Application Stampede: Admission is Not a Horse Race

It all started with one senior in Texas, who submitted his Common Application within 3 hours of the Common Application going live - one little application that would have gone unnoticed except that the New York Times decided it would be a great feature story ("Pulling an All-Nighter for the College Application").

Just like that we have a stampede — all the seniors applying to selective universities are suddenly in a frenzied rush to submit their Common Applications.  I've gotten phone calls, emails, and texts from seniors who are worried they are "way behind."

Wrong, wrong, wrong.  College admission at selective universities is NOT a horse race.  You don't get in because you cross the finish line first, second or third.  You get in because you stand out from the other applicants.  If you read to the bottom of the New York Times story, you find out that the Dean of Admissions where Mr. First applied said exactly that.  (But, of course, a lot of you didn't read to the bottom — you just read the part where some guy in a little town in Texas beat you to the punch and you were off to the races...)

So WHOA ponies.  Pay attention.  Take a breath.  Refocus yourselves.  Even if you are applying Early Decision, Early Action or some other kind of early to your top choice school, you HAVE TIME.  Remember the objective here is to "get in" not "get your name in the New York Times."  How do you get in?  You stand out from the other applicants with an application that is more compelling.

What makes an application more compelling?

  • Coherence (which requires thoughtful reflection and careful assembly)
  • Completeness (which requires gathering information over a period of time)
  • Accuracy (which requires careful proofreading) and
  • Well-written essays (which require multiple drafts and good editing)

Simply put, you cannot generate an application of this caliber in a rush.  That's why all good counselors advise you to work at college applications in a manner that avoids RUSHING at any time during the process.

How do you avoid rushing?  You pace yourself.  Now I won't lie, the pace is a quick trot through the fall, but it is a controlled pace, not a full-on gallop in the middle of a stampede.  Just to prove it can be done, I'm sharing two schedules with you:

  • an Early Decision Schedule for those of you who are applying early decision (or any other early variant) to one school and regular decision to the rest and
  • a Regular Decision Schedule for those of you who are applying regular decision to all your schools.

Both schedules are paced so that you can take the time you need to assemble a compelling application.

Comments or Questions?

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Alison Cooper Chisolm is a former admissions officer at three selective universities and now heads our college admissions consulting practice.  She provides  one-on-one coaching to students and families about all aspects of the college admissions process.