to turn off the Internet or use SelfControl, but nothing worked; I’d just find myself back on the World Wide Web.” Being by herself in a different space and without the distractions of electronics gave Lucy the ability to power through her applications.

5. Take a Break and Find a Support System

Think of how many friends and classmates you know who are going through the same exact process. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could all sit down and talk about how stressful the admissions game is? It turns out that doing so can be highly beneficial to you!

During the last four weeks until her college application deadlines, Kate went out to lunch or dinner with her friends once a week to catch up and decompress. “It was so nice to feel like I wasn’t trapped in my room all the time working on applications,” she says. “It was also helpful to take these small social breaks to recharge. A lot of times I’d come back to my applications feeling refreshed and ready to work!”

Feinstein agrees that it’s easy and vital to take a little time for yourself. “Even though you may feel like you’re in a time crunch, you need to stretch your legs and take a few deep breaths every 30 minutes or so,” she says. “Go take a walk or do five minutes of yoga. Every few hours, go out and take a real break. Focusing your mind on something else will help you get your brain back on track.”

You’ve Got This!

Don’t find yourself in a tizzy; plan out your month, and stick to it! Find an environment where you can get everything done as well as people who can help support you and look out for you when you’re completing your apps. Your entire support system is there; you just have to find it!

Lily is a member of Wesleyan University's class of 2016, where she double majored in government and sociology. She's a writer, editor, and social media manager, as well as co-founder of The Prospect (www.theprospect.net), the world’s largest student-run college access organization. In addition to her work with Her Campus, she also serves in editorial roles at HelloFlo and The Muse.
Cassidy is a Digital Production intern at Her Campus. She's currently a junior studying journalism at Emerson College. Cassidy also is a freelance reporter at the Napa Valley Register and a staff writer at Her Campus Emerson. Previously she blogged for Seventeen Magazine at the London 2012 Olympics, wrote for Huffington Post as a teen blogger and was a Team Advisor at the National Student Leadership Conference on Journalism, Film, & Media Arts at University of California, Berkeley and American University in Washington, D.C.. When she's not uploading content to Her Campus or working on her next article, Cassidy can be found planning her next adventure or perfecting her next Instagram. Follow her on Twitter at @cassidyyjayne and @cassidyjhopkins.