Tip of the Month: Getting an early start

Last night the Common Application went live!

How many of you have received advice from teachers, counselors, parents, or friends telling you to start your application early? You might even have drafts of your Common Application personal statement saved somewhere on your computer… It’s definitely nice to do some of the work before senior year begins and the concept of free time gets buried underneath homework, extracurricular activities, work, and spending time with friends and family.

But maybe you shouldn’t start your application now just because you can. You’re going into your senior year, and it’s important to spend these last weeks of summer enjoying summer. It’s also important to spend your senior year being a senior and doing all the things that go along with that. Don’t become just a college applicant; stay you. A college will want to accept you (and I promise that a college will want to accept you) because of all the things you’ve already done and all the traits you already possess, not because you spent all your waking hours obsessing over your application. Whew.

So, are you telling me to… procrastinate?

No, not exactly. I’m telling you to not overthink the application process for the sake of overthinking the application process. I’ll also admit that it’s a good idea to do some of the work sooner rather than later. So here are some suggestions for getting started

  • 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 Application 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 personal statement prompts on the Common Application and start thinking (if you haven’t already) about which one fits you best. What are some of the experiences, personal qualities, or ideas you want to convey to the admission committee? What kind of a student, friend, or community member are you? Think about stories or examples that bring those abstract descriptors to life. Continue to think about the kinds of academic and social environments you want for your college experience. What resources or opportunities are important to you? In what ways do you want to be challenged, and in what ways do you want to find comfort and support? Once you’ve given this some thought, answering the notorious “why us?” question that many colleges ask will be a lot easier.
  • Most essay topics are intentionally open-ended so that you can choose exactly how you want to put your best foot forward. Write some stuff down. It can be as loose as a stream-of-consciousness account of a story, or as developed as a working draft. Do whatever works for you, because the important thing is to get something down on paper as a start. As the fall progresses, you learn more about colleges, and learn more about yourself, it’ll be nice to have a starting point you can build on rather than a blank page to stare at.
  • Think 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. Have you taken either the SAT or ACT? Have you taking two SAT subject tests, including Math II? If you’re an international student, have you taken the TOEFL or IELTS? If so, you’ve done all the testing required by Harvey Mudd.

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.