Making the Most of the College Application Process

This is just about the time when most high school seniors start working on- or at least think about working on- their college applications.

The college application process can be daunting because it requires a great deal of time, effort, and detail.  And, because many application deadlines are months away, it may be hard to find the motivation to start working on your applications now.

But think of it this way: the college application is your opportunity to showcase all of the academic work and extracurricular activities you’ve done throughout high school. If you start working on them now, the entire process will be less stressful and you will have the time to get feedback from your family, college counselors, and mentors to make your application even better. 

sb92Here are some tips for getting a head-start:

1.) Collect Information

Once you’ve decided which colleges you would like to apply to, visit those college websites and start making a comprehensive list of all the information you need to gather and complete. There are now 391 colleges and universities that accept The Common Application, which simplifies the application process. Almost every school, whether they accept the Common Application or not, will require that you submit a number of supplemental essays, evaluation forms, and test scores. 

Your final list might look something like this:

College X:

- Common Application

- Counselor Evaluation Form

- Teacher Evaluation Form

- One example of expository prose

-SAT I scores

- Three SAT II scores

- Supplemental essay on why you want to attend College X

- Preliminary Interview


College Y:

- Common Application

- Teacher Evaluation Form

- SAT I scores

- Mid-Year grade reporty


College Z:

- College Z Application 

- Teacher Evaluation Form

- Parent Evaluation Form

- Supplemental essay on your most important high school moment

- SAT I or ACT scores

2.) Develop Your Timeline

Once you develop your own list, it will be easier to create a timeline for working on your applications. For instance, you can see from the list above that you will need one teacher recommendation for each of the three schools. If you want the same teacher to be your recommender in all three instances, it is better to ask him or her upfront to create three slightly different variations of the recommendation letter for colleges X, Y, and Z rather than going back to your teacher later on, after the initial letter has already been written. 

Creating a list will also help you manage your time. You can see that College X requires you to schedule an interview. If you plan on visiting the college to have an in-person interview, that trip may require some planning – not just for you, but for your parents. Even though the logical place to start the application process might be to jump right into filling out forms, there may be time-sensitive things you need to get started on first, like scheduling a college visit, asking teachers and counselors for recommendations, and requesting that your high school send copies of your transcript to all of the colleges you are applying to. 

sb933.) Create Goals and Set-Up Time To Accomplish Them

You are a busy high school student. You’ve got to complete homework for all of your classes, write an article for your school newspaper, practice with your team for a big game this weekend, and make time for family and friends. How are you going to find time to take on the big task of applying to colleges and make the whole process more manageable for you?

You are totally capable of making your college applications as good as they can be, in addition to meeting all your academic, extracurricular, and social goals. They key is to create realistic goals for yourself and develop a specific action plan. 

Your goals and action plan may look something like this:


1. Complete the Common Application four weeks before the earliest deadline, December 15. 

2. Ask my English teacher for feedback on my college essays and revise accordingly

3. Find my best piece of expository prose from high school so far to send in


Action Plan:

1. Every Saturday from 2 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. for the next five weeks, I will complete two pages of the Common Application.

2. I will spend the second week working solely on my college essays, and the fifth week making revisions to my essays once I have gotten feedback from my English teacher

3. Ask my English teacher if he/she would be willing to give me feedback on my college essays by October 21

4. During the first Saturday in November, when I do not have a weekend game, I will spend the morning looking for my best piece of high school writing to submit to College X. 


sb65Of course, even the most-detailed action plan is useless if you do not make it a priority to use the time you’ve set aside to accomplish your specific college application goals. Post your goals and action plan in a place where you can see them daily. Ask someone you trust, like a parent or your best friend, to remind you and encourage you along the way to work on your applications. 

Your college applications provide you with an opportunity to tell a story about who you are and what matters most to you. By planning ahead, you will simplify the process and give yourself all the time you need to do create a distinguishable college application and increase your chances of getting into your top choice school. 


Melissa is an Assistant Brand Manager at Time Inc. Home Entertainment where she manages brand extension projects for numerous publications including Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, People, and Entertainment Weekly.  In college she was a Viral Marketing Intern for CBS Evening News and an Editorial Intern for Time for Kids and Sports Illustrated for Kids. Melissa majored in Psychology at Hamilton College and currently resides in New York City. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.

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  3. Top 10 Things Companies Look For When Making Hiring Decisions: Part 1

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