5 Important Components to a College Application

With the exception of California’s fleet of public universities and a handful of other institutions across the United States, nearly all “regular decision” deadlines fall sometime between December 15th and January 15th of each year. While a fortunate few students are in the unique position of applying to one or several schools “early,” the overwhelming majority of students will be following the “regular” deadline cycle. Upon returning to high school in September of senior year, most students will have approximately three months to create, refine and submit all of their college application materials to their schools of choice. It is during these particularly exhaustive few months that students are tasked with the prospects of juggling their most challenging academic workloads to date while moonlighting as de facto college application project managers responsible for the fate of their next four years of education. Substandard applications and missed deadlines can be the unfortunate bi-product for students who are trying to survive the most challenging slog of their young, adult lives!


In the hopes of streamlining the college application process while alleviating the stressors associated with it, I generally advise my students to break the college application process down into five smaller components or “projects” that they should account for weekly. Assuming that standardized tests have been completed and any additional materials have been prepared (i.e. artistic submissions, athletic recruiting film…etc.), all students will need to focus on a) finalizing their official “college list” b) asking their teachers for recommendations and coordinating logistics with their Guidance Department c) composing their 650-word Common Application “Personal Statement” d) creating their Common Application “Activities List” and e) writing “supplemental essays” for each school.

While some of these tasks may require drastically more work output than others, I find that there is still tremendous value in monitoring each individual project steadfastly. There are frequently several dynamic elements associated with each project as well as fluctuating deadlines that can contribute to important work components being lost in the fray. Therefore, I highly recommend that students break down the college application into its most essential elements. If students can create project deadlines for each of these five tasks and complete their work piecemeal, the totality of the college application process becomes much less stressful and students find themselves accomplishing their goals within the allotted 3-4 month time frame.


3 Tasks to Complete the Summer Before Senior Year


Now that the school year has officially ended, both students and parents can breath a collective sigh of relief! The summer has finally arrived and should be treated as an important time for rest, fun, and the pursuit of enriching extracurricular activities. While the three-month summer break should be just that (“a break”), there are three tasks that I always encourage prospective high school seniors to engage in over the summer to alleviate the stressful college application experience once they arrive back at school.

1) Research (and Visit) Prospective Colleges
Seniors are often surprised by how little time they actually have to complete their college applications once they return to school in the Fall. “Early” applications are often due within 6-8 weeks after school resumes (November 1st) and “Regular Decision” applications only a few months thereafter (January 1st). Because there is such a preponderance of work to finish in such a short period of time, I always encourage students to visit as many schools as possible before they commence their Senior year. Try spending a few weeks at the beginning of the summer researching prospective schools and dedicating the second half of the summer to visiting as many of those schools as possible. Remember: Colleges remain open all summer long and are expecting visitors. Make sure to take formal campus tours and log your name into their “Campus Tour” Registers (FYI: some schools place added weight on applicants who have visited their campus).

2) Prepare for Upcoming Standardized Tests
An overwhelming majority of prospective Seniors will (and should) attempt to improve upon their SAT/ACT and/or Subject Test scores at least once during the Fall of their Senior year. My advice to these students: Do not let procrastination set in! I have helped students prepare for the SAT & ACT exams for well over a decade and can say with confidence that focused students tend to experience their biggest score increases over the summer. Completing as little as 30 minutes of test prep each day throughout the summer will not only help stave off potential rust, but will enable students to demonstrably raise their all-important test scores in the Fall.

3) Begin Working on the “Personal Statement”
Perhaps the most time-consuming and challenging aspect of the entire college application experience is the 650-word “Personal Statement” section to the Common Application. Most students are not used to writing about themselves and often struggle with the exercise, at least initially. Therefore, I always encourage students to begin thinking about possible Personal Statement topics at the beginning of the summer and to attempt to craft at least one or two successful drafts of the essay by the conclusion of the summer. I will provide more tips on how to write a successful Personal Statement in a later article.