Applying to college is a massive project with lots of moving parts, an avalanche of information, and critical deadlines. That means “optimal organization” is key to minimizing your stress in your college application process. What do I mean by “optimal organization?” Think Goldilocks – you are looking to find the organizational system that is “just right” for you.
Cornerstones of Your Organizational System
You need a SINGLE CALENDAR that has everything on it. Don’t fall prey to having a separate calendar for school, personal, and college apps. That is a sure recipe for disaster in the form of double/triple booking and missing deadlines. You can use paper or electronic. For most students, electronic is the way to go because you always have your cell phones with you and your cell phones have your calendars on them.
You need a TO DO LIST that you keep for more than 5 minutes. In other words, you want to be able to add things to your to do list that you will do in the future – maybe a year or more in the future. So writing on your hand or scribbling on the back of a piece of paper is no longer adequate. You can use paper or electronic. Again for most students, electronic seems to work better because you always have it with you!
You need an INFORMATION STORAGE AND RETRIEVAL SYSTEM. I mentioned the avalanche of information that is a part of the college application process above. And truly it is an avalanche. One of the problems with figuring out your information storage and retrieval system is that the information will come in all forms – snail mail, email, voice mail, notes, web research, hard copy brochures and folders. Not only do you have to figure out how to store all this various information, you 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 location in email, set up one storage location electronically (on the hard drive of your computer or in the cloud), and set up one in an old-fashioned file cabinet. To get you started, I’ve compiled a basic list of files you should set up in each storage location.
Establishing Habits of Organization
Once you’ve set up your system, there is only one thing that stands between you and success: USING IT! Your system will only work if you actually use it on a consistent and regular basis. That means it needs to be an ingrained habit. And that is why I suggest you get organized now because it gives you time to establish the habits that will make this organizational system go even when it is crazy busy time. The best habits are those we do so routinely that we don’t even think about them. How do you make using your organizational habit a habit like that? Consistent repetition and rewards.
Start by committing to doing these three things daily:
- Consult your calendar and to do list at the beginning of the day.
- Update your calendar and to do list at the end of the day, including showing whether you’ve done these three things.
- Process things into your information storage and retrieval system at the end of the day once you’ve updated your calendar and to do list.
Then – and here’s the best part – figure out a reward to give yourself at these important milestones:
- When You Get It All Set Up
- When You Do Your Daily Organizing for Four Days in A Row
- When You Do Your Daily Organizing for 21 Days Out of 28
- When You Do Your Daily Organizing for 81 Days Out of 90
Ready, set, organize!
Comments or Questions?
Post your best organizational tools, tips, tricks and rewards!!!!
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 (most recently at Dartmouth College). She works with students and families throughout the U.S. and abroad. Follow Alison on Twitter (@IveyCollege)