Our friend and colleague Kristin Cocquyt of Cocquyt College Consulting offers student-centered, fit-focused college counseling in Webster, NY and through the Zoom-verse. This guest post promotes the benefits of finishing those college applications early!
To procrastinate is to be human, but to tackle the college application process with fortitude and precise planning is…. well, hard. The college search and application process is full of details and deadlines and for most teengers is straight-up intimidating. If you’re in the midst of the college search and application process, it can feel like another varsity sport or AP class (or two) with the required time investment and homework. Your color-coded spreadsheet of deadlines and usernames and passwords is intense, and you have multiple Google Docs going with essay drafts. The college application process can sort of take over and distract you from the other glories of senior year.
I’ve coached over 600 students through the college search and application process and have witnessed the sheer relief and triumph when students submit all their applications before Thanksgiving break – and yes, this means even submitting applications well in advance of their deadlines. Additional weight is taken off a student’s shoulders when they incorporate at least one likely college with fall notification so that they have a yes before the New Year! Instead of fussing about writing essays over your Thanksgiving break, you can enjoy quality time with your family and friends… or catch up on sleep. Same peace of mind will apply to your December break, too! And because you’ve applied to at least one admissions likely option with fall notification, you (fingers crossed!) have already been accepted to college! Congratulations!
Now, there might be reasons why it’s not realistic for you to submit your applications before Thanksgiving – namely, for our fine and performing artists who are building portfolios and preparing for auditions or for students awaiting Early Decision results – but at least do what you can to front-load all the essays for colleges you intend to apply to.
So, what should your college search and application process timeline look like in order to achieve this goal?
Conversations about the college search in earnest should begin at the beginning of 11th grade. Use the resources available to you through your high school, your family and network and the general Interwebs to inform your search. Be discerning about the list you’re building and engage in campus visits to at least a few compelling options. Plan to show up to 12th grade with your final list of colleges that you intend to apply to.
Even within a test-optional admissions landscape, the SAT and ACT continue to impact the college admission process. Take the PSAT in October of 11th grade and the PreACT in 10th, if offered by your school. Take stock of your academic and extracurricular commitments and make a plan for preparing and taking your preferred test at least once before the end of 11th grade. If your testing/admissions goals lead to retesting in 12th grade, plan to be done testing by the end of October; both the SAT and ACT are offered in October. Then, you’ll have time to review your score reports and submit scores – or not!
The summer before 12th grade is prime for completing the Common Application, which can be used to apply to over 1,000 colleges and universities. Secure an unofficial transcript from your high school before you leave for the summer to reference when completing your applications. Start drafting the Personal Essay early on in the summer to give yourself space to revise. Then, when colleges post their institutional-specific essays after August 1st, you’ll be ready to move forward. Since you’ve been discerning about your college list, you’ve selected around ten colleges that are a strong match for your personal and academic goals. If they all have college-specific essays, you can set the pace of submitting one college application per week through September, October and November – with some wiggle room for those essays with higher word counts.
Yes, it’s a focused, busy time, but keep your eyes on the prize(s): college acceptances, college scholarships, spreading your proverbial wings, your awesome future, etc. The more you personally invest in your college planning process, the greater satisfaction you will feel in the end.
So, when college applications become a topic of conversation at the Thanksgiving table, and your nosey – but well-intentioned, of course – relative asks you where you’re applying, you can confidently reply (with a tad of mystery), “I’ve submitted all my applications and am keeping my options open. Please pass the pumpkin pie.”
You’ve got this!