Applying to college is overwhelming. It can make you want to rip out your hair, scream at your computer, and essentially do anything but fill out the mounds and mounds of seemingly endless paperwork that will get you to where you want to go. As a collegiette™ who has been through (and survived!) the process, I promise you, it’s not as unmanageable as it might seem. Here are a few tips designed to help you avoid waiting until the last minute to fill out and submit your college apps.
1. Stay Organized!
I cannot stress this enough, ladies! It is so crucial to keep a clear head and to have an efficient system in place that will make filling out the Common App, financial aid forms, and other miscellaneous paperwork a breeze. I know by now you’re all familiar with the College Board. They put together a structured checklist of what you’ll need to keep track of throughout the college application process, no matter which schools you’re applying to. Print this right off of their website or create your own model based off of the one they provide.
Print hard copies of all the basic information that you’ll need to submit to each school. Having it easily accessible and in front of you will cut down on the time it will take to dig up the information over and over again. The information you’ll always need on hand includes:
- Your social security number.
- Financial aid plans. (Do you intend to apply for need-based financial aid or merit-based scholarships?)
- Family information – your parents’ or guardians’ legal names, addresses, occupations, employers, colleges they attended and degrees they hold.
- Your high school’s information – address, your date of entry to the school, your guidance counselor’s full name and contact information.
- Scores on standardized tests (SAT/ACT) or AP test scores.
- A list of the high school courses you’re currently enrolled in.
Keep this printed information in an expandable folder and place it either in your desk or in a bookcase so that it is easily accessible whenever you sit down to fill out any forms.
In order to keep track of important events or deadlines, set a reminder on your phone to alert you!
Shop the App store! If you have a Mac, iPhone or iPad, check out some apps you can download that will keep you on top of everything you need to do. The iPlanner and iProcrastinate will keep all of your “to-do” notes in one compact, color-coded virtual space. If you have a BlackBerry, check out myTasks, which allows you to sort your tasks into projects. There are hundreds of organizational apps available for smartphones and computers, so seek out the ones that are best suited for you.
If you’re old-fashioned and prefer to use pen and paper to keep track of deadlines, buy a desk calendar and fill in important dates and deadlines or purchase a pack of large Post-its and stick them to your wall to remind you of the tasks ahead. Alternatively, fill in dates, deadlines, and tasks in the same planner you use to write down homework assignments. Remember to keep all handwritten reminders and notes in a secure folder or binder, because these documents can’t be auto-recovered if you lose them!
2. Give in to peer pressure.
Surround yourself with people who are ambitiously tackling their applications. Seeing others who are punctual about submitting applications will motivate you to complete your own. “If you hear other people talking about how they’ve finished an essay or sent in an application, it can force you to get started on your own stuff,” said Katherine Mirani, an HC contributing writer and a freshman at Northwestern.
Set aside a specific meeting time each week to meet with a couple of friends and work on scholarship forms, essays or financial aid forms over coffee. Being part of a motivated group will help keep you all on track toward getting specific parts of the application completed.
If your friends tend to be less ambitious then you are, get in touch with members of your class who you may know from classes, clubs, peer tutoring, or Honor Society. Ask a school official for a designated meeting place either during or after the school day where students can gather together to work on applications.
3. Break down your tasks.
Anthony Centore, Ph.D., founder of Thrive Boston Counseling, says that procrastination is an anxiety-induced condition. “Procrastination occurs when people are unsure whether or not they can complete the task,” he said.
So what is the best way to not let procrastination get the better of you? “Break the process into more digestible bites,” Centore advised. “Applying to Harvard is not the task – buying an ink cartridge for your printer, finding the phone number of the person you’re contacting for a recommendation, etc. are the tasks.”
In other words, try not to be too overwhelmed by your final goal. Yes, applying to college is the ultimate goal, but break that down into a list of tasks you can accomplish that day. For instance, contact teachers, counselors or coaches who are writing recommendations for you in the same day. Sit down and fill out the application for a specific scholarship in one afternoon. Accomplish these small tasks every day to keep the overall goal from seeming too large to tackle.
Seeing a completed checklist will boost your confidence level and make the end result seem more obtainable.
4. Make time for yourself.
Being a big ball of stress will not make the process of filling out applications move any more quickly. Make sure to carve out a few minutes each day to do something for yourself that will help you de-stress. Put your college essays and applications on hold for a half hour each day to do something that will give you the energy to come back to your to-do list with a clear head. The next time you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed, consider trying one of the following activities:
- Take a short walk or a drive.
- Call a friend or relative on the phone.
- Plug in your iPod for 15 minutes and listen to your favorite songs.
- Read a chapter in a book.
- Make yourself a snack.
Do something you enjoy that will help your racing mind slow down! You’ll feel invigorated after a short break and ready to get back to work.
5. Set a deadline.
…And hold yourself accountable to it! Trust me when I say that there is nothing worse than being the only one of your friends who can’t go out during Christmas break because you waited until the last minute to start filling out your applications. Having a definitive date – the earlier, the better – by which to submit everything will also keep you from procrastinating and putting it off until “later.”
“I reserved a lot of my Sundays in October through January to get all of my apps over with,” said Siobhan, a freshman at Fairfield University. “Getting a huge chunk of my app work done in a day was grueling but paid off in the end. I felt that getting all my apps out of the way in the fall and early winter took a lot of weight off of my shoulders and I felt more relieved.”
6. Ask for help.
The best part of college applications is that you do NOT have to do it alone. Your friends, family, teachers and guidance counselors can be great resources to help you succeed. Find someone you trust and bounce ideas off of them, have them proofread essays and fact-check your applications.
Utilize the expertise of your teachers and school guidance counselors. They are paid to help you, after all. Schedule a weekly meeting with your guidance counselor to keep them updated on where you stand in the application process. Ask for their feedback on your personal essays, and for help and resources that will help you navigate financial aid forms or scholarship applications. Cultivate a relationship with your counselor to show them how dedicated you are to staying on top of your applications. Don’t forget that they’ll likely have to write you a recommendation, so make your presence known to them.