managing college deadlines

“Charlie” called me yesterday in a panic.  With college application deadlines rapidly approaching, he was suddenly overwhelmed by the amount of work he still had to do on essays and the applications themselves. When we had met two months earlier to discuss his college list, those deadlines seemed so far away, giving Charlie the sense that he had all the time in the world; after all, how hard could it be to fill out information about himself and write a few essays?

“I know you told me to get drafts of my essays to you right after we met, but I just didn’t take it that seriously in the summertime,” he said sheepishly.  Now, with a heavy school schedule and a fall sport, Charlie is pressed to make time for his applications.  Together, we fleshed out a college application timeline for him to follow, leading up to his earliest deadline of November 1st.  Meeting this forces Charlie to make some sacrifices with his free time — something he would not have had to do if he had gotten started earlier and kept working steadily toward his goal.

Don’t let this happen to you! Here are some ways to stay on track toward meeting your application deadlines:

    1. Plan ahead. Make a list of all the colleges to which you’re applying and put them in order by deadline.  Make note of each item needed for each application, including the essay questions you need to answer and the word or character limit for each essay. See if there are any common threads between essay topics from school to school.  You may be able to modify something you have already written for one school, and apply it to another.
    2. Use a calendar to schedule your own internal deadlines, working backwards from the actual application deadlines.  If your application is due on November 1st, plan to send it at least several days prior.  Avoid gridlock on the information superhighway — the closer to the deadline, the more likely there will be connection delays and problems with sending your info.  Set deadlines for the essays: draft, first revision, second revision, etc., and stick to them.
    3. Consult your teachers and counselor regarding recommendation letters.  Make sure you are providing them ample time to meet your deadlines.
    4. Order standardized test scores to be sent directly from the testing agency (SAT or ACT) to your colleges.  If you have a November deadline and have taken the October SAT, you may have to designate those scores to be sent as soon as they are available, as opposed to waiting to view the scores before designating them to be sent.
    5. When it comes to the essay, be sure to approach it as a process.  This cannot be written and inserted as-is into your application the day before it is due.  It must undergo some thought and revision.  Look at it this way: among all the other components of the application, your essay is the one item that allows you to use your voice to share something important about yourself with your reader.
    6. For school-specific essays, you will have to “do your homework.”  Spend some time recalling your visit to the campus, as well as visit the website and consult the departmental pages, course catalog, and student activities website to locate specific, concrete details about each college — assure your reader you are writing only about that institution and no other.  This also takes time. You will want to schedule time for fact-finding as well as writing when it comes to these essays.

In order to make your application the best representation of who you are and what you are about, you want to devote significant time to preparation. This is your chance to shine – make the most of it, and don’t procrastinate!

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Written by Lisa Albro
Lisa Albro is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Lisa previously worked as a senior admissions officer at Goucher College and as the director of college counseling at Solomon Schechter Day School and Xavier High School.