August 11, 2014

Set up planning process for college applications

Students should get organized now to work on their college applications.

A student can still qualify for the honor of being called an “early bird” as long as he or she completes at least one college application before school starts.

While your teenagers may be prone to romanticizing about the last lazy days of summer and getting anxious about the stress once they return to school, my recommendation is to be the “bad guy” and make them commit to start working on their college applications now. Once school starts, they’ll be feeling pressed for time between homework, extracurricular activities and social engagements.

Here are three simple tips to get the process started:


Make a simple chart or spreadsheet with the following information for each school:

• Name of each college.
• Your best-educated guess on your chances of being accepted. Label each school with R/T/S – R: reach/dream schools, T: target/likely schools and S: safety/slam-dunk schools.
• College admissions Web page.
• Application deadline (note whether the college offers Early Decision, which is binding, or Early Action, which is nonbinding). Put the colleges in order of their deadlines.
• Label each as to whether or not they accept the Common Application.
• List the number of essays required.

Create a timeline with due dates that are reasonable. Plan to submit your final application at least 10 days prior to the deadline. Make sure you put in assignments such as sending in test scores, sending in transcripts, asking teachers and others for letters of recommendation, following up with recommenders, completing the data input on the applications, updating and finishing your activity sheet. Plan any fall campus visits now.


Print out each college’s essay prompts. Hopefully many of the colleges on the list will be members of the Common Application, which means they will all accept the same essay. Be careful to note which ones have supplements and which do not.

Also, many college applications don’t require any essays or may only have optional essays for an honors program. Be thorough in your research. Once you have created documents with each of the essay prompts, print them out and start comparing which prompts are similar and see where you can multipurpose one or more essays.

In many cases you’ll be able to use the “bones” or general idea of one essay for an entirely different prompt. For example, one college might ask you to write about your most meaningful extracurricular activity and another college might be more specific about your contribution to community service. For most people, that’s the same essay.

Activity Sheet

Start by making a list of the activities you participated in each year and the amount of time you spent on each activity. The Common Application makes students report their activities by the years you were involved as well as the number of hours per week. If you have done multiple things in the same year, put them in order of your interest and/or your time commitment. Reviewing your activity sheet may help you determine many of your essay topics.

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