College Admissions

Archive for December, 2011

So Many College Applications, So Little Time

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

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 short answer about an activity 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, Facebook 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.

Keep Working On Applications While Waiting For Early Decisions

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011

Many students are anxiously awaiting the results of their early applications before they invest time in other applications.  This is a big mistake.  Many colleges received more early applications this year, and competition for admission will be intense.  Early Action applications were up 14 percent at Northeastern and 25 percent at University of Chicago. Schools with binding Early Decision plans also saw significant increases.  Early Decision applications were up 15 percent at Northwestern, 17 percent at Emory, almost 20 percent at Boston University, 23 percent at Duke and 33 percent at Pomona.

Not all colleges had more early applications. Yale saw an 18 percent decrease in Early Action applications, which is probably because Harvard offered an Early Action option this year, and these schools don’t allow students to apply early to other colleges.  The new Harvard early option probably also accounts for modest decreases in Early Decision applications at Columbia and University of Pennsylvania.  But all of these schools may see increases in Regular Decision applications.  Students need to submit their strongest applications.

That’s why it’s important to keep working throughout this month.  Getting a rejection in mid-December can be a crushing disappointment, and it is very hard to recover from that emotional blow and do your best work on seven other applications when you have just two weeks till the early January deadlines.  While it may be difficult to push yourself to work on applications now while you’re waiting to get into your favorite college, it will be much harder after a rejection.  If you have finished your other applications and you are denied or deferred by your early school, you will be very relieved that your applications are ready to submit.  Best case scenario is that you are accepted at your early school, and in that case you will be so excited that you won’t care about the unnecessary work you did on other applications.

Students who did not submit early applications really have no reason to wait, and if they haven’t completed an application yet, it’s especially important to get started.  In addition to writing essays, you need to complete the activities/community service/work experience section, and you want to write those descriptions concisely and accurately.  Admissions officers appreciate an application that is clear and easy to read.  Print out the application so you can proofread it.  You may find that some of your activity descriptions are cut off, requiring you to rewrite them.  All of this takes time.  Add the stress of rushing to finish seven supplements in the last few days and you are more likely to make mistakes.  You also risk your computer or the server crashing, or a winter storm that knocks out your electricity right before the application deadline.  

Once you submit the Common Application to one school, you cannot make changes to that application.  If you applied Early Decision/Early Action and now want update your awards, activities or test scores, or would like to tailor your application to one college, you can create an alternate version.  After you log in, go to the Instructions page and scroll down to “Application Versions” for step by step instructions.  The alternate version will have all the information from your first version and you can edit as you wish.  However, any documents you uploaded will not transfer to the alternate version, so be sure to upload your essay to the alternate version.

Remember that with the Common Application you need to submit the application, supplement and payment separately.  Students sometimes think that once they submit payment, the application automatically follows.  Since it can take up to 48 hours for your payment to be processed, waiting until the day of a deadline means your application might not be submitted in time.  Check the My Colleges page to confirm that your applications have been submitted.  You can also see if your counselor and teacher have submitted their forms.

If you have questions as you’re working on the Common Application, the “Help” button at the top of the Common Application will take you to the Applicant Support Center.  If you don’t find the answer to your question there, you can contact technical support.