As the college application deadlines loom, there is still time to make your case and possibly secure a place at the school of your choice. Here are 5 tips to help you complete your application in the nick of time!
By Dr. Allison Deegan
If you’re a high school senior or aspiring grad student who hasn’t completed your applications yet, it’s not too late to apply. Most private schools have application deadlines of December 31 or January 1. Some public schools may also have later application dates for certain campuses, so check carefully.
I’ve heard many students say that they waited too long and don’t have enough time to complete and submit an application good enough for a chance at admission. Their attitude is “Why bother?” One significant reason to bother is that any application submitted has some chance, while an application not submitted is a guaranteed no.
Here are a few insights and suggestions that may alter the way you view the college application process, especially in the last, emotionally charged days before the deadlines:
1. It’s Mostly Data: Ninety percent of the application is data entry – it is not your soul on a page or the endorsement of intimidating teachers and counselors, it’s your academic and activity record, your family profile, etc. If you’re using the Common Application (www.commonapp.org), all the data is submitted online, into an easy-to use form. Whether or not you make it to the end and click the “send” button, at least complete the data entry part and have it ready to go.
2. Counselors and Others: For most applications (including the Common Application), the information you need to gather from your school and counselors is pro forma – it is not an in-depth pondering of you and all your colors or an account of your lifelong potential. It is more like certifying that the documents and data you submit are true, and transmitting official records in an orderly way. Don’t sweat the content, just request your counselor’s help as soon as possible and let your record speak for itself. Many times, counselor and/or school reports will be accepted after the application deadline but don’t push it — ask now (by email if school vacation has already started) and get this portion submitted as soon as possible. Same for letters of recommendation (focus on teachers only at this late stage) — ask by phone or email asap and send in as soon as possible.
3. Application Personal Statements: The dreaded personal statements, essays, whatever you call them — they have brought more than a few students to question their sanity and their intelligence. Take it down a notch, several notches in fact, during these pressure-filled final days. It may not be your masterpiece, since time is short and stress and pressure can block you from recalling the details of your best stories. Guess what? It doesn’t’ need to be a masterpiece. The admissions reviewer will spend mere minutes on it, partially checking to see whether it is responsive to the prompt, and partially looking for individuality or spark (which they’re looking for because they’re bored from reading so many similar essays).
Regarding topics, here’s a good rule of thumb I like to use with the students I work with. A stranger, from another country, asks you what you do. Because he or she is a stranger, you have to come up with something slightly summative, that says some things about who you are, what you like, where you spend your time, what you’re working toward, what you’ve achieved, etc. Then, because they’re from another country, you have to provide a certain amount of context or detail. They wouldn’t get it if you said, “I’m president of the RBX Explorers.” You need to frame it. What does that group do? Why, or how, did you become president? What does it mean to you to be involved? Does it relate at all to your career or college aspirations? Those kinds of simple, basic, storytelling details, can be the content of your application personal statement.
Give yourself 15 minutes to write a brief 11 point outline answering the stranger’s question. Include an intro, three points (each with two subpoints), and a conclusion. Just write it in the form of bullet points and fill it in, like the outline below. It provides a sample approach. Remember, just list a few words for each point and subpoint; there is no need to struggle with writing a full essay at this stage.
- Intro — Love animals
- Point 1 — president of animal service club
- Sub point — leadership
- Sup point — community service
- Point 2 — experience with animals
- Sub point — family pets
- Sup point — wildlife
- Point 3 — career in animal service field
- Sub point — academic prep
- Sup point — strong conviction
- Conclusion — why I’m a good fit
Now turn each bullet into two sentences. Go back over it again and add transitional language (And that’s when I figured out what …, It was the first time I’d realized …, etc.) between or onto the sentences. If it’s too long, cut out a few sentences. If it’s too short, add a few more.
Then check for clarity, word count (according to the prompt), proper spelling, grammar and punctuation, and make sure its responsive to the prompt you’re answering.
Now cut and paste it into the application form and hit submit!
It may not say everything about you, but it will say a lot more than what you’re able to convey if you don’t apply at all. You can do this in an hour. You have an hour to spare between now and New Year’s Eve, don’t you?
4. Fear of Fear: Don’t let fear of the outcome prevent you from participating in the process. There are many aspects of life that fall into this category. Should I ask her out? Will he laugh if I tell this joke? Will that teacher help me understand differential equations or tell me I’m not smart enough to be in the class? At many points in their lives, often for reasons that seem good at the time, we don’t step outside our comfort zones because we fear the outcome. We might not get it, so we don’t try.
Think back on the last two or three incidents in your life when you did that (and I know we all have them, so be really honest and think of a few). Do you regret not acting, not asking, not volunteering, not attending? We usually regret what we did not do, because we’ll never know the outcome. Don’t let fear and later regret color your college application and admissions process. Just throw your hat in there and if you don’t get into your dream school, or even any school, you’ll move on and find another way through.
5. Cost Benefit Analysis: The cost of throwing in a last-minute, seemingly less-than-perfect application, may seem ill-advised. But think about this: If you have an application fee waiver, you are giving up a cost-free chance to see what happens. Be bold. Get inside the mystery. Buckle down for a couple of hours, finish the app and see if you get in. If you don’t have a fee waiver and will be paying for your applications, think about the cost, over time, for something you really want. Is $70 for an application you finish at the last minute more of a financial waste or risk than any other item you’ve purchased or received for that value? Do you have any clothes or games or phones or events you’ve wasted that much on? This amount of money, with your completed application (which you can get done this week!) could be the best investment you and your family make if it helps you get into a school you’re excited about, from which you launch your education and career. It seems silly not to invest in it when you look at it that way, no matter how quickly you’ll have to do the application.
In the end, only you can decide whether or not to go for it and complete an application in the limited amount of time left. I’ve seen enough surprising outcomes to believe that it’s always worth it to try. You may find that deadline pressure lends a type of clarity to the whole process and you actually write a better application than if you’d fussed over it for months or weeks.
It’s not too difficult, and it’s not too late!
Dr. Deegan is the founder of College App ASAP, an admissions consulting and editing service. She has guided hundreds of undergraduate, graduate and professional school applicants to success for the past 13 years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.