Can you believe it’s already December? If you’re a senior in high school (or the parent of one), we BOTH know the elephant in the room: regular decision college applications are imminently due! Yes, around New Year’s (as late as January 10th…which is still unnervingly close), the majority of non-Early Decision applications start determining who gets into most of the nation’s most competitive colleges and universities.
If you already sent in an Early Decision I or Early Action application, congratulations! You’ve got most of your regular decision applications already built. You’ve likely crafted your Common App essay and activities list in a way that makes you feel confident about the ideas you’re expressing and the chances they give you at earning a spot on that dream school’s early admissions list! If that’s you, all YOU need to do for your regular decision applications is supply all the supplemental essays required by your regular decision schools. (Still a large task, depending on your college list! But still, you’re allowed to pat yourself on the back before rolling up your sleeves again.) You might also consider making a few tweaks to your main Common Application.
If you have NOT yet hit submit on any applications, never fear: you still have time. Not much of it, but you can still finish everything—in a way that fully articulates who you are, what you’re passionate about, and what you have to offer a prospective college. And I’m here to help with my complete resource round-up—a full list of the expertise I’ve provided about applying to selective schools, laid out just waiting to help you with whatever challenge you need to tackle before those looming deadlines. Since I’m always adding new resources dedicated to helping you with your applications, my list of helpful articles keeps expanding.
So, here’s the NEW updated list to help you, wherever you are in your essay writing and application process! (And if you’re squared away, but know a friend who isn’t, please share this list of article with them!)
1) Understand the Common App
If you are super behind in your applications and haven’t found your way around the Common Application yet, here’s what you need to read ASAP in order to understand the different sections that are required of you and get the lay of the land: my thorough overview of the Common App. (If you’re REALLY in a hurry, here’s the quicker guide to the Common App!)
2) Write a Winning Common App Essay
This is the BIGGEST piece of your application: a 650-word essay in which you show the heart and soul of who you are, what you stand for, and connect the disparate dots of the rest of your college application. It’s no easy task, but here’s what I suggest:
First, have a look at this year’s Common App essay prompts.
Next, read a popular post I wrote about how to find your Common App essay topic. Keep in mind that you can basically write about anything and it will fit into one of the prompts. So focus on what will show YOU off best, not on what answers a prompt question the best.
Then, BEFORE you start writing, learn what I mean when I tell you that “you need an Organizing Principle.” Your essay needs to pull together the disparate pieces of your application and your resume and tell the colleges you’re applying to who you REALLY are. It’s a big job…
…but I can help you do it. Check out the exercises I’ve laid out in this piece about how to find your Organizing Principle—it will help you articulate the deep self-awareness that makes for a winning Common App essay.
If you find you get stuck in the writing process, let me help you blast through Common App Essay writer’s block. THEN, reread the previous step and figure out your organizing principle already!
3) Craft a Winning Common App Activities List
After your main essay, your Activities List gives your application readers the best overview into who you are and how you’ll contribute to their campus. And yet, I see people wasting the opportunities of this section with disappointing regularity (at least before I shine things up, that is)! It’s imperative that you organize and frame every item on your list to give you the most bang for your 10-activities-maximum list. This piece tells you how to write the Activities List that will make the early admissions reader sit up and take notice.
4) Write Effective Supplemental Essays for Individual Schools
After the sections for the main Common App are done, you still may have more work to do, depending on which schools you’re applying to. Every college has the option of requiring supplemental (or “additional”) essays for THEIR particular application. These themselves can take significantly longer than doing the basic Common App, so please don’t wait until the deadline to think of these! That said, the most common supplemental essay universities ask for is some variation on “Why us?” or “Why do you want to attend our college?” Here’s my fool-proof way of framing and writing the “why this college?” essay—it works for my students, and it can work for you too!
5) Avoid Some Common (and Some Not-So-Common) Mistakes
Please review a classic from this blog—this list of the 10 worst ways to market yourself to colleges—before hitting submit! Yes, despite how crazy some of them are, ALL of those “strategies” are very, very real…and very real mistakes. You’ll thank me later!
6) Put the Finishing Touches on your Applications!
If you’ve worked through this post step by step, you’ll be in great shape to send in your college applications with confidence. But it’s still hard to pull the trigger! How can you be sure that you’ve done absolutely everything you can to make sure that your dream school sees you in your best light? Here’s my final checklist to go through before you click submit!
And as always, I’m here to help if you have questions—don’t hesitate to reach out!
And if you know of anyone who’ll benefit from this information, please share. It’s a stressful time of year for everyone navigating the college process, and a little expert guidance can really help take the edge off. I’m wishing you luck as we enter the home stretch for these early application deadlines.