You’ve made it! It’s senior year and you can finally apply to college. Step one, you created a Common Application account. Now all that’s left are steps 2-100… There are a lot of moving pieces you need to keep track of throughout the college application process, and it’s easy to get off schedule and end up throwing together 10 supplemental essays on December 31st. In order to avoid that hassle and enjoy the holiday season with your family, you should make a roadmap for yourself at the very beginning of senior year. Here are some tips for doing just that!

Set your priorities

You’re probably already busy with a full course load, extracurriculars, and volunteering—not to mention hanging out with friends, sleeping, and taking time for yourself. Now that you’re adding college applications to the mix, you’ll basically have an extra class’s worth of homework each night. That’s why step 1 in making your roadmap is to determine your priorities. Let’s consider an example. It’s a really busy day, you have a club meeting after school, soccer practice, a quiz tomorrow, and a college app to work on. Which commitment is going to budge? If you don’t rank your priorities, you might feel stressed and overwhelmed by all you have to choose from and accomplish. However, if you put college apps and grades on the top tier, your club on the second tier, and soccer on the third tier, the decision is basically made for you.  The way you tier your priorities is totally up to you, but we recommend putting college apps pretty high up on your list to arm yourself against the temptation of procrastination.

Make a college list

Before you even begin writing your common application essay, you need to have an idea of where you’re applying. Devote some time to researching the schools you’re interested in and add them to your Common Application. Then stick to this list! We recommended about 12-15 schools. If you keep modifying your college list, you won’t be able to write school-specific supplements right away.

Do your research

After you find a handful of reach, match, and safety schools you’d be happy to attend, and find out how many supplements each school requires or recommends. Then, carve out enough time in your schedule that’s proportional to the amount of work each college has.

Make a calendar

Whether it’s on your phone, your google calendar, on your wall, or in your notebook, you need a visual agenda that maps out your schedule for completing all of the components of your college application. Make sure you account for unforeseen setbacks and don’t schedule yourself to be working up until the last minute.

Stick to your plan

Creating the schedule isn’t the hard part; it only takes 10 minutes and some hi-lighters to fill out your planner. The challenge comes with sticking to your plan when times get tough. The weeks when you have plans with friends, an SAT to prepare for, or a school project, you still need to be diligent about staying on track. That might look like setting a small goal for yourself, like writing for just ten minutes per day. You might get carried away in your writing and write for an hour, or you might write only for ten minutes. Either way, you’ll be further ahead than you would be if you allowed yourself to slack off or didn’t structure your time strictly. If you fall behind, don’t feel guilty, but get back on track ASAP.

Prioritize certain schools

Just as you set your priorities with your general schedule, you need to prioritize schools within your college list. You should focus on your Early Decision/Early Action schools, UCs, and rolling admissions schools first. The early deadline for most schools is November 1 or 15th. UC applications are due by November 30th. Rolling admissions, just like the title suggests, don’t have a hard deadline. But the earlier you apply, the higher chance you have of getting in (because you’re competing against fewer applicants) and the sooner you know. It’s a great idea to apply to a strong match or reach school during the early round, and a safety school that offers rolling admission around the same time. After that, you can shift your focus to your Regular Decision reach and match schools.

Manage stress

Managing stress looks different for everyone and in every situation. When you’re working on college applications, you should take breaks as you write your essays. We recommend using the pomodoro technique, so that you take a five minute break after every 25 minutes of writing, then a 25 minute break every two hours. You can manage stress in a more general sense are to take some of the weight off of your own shoulders. Ask for help when you need it from your mentor, teacher, or parent. Also, make sure you check in about your priorities often so that you don’t find yourself overwhelmed by all of the things on your plate.

Add time to recharge and do things that you enjoy

When you’re making your roadmap, remember that you’re a human, not an essay-writing machine. Schedule in time to exercise, take naps, and have fun with your friends. As important as college applications are, your mental health is infinitely more important.

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