This time of year is full of high pressure, stress, and anxiety for high school students applying to colleges. Students must decide where and when to apply, craft admissions essays, and keep up with their grades at school. However, it can be less stressful if students get a head start on their application process.
Although many colleges have application deadlines as late as December or January, applicants should avoid the potentially overwhelming temptation to procrastinate.
Joan Kim, a senior at West Ranch High School, said in an interview with JSR, “It really helps to write some of your essays sooner because time becomes limited when senior year starts. It definitely makes the application process less stressful and faster.”
A good college application informs the college admission officers about your character and the personal qualities you can bring to a college, on top of your GPA and test scores written on the transcript. It should go through multiple changes and edits, and rushing to complete it near the deadline makes it easy to make the small mistakes that could be costly.
“I started it around July, and I’m still changing my statements, majors, and colleges. By preparing earlier, I thought I would have a ‘spread out’ time to organize the details and I won’t have to rush last minute to get recommendations and know whether I am done with the necessary credits or not,” said Jessica Yoon, a senior at West Ranch High School, in an interview with JSR.
Yoon suggested, “Know the priorities. Your personal statements and counselor/teacher recommendations should not be done last minute, and make sure you at least register for UC, Cal State, or the Common App beforehand. At the latest, the process should be started a month before applications open.”
Teachers, who must write recommendation letters for applicants, appreciate it when students come to them early. Dan Doggett, a teacher at West Ranch High School, said in an interview with JSR that early requests may also yield better recommendations.
“With more time, teachers will write a better letter,” Doggett said. “There are more opportunities to look at the information provided and to think more about the student and write a higher quality letter for them. At the last minute, you are likely to get a boilerplate letter that’s the same as the ones teachers provide to everybody.”
“Students need to understand that [writing recommendations] is part of what teachers do – to support the students in their application process. So we are expecting to be asked and there is no reason to be nervous about asking ahead of time,” Doggett added.
According to Bigfuture, a website with college information run by the College Board, “Colleges want a mix of students to create a rich campus community. They want the class valedictorians” but are also looking for “students who are going to be involved in a lot of activities and students who are musicians and students who are athletes and everything in between.” Thus, it is crucial for students to start early and figure out how they can best express their values, goals, and accomplishments to admissions officers.
Ultimately, the key to success on all applications is good time management, hard work, and careful research.