The Procrastinator’s Guide to College Applications

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The Procrastinator’s Guide to College Applications

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If you’re a senior in high school, you  should have started on college applications sometime ago. But if you’re just getting started, don’t think that you’re out of options. You might have to be more precise, but you haven’t missed the window for college application season.

The best possible thing you can do is prioritize.

If you already have an idea of some of the schools to which you want to apply, take a good look at each of their applications. If the deadline has already passed, you obviously won’t be able to apply. For the deadlines that haven’t passed, look at the requirements. Most colleges use the Common App, which makes your life significantly easier because you’ll only need to fill out certain information once. Some schools will require long personal essays and multiple short answers. But some might just require a short answer or two.

Let’s use Emily, a senior at a high school in the Midwest, as an example. Her top choice is the large state university near her hometown. She’s also interested in another larger university and a smaller college in a nearby city. She has some great choices, but wants to broaden her options before committing.

University Name Admissions Chances Application Content Deadline Preference
Home State University  Target Application has 2 essays and 2 short answers 1 week away 1st choice
University of Somewhere  Reach Application has no essay and 2 short answers 3 weeks away 2nd choice
City College  Target Application has 1 essay and 4 short answers 4 weeks away 3rd choice

First of all, we’re going to prioritize upcoming deadlines. In this case, Home State University’s deadline is only a week away. Since that’s Emily’s second choice, that should be her top priority for the next few days. Once Home State University is out of the way, she can concentrate on their applications for City College and University of Somewhere. She can also spend some time adding additional schools to her list.

Certain schools will have different requirements, like an extra year of language, special recommendations, or SAT IIs. There’s nothing worse than getting through most of an application and then realizing you don’t meet a requirement or don’t have time to include part of the application.

While adding schools to her list, Emily should  keep an eye out for schools with rolling admissions policies. If you’re behind schedule, rolling applications can be hugely helpful. Hundreds of competitive universities offer a rolling admissions. Other schools, like Pennsylvania State University, have a hard admissions deadline but accept applications after that date on a rolling basis.

So let’s say Emily adds more schools to her list:

University Name Admissions Chances Application Content Deadline Preference
University of Somewhere Reach Application has 2 essays and 2 short answers 3 weeks away 1st choice
Home State University Target Application has 1 essay and 2 short answers 1 week away 2nd choice
Private College Safety Application has no essay and 3 short answers. rolling admissions 3rd choice
Townsville University Target Application has 1 essay and 4 short answers 2 weeks away 4th choice
Private University Reach Application has no essay and 2 short answers.  It also requires SAT II. 1 week away 5th choice
 City College Target  Application has 1 essay and 4 short answers  4 weeks away  6th choice
Neighboring State University Safety Application has 1 essay and 3 short answers. 5 weeks away 7th choice

Emily’s new and improved list includes two safety schools to balance out her options. As we suggested above, one of her newly added schools has a rolling admissions policy.

You’ll also notice that she added Private University, but later removed it because Private University requires the SAT II. If she had extra time, maybe it would make sense to take the SAT II. But since she has limited time and Private University wasn’t one of her top choices, it makes more sense to scrap Private University from her list.

Hopefully Emily has already submitted her application for State University and can now move on to other schools. She’s going to need to budget some time for City College, Neighboring State University, and Private College, but she can wait to tackle them until after her applications for Townsville University and University of Somewhere are completed.

If Emily can get all of those applications submitted, she has a much better chance of getting at least a few acceptance letters in the mail in spring.


Things to Keep in Mind:

  • We know that you’re on a tight timeline, but it’s still important to give each application the time it deserves. Though you might be tempted to use find-and-replace to turn your “Why I want to go to University of Somewhere” essay into your “Why I want to go to City College” essay, admissions officers can almost always tell. Take the time to learn about each school, and make sure that comes out in your personal statement and essays.
  • Though we know it can feel like you don’t have time to go back and reread, please take the time to do so. Typos could raise questions about your application. Proofread, let the application sit for 24 hours, and then proofread again.
  • Pay close attention to application deadlines and application requirements. You want to use every minute of your time effectively, and you shouldn’t be putting in tons of energy into your sixth or seventh choice school.
  • Broaden your horizons. Especially if you haven’t had much time to research colleges, make sure you apply to a range of schools. College fit is important, and you might change your mind about what you want in a school.
  • For the most part, you shouldn’t apply to a school just to apply. The exception to this is when the application takes almost no extra effort. For example, some state university systems allow you to apply to multiple campuses with a single application. In this case, it’s often prudent to maximize your chances. However, just because a school has a simple application doesn’t mean you should throw away an application fee. Especially if the school is a significant reach.


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