52 Weeks to College: Week 1 — A Week-by-Week Plan for Applying to College Successfully and Sanely

Applying to college is a complex and difficult project. You know that. Your parents know that. Your teachers and college counselors know that. Admissions officers know that. In other words, everyone involved in the process knows that.

In fact, knowing that is exactly what might make you feel a bit overwhelmed. That's understandable because the truth is that you don’t have all that much experience managing complex and difficult projects, let alone projects as high stakes as applying to college. So what are you going to do?

The grown-up thing to do is to take on the challenge. You’ve been preparing for this for the last 16 or 17 years. You are ready. You can do it. You really can.

Of course, you can do it better if you take advantage of the resources that are out there to help you. Like your parents, teachers, and college counselors. Like admissions officers. Like websites, apps, and books. Like this series.

52 Weeks to College is a week-by-week plan for applying to college. It breaks this complex and difficult project down into weekly to-do lists. Based on the Master Plan for applying to college found in our forthcoming book, How to Prepare a Standout College Application, 52 Weeks to College is designed for any applicant who intends to apply to top U.S. colleges.

Each week, we’ll post your list of to-dos for the week, along with some tips and tricks for getting those to-dos done. Your job? Come back weekly and work the plan. If you do, you’ll have more success and less stress in the process. Guaranteed.

Ready to get started? Then below you’ll find your to-do’s for this week, along with the promised tips and tricks.

Week 1 To-Dos

This Week and Every Week

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.
  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year. 

This Week

  • Download the Master Plan. It will give you a big picture overview of what you’ll be doing over the next year. For now, just look it over and get a general sense of what will be expected from you each month. In a few weeks, you’ll be tweaking the Master Plan to fit your own situation.
  • Choose your calendar and put all the “non-college stuff” on it. You must use a calendar this year, because in order to get everything done, you are going to have to grab free hours whenever you have them. You need to know when you can focus on the college application process and when you are going to be preoccupied by school or life. So even if you haven't really used a calendar before, commit to using a calendar this year, whether paper or electronic or whatever method works for you. Start by putting all the key dates related to the non-college stuff on your calendar right now.
  • Set up your filing system and file all the stuff you have already collected in it. An avalanche of information is the nature of the college application beast. You have to have a system for managing it. Once you’ve set up your system, gather up everything you already have related to the college application process, sort it and file it. That goes for everything – including your electronic stuff!
  • Order your copy of How to Prepare a Standout College Application. The 52 Weeks to College series assumes that you will have access to this resource and will refer you to it often. (Note that the publication date for the book is August 23, just under two months away. In the meantime, anything you need from the book, like the Master Plan, will be included here.) 

Tips and Tricks

Use a single calendar.

Don’t have separate calendars for school, personal, and college applications. That is a sure recipe for disaster in the form of double or triple booking yourself and missing deadlines. You can use either paper or electronic versions.  For most students, electronic is the way to go because you always have your cell phones on you, and your cell phones have calendars on them.  

Set up a Gmail or other free email account that you use exclusively for applying to college.

Setting up a dedicated email address offers two advantages. First, you can create a professional, appropriately serious email identity that is worthy of an applicant to a top U.S. college, and you can still have whatever email identity you want for other purposes. Second, by setting up a separete email accout you have also set up an automatic “filing” system for your college related emails, because those are the ONLY emails that will come to this email address (so long as you maintain the discipline of using that address only for this purpose). 

Set up three identical filing systems.

One of the problems with figuring out your filing system is that the information will come in many forms — snail mail, email, voicemail, notes, internet research, hard copy brochures and folders. Not only do you have to figure out how to store all this various information, you also have to figure out how to retrieve it when you need it.

For most students, the easiest way to go is to have three storage locations that all have the same file structure – set up one storage system in email, set up another storage location either on a hard drive on your computer or in the cloud, and set up a third in old-fashioned paper file folders. To get you started, we've compiled a basic list of files you should set up in each storage location. 

Once you've set up those organizational tools for yourself, you'll be all set to tackle the rest of the series.


About the Authors:

Alison Cooper Chisolm heads the college admissions consulting practice at Ivey Consulting. She came to private consulting after working in admissions for more than 10 years at three selective universities (Southern Methodist University, University of Chicago, and Dartmouth College).

Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process and make smart choices about higher education.

You can find more college admissions tips in their book How to Prepare a Standout College Application (Wiley, August 2013), and follow them on Twitter @IveyCollege.


About the 52 Weeks to College Series:

52 Weeks to College is a week-by-week plan for applying to college. It breaks this complex and difficult project down into weekly to-do lists with supporting tips and tricks for getting it all done. Based on the Master Plan for applying to college found in our forthcoming book, How to Prepare a Standout College Application52 Weeks to College is designed for any applicant who intends to apply to top U.S. colleges. For those of you who are just discovering the 52 Weeks series and want to catch up, click here.