Applying to colleges can be an extremely stressful ordeal. As someone who just completed the process, I would be lying if I told you anything else. However, while the stress of applying to colleges cannot be completely eliminated, you can manage it and prevent it from becoming overwhelming with these tips.
1. Start in the summer.
Seriously. If you have not started on the process yet, finish this article and get to work! While it might seem like there are weeks or months until you really need to buckle down, any work you do early will pay huge dividends when deadlines start rolling around. Even if starting right now just means creating your Common App account and taking an hour to answer the background questions, you will feel a lot better knowing that is out of the way.
2. Make a calendar.
Preferably a big calendar—one that you will see on a regular basis. While it might seem like having to look at all the deadlines would be stressful, it is much worse to be unsure of when everything needs to be done. Make sure to put both “hard” deadlines, like the dates the colleges want your applications, and “soft” deadlines, such as when you want to ask your teachers for letters of recommendation.
3. Speaking of that, ask teachers who like you for letters of recommendation.
This might seem extremely obvious, but I saw many kids from my school get caught up in the “prestige” of the teacher they asked—how well the teacher is liked and respected. It is extremely unlikely that college admissions officers know the teacher your letter is from, so just focus on which teacher knows you and can write about you the best.
4. Ask for a letter of recommendation early in the process.
If you are reading this before your senior year, bring up the idea now with the teachers you would like to ask come September. Your teachers are human beings too, and if you ask them late and after they have already promised 20+ letters, they might not be able to write you one. Also, once they have agreed to do it, try not to bug them about it. Yours isn’t the only letter they have to write, so just be patient and trust that they will uphold their end of the bargain.
5. Spend time thinking about the essay before you write it.
Sitting down and staring at a blank word document is very stressful. Start by thinking about what you want to write about, and what might make you unique or stick in the mind of the reader. Don’t try to guess what the admissions officers want to read; you will end up with a significantly less meaningful (and by extension, helpful) essay. If you cannot decide between a few topics, try to write a quick rough draft for each of them. You will find very quickly that some topics are difficult to make strong essays out of.
6. Don’t ask a lot of other people where they are in the process.
Inevitably, one person will have completed almost everything, and hearing about it regularly will make you feel behind. Just manage your own deadlines and work pace, and you will complete your applications along with everyone else.
7. Make a connection with an admissions officer.
If you have a question about a specific school, don’t just contact the general admissions email address. Instead, take the time to look up which admissions officer will be reading your application (a Google search usually reveals this), and email them directly. Not only will you be demonstrating interest directly to the person who reads your application, but you will also get a much more personal response to your question.
8. Get to know your Guidance Counselor.
If you don’t already know your Guidance Counselor well, now is the time to establish that relationship. While Guidance Counselors are obligated to help you through the process, they will likely have a greater vested interest in helping you if they know and like you. They should be your go-to resource for answers and advice on applying to colleges, so it helps to be friendly. Try to find an excuse to pop in to their office and say hello every once in a while.
9. Set a time to talk about college applications with your family.
While it is easy to talk about everything college all of the time, it is much more productive to have an hour or so a week set aside for the purpose. Having a set time to discuss the college process will allow you spend less time stressing about it and more time working on it. This will also force you to have weekly progress in your application, as you will have to come back with something done since the last week. (I also would not advise making this “college time” late in the day on Sunday—I found Saturday to be the best day for this.)
You will finish all of your applications by the deadlines, even though it might not seem like it at times. Remember that although the college application process can be all-consuming for a brief time, it will end after a few months.
So that’s it! Looking back on my application process, the only real advice I can give you outside of these tips would be to “Power Through.” Not everything will work out the way you want; deadlines may move on you and the Common App website might refuse to format your essay, but in the end, you will manage to get all of your apps sent in. The upcoming months can be trying, but they are also a very exciting time of your life, so try to enjoy them as much as you can.