52 Weeks to College: Week 6 — Ready, Set, Go! Your College Application Marathon Starts Now

Ready. You’ve made your big decisions, you’ve done your pre-work, and you have a plan. You are now ready to apply to college.

Set. College applications for the 2013-2014 application year are now available and the Common Application is live.

Go! From now until the end of December, it is all about cranking out the applications. This week you start running the college application marathon.

Week 6 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

  • Begin working on the writing for your first application. For most applicants, their first application consists of the Common Application and a College Specific Writing Supplement. This means the application will have multiple writing components to it: the Common Application personal essay, along with some additional writing questions on the Supplement. Refer to the essay map you created last week to know what writing questions you will have to address on this first application.
  • Continue working on supplementary materials, such as portfolios, audition materials, research abstracts, and the like. Note: very few of you should have this to-do on your list because you are following Week 4's advice about exhibiting restraint when it comes to these kinds of materials.
  • Check the web sites of colleges on your list to see if and when admissions representatives will be coming to your school, your community, or a place near your home. Note these visits on your calendar and do your best to connect with the admissions representatives then. (We’ll have more advice about how to take advantage of these opportunities in a few weeks.)
  • Begin working on your first scholarship application. If you have identified scholarships for yourself that require separate applications, get to work on those now.
  • Continue researching scholarships. Presumably, you have already identified the scholarships available from the colleges on your list (see Week 2). Now focus on identifying scholarships available from businesses, civic and community organizations, religious organizations, foundations and the like.
  • Prep for your upcoming standardized tests. Last week you made a test prep schedule for yourself. It will only work if you work it! So go to it.

Tips & Tricks

Commit the time and energy necessary to produce your best essays for your college applications. One thing we know for sure about writing: it is a multi-step process that takes time and energy to do well. No one does their best writing in one draft. No one dashes off something profound in 30 minutes on the eve of a deadline. No one produces a standout essay without devoting considerable time and energy. NO ONE.

Draft, then revise, then finalize. Each of these steps in the writing process engages a different part of your brain and requires you to do distinctive tasks. Most applicants make the mistake of trying to do all three at once. That makes it much harder than it needs to be. Instead, do it step by step.

  • Draft. In this step, focus on developing and organizing your ideas.
  • Revise. When you are revising, focus on the flow of the essay and on making sure your voice comes through loud and clear. An essay that flows well carries the reader effortlessly from one idea to the next and makes reading it a pleasure for the admissions officer. An essay that has a strong voice is one that uses word choice, tone, and rhythm to make the essay distinctively yours. Admissions officers yearn for voice in the personal essays because that is how the admissions officer is getting to know the real you. 
  • Finalize. This is the step that allows you to get everything just so. Here you focus on making sure the essay has correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation and is free of typos.

Use your prior test score reports to make your test prep more efficient and effective. We assume that most of you have already taken the required standardized tests (SAT, ACT, and/or SAT Subjects) at least once by now; and therefore, you have one or more test score reports. If you are like most applicants, you zeroed in on your test scores and ignored everything else contained within the reports.

Now is the time to pay attention to all that information you ignored earlier. That information shows which questions you got right, which questions you skipped, and which questions you got wrong on each section of the test. It also shows the relative level of difficulty for each question and the general topic area for the question. In other words, it lays out your personalized test prep plan for you!

Analyze the report to find out where you need to improve and then concentrate your test preparation there. Let’s say you want to improve your Critical Reading score and you discover that the Sentence Completion questions were your big downfall on your prior tests, but that you did really well on Passage Based Reading questions. How should you spend your time preparing? By focusing on Sentence Completion questions – not the Passage Based Reading questions or the Critical Reading section in general!

As of this week, you are well and truly underway with your applications. Congratulations! Keep up the good work — you are right on track for a sane and successful fall of your senior year.


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.