While everyone else is spending the fall of their senior year stressing about getting their college applications in on time, you’ll be relaxing, enjoying a pumpkin spice latte, because you got a head start on your applications and finished them in the summer. It’s so much less of a hassle to work on your applications when there’s plenty of time before most universities’ deadlines, and starting them early means you’ll be able to revise before you submit, too. If you’re looking to get going now, here are a few steps to get a head start on your college applications.
1 – Decide where you’d like to go
Chances are, you already have a short list in mind, but write a paper list of potential colleges, and start a file folder for each of the ones you’d like to attend. Check each school’s website and make a note on the outside of the folder with the application deadline, and another note with a date 21 days before that deadline. That’s YOUR early-bird deadline, the date you’d like to have your application completed and turned in. Find out, too, how much each college charges for the application process, and make sure you’ll have the funds available.
2 – Print your applications
Next, print each university’s application, and add it to the folder. On the outside of the folder, write down each college’s application requirements (what’s needed to complete each application). While many of the items will be the same, some will be unique to each college, and these are the things that tend to slip through the cracks.
3 – Think of essay topics
For the applications that will require an essay, start thinking of topics. It’s likely that admissions officers are tired of the same topics and themes — overcoming adversity, a memorable summer trips, why your father is your hero — so try to come up with something original, but still personally significant. When inspiration hits, write a quick note so you don’t lose the thought; you’ll want these notes later when you’re writing your essay.
4 – Get to work
Now it’s time to get to work. Set aside one hour on consecutive days to fill in the “easy” parts of each college application. This is a draft, so don’t worry about making mistakes. Cross them out and write the correct answers in the margins if you need to. Once you’ve got each application done, start at the top of the pile again, and read through your draft applications to catch any errors. Once the applications are perfect, put them back into their folders and start on the essays.
5 – Make sure your essay is original and that it fits the requirements on each college’s application.
While you may be able to re-use most of your base essay for more than one college, be prepared to re-write certain parts so the paper will “fit” each application. When you’ve finished your draft, proofread it carefully, then hand it to a parent, teacher, or friend for their editing advice. Make the edits you feel are necessary, then add the essay to each folder, too.
6 – Gather all the additional paperwork.
Now it’s time to gather all of the other paperwork your college applications require to be considered complete. As you add the documentation to a file, check it off the list on the outside of each folder.
7 – Final steps.
Plan to spend two hours each day on consecutive days for submitting each final application. If you’re submitting an application online, take your time and read each section carefully before you hit “submit.” Print the submission confirmation page and add it to your folder before you move on to the next application.
If your application will be submitted on paper, be sure to print neatly, and make a copy of every page of the application before you mail it. If you can, send the application using priority mail, or another form of post that offers a tracking number, so you can see when the application was delivered.
From the start of your application to the finish, the process ought to take no more than a month, and if you make that month a July or August, rather than a September or (worse!) an October, you’ll be breathing easy while your classmates are all stressing out about completing their applications on time. So treat yourself to another latte and possibly a pastry, because you’ve earned it.