Pretty much every college admissions counselor sees thousands of applications cross their desk (or virtual desk) each year. They meet hundreds of hopeful applicants ranging from shoo-ins to borderline cases and better-luck-next-timers.
And they see their fair share of applicants who could have improved their chances—or at least smoothed their chaotic paths to acceptance—by making a few tweaks to the way they went through the application process.
If you’re a rising senior, there’s one thing—really, just one—that the nation’s admissions counselors want you to do right now: Get organized!
Start Now (Don’t Wait)
The fall of your senior year in high school is college application crunch time. There’s a lot to get done and not much time to do it. That’s why admissions counselors say you should get started as soon as you can.
Finalize your college choices and pull together all the material you need to apply. Not only will this help you avoid stress down the road, it will also give you the time to polish your applications to an error-free shine.
In an interview with the New York Times, an admissions pro at Penn State says he tells his own kids, “‘Do not wait for the deadline to submit your applications ... Getting those applications in early is the best way to reduce stress senior year.”
The admissions counselor says he sees a spike in applications every year around the deadline. “That’s when the procrastinators send them in. It’s advantageous to get ahead of the bubble.”
So let’s get ahead of the bubble. As you face your senior year, what college application tasks should you start working on?
Make a List of Deadlines for All Your Schools
By now, you should have narrowed down your list of schools to the ones you definitely want to apply to. Next, make a list of the application deadlines for all your schools. You don’t want to get anywhere near missing any of them. Even schools with rolling admissions usually have priority deadlines, especially if you need financial aid.
Don’t have your “definitely apply to” list done yet? Then get cracking. Remember to include a good mix of sure-things and dream schools, state and private institutions, and both local and far away options.
Start Thinking About Your Essay
Not every school requires an essay. If a school gives you the option, most admissions counselors recommend giving it a go. Writing an intriguing application essay makes your application stand out from the pack.
An admissions counselor from the University of Georgia tells Woman’s Day your essay shows schools who you really are and needs to cover more ground than the facts and dates of your application. Essays “shouldn't restate what's already obvious based on their grades or teacher recommendations,” he says of college essay writers.
(If you’re applying via the common app, take a look at this year’s essay prompts here.)
Request Your Letters of Recommendation
Make sure the people recommending you have plenty of time to put some serious thought into their letters. This goes double for teachers and coaches, who get bombarded by requests for letters of recommendation this time of year.
Who else should you ask? (Not family members, obviously.) Think about some of these folks as prospects:
- Guidance counselors.
- Adults who know you through volunteer work, activities, etc.
If you’re not sure how to go about asking, here’s a bulletproof template for asking for college letters of recommendation.
Ask for Your High School Transcripts to Be Sent to Your Colleges
Do this as soon as you can after the school year begins. High schools get overwhelmed with transcript requests every fall and their response times slow to a crawl.
Of course, completing those college applications is your most important job this fall. Make sure you give yourself the time and space you need to do it right. Include time to get feedback on your application from your parents, teachers, and others you trust.
A rushed college application leads to mistakes. And given the number of applications college admissions counselors sees every fall, it doesn’t take much to send yours to the bottom of the pile. Here’s a handy list of “stupid” college application mistakes that make admissions counselors groan.
Stay On Track
If this all seems like a lot to stay on top of, don’t worry. We’ve got your back. Keep your college application process rolling along by following the steps in our “Ultimate College Decision Timeline.” Click below for your free copy.