Early application results are coming in daily, and my students who have been admitted to Boston College, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Occidental, Princeton, Rice, Tulane and University of Chicago are now able to enjoy a relaxing winter break. This is one of the rewards of applying early.
Students who still have five or more applications to complete by January 1 won’t have such a relaxing break. Some students need the adrenaline rush of a tight deadline to perform at their best. Others have been avoiding their college applications because of fear. There is fear of failure. If I don’t finish the applications, I won’t get rejected. And fear of success. If I’m accepted, I have to leave home and everyone I know.
Whatever the reasons for the procrastination, at this point, students who have not worked on college applications are likely to feel overwhelmed. The best way to deal with that feeling is to make a plan, with small, attainable goals every day.
Organization is crucial, especially when you are working with tight deadlines. The first step is making a list of all the application tasks you need to complete. Start with the things that are easy to do, like sending test scores and filling out the basic information in the Common Application. Finishing just one task will give you a feeling of accomplishment and begin to generate a sense of momentum. Once you are working and getting things done, the anxiety will dissipate.
Create your own deadline for each application, and make a detailed daily schedule, with time allotted for all the tasks you will complete each day. Knowing that you will work on your activity list for the Common Application from 9:00 to 10:00, and your NYU supplement from 10 to 11:30 gives you a structure. You won’t waste time thinking about what to do next if you have a detailed schedule.
Essays are the most time-consuming part of college applications. Print out all the essay prompts so that you can see where you will be able to recycle or modify essays. You may not need to write as many essays as you think. Break the essay writing process down into manageable parts. First task is to brainstorm a list of ideas for the essay prompt. Next, choose one or two ideas that seem promising and flesh them out a bit. Choose the idea that you are most excited about writing, as your enthusiasm will propel you through the work and make the essay more interesting for admissions officers. If the prospect of writing a full draft is intimidating, try brainstorming the ideas you want to include in the essay, and then put those thoughts into a logical order, perhaps in bullet points. Once you have those bullet points, it should be easy to expand them into sentences and paragraphs, and you have your first draft.
Some students are paralyzed by the fear of perfection. Remember that the first draft is not supposed to be perfect. The goal is just to get your ideas on paper. Essays take shape in the rewriting process. But for now, put your first draft aside and go through the same process for the next essay. Then you can go back and rewrite your first essay. Most essays require at least three or four drafts. That may sound impossible when you don’t have much time, but the first draft is the most time-consuming. Subsequent drafts go much more quickly.
You want to submit the strongest applications. Focusing on the task is crucial. That means eliminating all distractions. No video games, Instagram or texting while you are working. This is a huge challenge for most students, who believe they can multi-task. You probably don’t do it as well as you think. Make sure you have a quiet, uncluttered space for working on applications. Put the phone in another room. You can check it when you break for lunch.
Getting started is the hardest part. You will pick up momentum as you work. Remember that this will be over in a few weeks. Think about how great it will feel to have all your college applications done.