It almost feels like you need a college degree just to figure out how to apply to college. There are tons of forms, lots of deadlines, and fierce competition.
I’m not trying to make you panic. In fact, just the opposite. If you take a good look at the tasks involved in the application process now, you won’t feel under the gun come November.
The biggest favor you can do yourself is to start early—as in now! Take a Big Picture view of the process and figure out what needs to get done and when.
I'll be honest: I'm an expert procrastinator. I know how easy it is to give in to saving work for "later," and then panicking when "later" suddenly becomes "too late."
It's not easy to start early. Especially on the really BIG stuff in life.
But what if you knew exactly what you would be giving up by getting a late start on your applications? What if you saw all the perks those early birds are getting? Do you really want them to have an unfair advantage? No way! This is your college experience we’re talking about! You’ve been working your tail off for this moment for the last four years—at least!
It's true that starting early takes dedication, but it has big rewards. So I'm going to try to convince you to get started early—right away in fact—by showing you five sweet advantages that early birds get.
Advantage 1: They don't sacrifice their GPA's
You know all those tales you’ve heard about how awesome senior year is? They only start being true second semester!
The first half of the year is going to be hard. There’s no way around that. But, there is a way around burning out. Having a plan (and deadlines!) will help you stay on track once the initial excitement of working on your college applications dwindles and the reality of how much work there is sets in.
Being able to see the long-term plan will help you save your energy for when you really need it. It will also allow you to start early on the most difficult tasks (like the personal statement!) so that you use your best brainpower well before you are studying for finals in December.
Without proper planning, I guarantee you’re going to have to sacrifice either the quality of your applications or the quality of your school work. Either choice is a bummer. Colleges will want to see your first-semester senior year grades. Trying to explain away weak test scores by saying you were busying applying to college does not send the right message about your maturity and ability to work independently!
Advantage 2: They save time and money by only applying to the right schools
Applying to a school you haven’t researched is a waste of time and money. Just because a school is well-known and respected doesn’t mean it is the right school for you. Colleges are not “good” in a vacuum; they are “good for students.” And each student has different goals, interests, and needs.
Think about what you want to study and whether your prospective schools have the programs and departments that would serve your desired major.
- How much academic support is available?
- What kinds of services are available on campus?
- Is there public transportation in the area?
- What kinds of cultural activities are nearby?
- What is the social life like?
- How far will you be from your family?
A little research prevents applying to colleges that aren’t a good match. And at $75 a pop, applications shouldn’t be sent out willy-nilly. Save them for the schools you have determined are a good fit academically, socially, and geographically and that you have a reasonable chance of being accepted to. Yes, there is such a thing as a reach school. But don’t waste time applying to a jump-ten-feet-in-the-air-and-reach school.
Starting your application process early means you will have the time to look at your potential schools in greater detail. If the school isn’t too far away, you might even be able to schedule a weekend trip so you can get a firsthand feel or attend a prospective student event.
Advantage 3: They get better teacher recommendations
Give your teachers—and any other recommendation writers, such as counselors, coaches, or tutors—plenty of time to think about all your talents and accomplishments.
Nothing makes a bad impression on the teacher you’re hoping will sing your praises like asking her to write you a recommendation at the last minute. Remember, teachers are some of the busiest folks and they may have multiple students to write recommendations for.
With enough planning ahead, you can even schedule a mini-conference with your recommendation writers to discuss why you have chosen your schools and what you want to study. This will help your recommender focus on the aspects of you that will be the most relevant.
Prepare your forms with all of your info, such as name and address. This makes life easy for your teacher and lets her focus all her energy on writing about what an amazing student you are!
Advantage 4: They avoid stress and last-minute panic
The Common App and the Universal App are accepted by most private universities. These handy-dandy sites allow you to compile all of your information in one spot and then choose where to send it.
If you decide to use one of these sites, you can save yourself a lot of time re-typing information like your address, classes, and extracurriculars.
But, make sure you read through all of the instructions first so that you know exactly what each section requires. And don’t work directly on the website where work might be lost. Instead, start a doc in Word or Google Drive and put all your work in one place, saving regularly.
When you’re all ready (and you have proofread!), you’ll be able to simply copy and paste your work into the right spots. You’ll know it’s correct and complete, and you won’t be scrambling to find the info you need to submit.
A lot of the application components will be under your control, but some parts require cooperation from other sources. Your school will have to send your transcript, and your SAT or ACT scores will have to be sent directly from the testing boards. It’s your job to request this information in a timely way.
There is no bigger stress than an approaching deadline on an action that is out of your hands! When you make a plan early on—complete with a timeline—you’ll become an effective project manager. You’ll work out the mini-deadlines so that you can have the whole process moving smoothly.
Advantage 5: They write better personal statements
There is NO WAY you can write the amazing, game-changing personal statement that will get you into the school of your choice in a weekend. You need time to choose the right prompt and plan a piece of writing that will showcase your unique experiences and writing voice. Then you need to revise.
A solid essay will be revised two to three times. A stellar essay will be revised four or more times! It will start with a bang and keep readers interested until the end. You want your essay to end up in the “Wow! We want this student pile!” not the “That was decent” pile.
You need time to proofread. Not just your essay—everything you submit! No one expects you to be a grammar robot with perfect language skills. On the other hand, a really easy way to get colleges to pass on your application is to have obvious typos since iT will loooooks li ke your jest dont car.
And who hasn’t heard the horror story scenario of turning in an application to University A with an opening line that says, “I feel I would be a perfect match for University B”?
Taking the time to proofread means you’ll catch any mistakes that would otherwise make it look like you gave less than your best. You are about to invest four years of your life in serious study at one college or another; you can afford to take an hour or two to go through all your materials and check them for simple errors.
Most students get support with the personal statement so that they know what to write about and how to present the perfect balance of passion and polish. You can get help from start to finish, from gathering your thoughts and choosing your prompt to revising for the perfect words and editing for length.
Ready to Claim Your Advantages?
If you want to join the ranks of the early risers, eager beavers, and go-getters, a fantastic place to start is actually with your essays. Did you know you can begin working on your writing before you've even finalized your lists of schools?
- Before you tackle a specific topic for a school or application platform...
- Before you write about why you want to go where...
- Before you think about word limit...
...you need to think about YOU. That's the heart of any essay you'll write for any school.
If you take the time to think about your Big Picture—who you are, what you stand for, and what makes you passionate—you'll be able to adapt the theme of YOU to meet any topic.
And it all begins with digging deep and finding your story.
Let me help you uncover your unique story in a fun and engaging one-on-one coaching session. We'll dive in and find what makes you tick. You'll leave with inspiration to continue working through your Application Checklist, plus the great feeling of starting early, knowing that you've got the advantage.