Tip of the Month: Getting an early start on your application

Last night the Common Application went live!

Now, I am hesitant to suggest that just because you CAN access the Common Application on August 1st that you should.  I completely understand that students want to do what they can on their application before the craziness of senior year begins. I agree with that sentiment because whatever you can do to give yourself some breathing room later on makes sense.  However, before I advise you on how to get a jump on your college applications, I want to remind you that this is your senior year. Spend the year being a senior – with all of the wonderful things that go along with that – and not just being a college applicant.  A college will want to accept you (and I promise that a college will want to accept you) because of all the things you do that make you an interesting person and not because you spent hours overthinking your application.

So, what can you do in August to best prepare yourself for the application process?

Some day when you are not stressed or pressed for time, pour yourself a cup of coffee, tea, or water and fill out the nitty gritty parts of the Common Application. You’ll be asked for your name, family and school information, activities and the like.  This is a time consuming process, but the nice part of the Common Application is that if you are applying to any of the over 700 Common Application schools, you only have to do it once.  You can also fill in part of it, save it and come back to it later. There is specific information you will need to fill out for each college on our member pages, and those are quickly being added to the Common App each day.

Find out if any of the schools to which you are applying requires additional writing samples as Harvey Mudd does.  Take a look at those questions as well as the new essay topics on the Common App and start thinking (if you haven’t already) about which one fits you best. Think about the stories you want to share with colleges and find the topic that will allow you share what you want. The topics are intentionally very open-ended.  Start on drafts of essays – no matter how rough.  There is nothing harder to start from than a blank page, so get something, anything, down as a start.

Do some thinking about who you would like to write your recommendations, and make sure that you are submitting recommendations that fill a college’s requirement. In HMC’s case, this means getting one recommendation from a math or science teacher and one from a humanities or social science teacher.  Be ready to ask your teachers early so they don’t get overcommitted. Perhaps send them an e-mail letting them know what you enjoyed about their class and reminding them of any projects or papers you did for them.

Take a quick look at registration and test dates for any standardized testing that might be required by your colleges.

Continue to think about what kind of academic and social environment would provide you the challenge, support, and inspiration you are seeking.  Once you’ve given this some thought, answering specific colleges’ questions about why you want to go to their college will be much easier.

None of these steps should take you a huge amount of time, especially if you break down filling out the Common Application into manageable steps.  Take time to enjoy your summer, read a book, go to movies, or enjoy the outdoors.  However, if you set aside even a small amount of time now to get a start on some pieces of your application, you will be in a better position come the fall.  This all works out in the end. I promise.