The college admissions planning process can be overwhelming. Important tasks can sometimes be missed as you work to stay on top of your homework, prepare for standardized tests, take part in all-important extracurricular activities, and enjoy some much-deserved down time.
Don’t fret. There are ways to ensure critical details do not slip through the cracks and keep you from feeling inundated with so many things to do.
Time Management Strategies
Managing your time effectively is one way to avoid slip-ups and will be critical to your college planning process. Your priority will always be to study hard and prepare for tests. Use that time wisely and then put these time management tips to work to regain precious minutes in your day:
Plot out study time at home in one-hour segments. At the end of each 60-minute block, enjoy a break of five or 10 minutes to relax. But be careful not to get distracted by long phone, text, or IM conversations.
Prioritize tasks and assignments weekly. Plan your work in advance. Don’t procrastinate. Work in increments so you are not pulling everything together the night before a due date. Your project will turn out better and it won’t feel like so much work. The time closer to the due date should be used to strengthen your project and double-check the finer details.
Focus on getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night. This is especially beneficial the night before standardized tests (usually Friday nights for Saturday tests). You will be able to work more efficiently and effectively with plenty of rest. Exhausted after a long day at school? Take a power nap–30 minutes or less. This will provide you with needed energy in a minimal amount of time.
Taking Advantage of Summer Break
The summer before students enter their senior year in high school is a crucial time for them to focus on the college application process. This is an ideal time to start brainstorming ideas for your admissions essays. Each of the three typical applications—the Common Application, the Universal Application, and the Coalition Application—publish essay prompts so students have a guide for drafting their essays. Individual schools also release their specific prompts at the beginning of the year. Find and use these prompts so you can work efficiently on your essay drafts. Once drafted, make sure you find someone who can proofread them for grammar, content, and clarity.
In addition to working on your essays, summer is also a time to focus on these elements to a successful college application process:
- Prepare a final version of your resume and include a detailed account of your most recent activities from the summer (new clubs or teams).
- Streamline your college choices. Narrow your list to a few options.
- Take note of all upcoming deadlines for the colleges or universities on your list.
- Keep prepping for the SAT or ACT through the summer so you are ready to take the test in the fall.
- Read more books and be prepared to tell admissions interviewers about them. They will ask what you have been doing over the summer.
More Tips for Effective Planning
Utilizing time management tactics and taking advantage of your summer break should put you on a smooth path forward in your college application process. Here are a few other ways you can make sure everything is in order:
Keep in contact with your school’s college counselor. When you need a recommendation written, be sure to approach your counselor with time to spare—approaching them a week before the recommendation is due will probably lead to a weaker recommendation than you might get if they have more time to write it.
Don’t lose track of the big picture. Don’t let your schedule of day-to-day activities overshadow longer-terms needs such as college visits and testing schedules. Make sure, for example, that you space out your testing dates so you are not handling too much test preparation at any one time.
Include parents. Parents, universities are beginning to offer admissions events focused on your needs, too. Take advantage of events, if they are offered, like the parents-only reception at Catholic University or the mock class for parents at Wake Forest University.
Hire expert help. You and your parents might also consider hiring some expert help in navigating the college admission process. If you go that route, rely on the expertise of a professional college admissions counselor. Find someone who has experience in making admissions decisions, not just a volunteer in the admissions office who performs admissions interviews once a year. Hire someone who has been “in the trenches” of the college admissions process.
Use these tips and you will be able to stay on track with your college applications.