By Zach, IvyWise Principal College Admissions Counselor
It’s finally Winter Break. Sweat pant-clad family members sit around on a weekday with relaxed smiles on their faces. As they chat with one another, they can’t help but smile in their relaxation and contentment. But all you can think about is the application that’s halfway done, the essay that’s 200 words above the limit, and the supplement that’s not-yet started. You aren’t relaxed at all; instead, you are equally itching and dreading going back to your room with your noise-cancelling headphones and your college application to-do list. For you, joy of the holidays is practically a myth.
Typically, a college will receive half of its applications within 48 hours of the deadline. I have seen too many seniors stressed during the holidays, scrambling to hit submit at 11:59 p.m. on December 31 instead of ringing in the New Year. I don’t want students to miss out on the most wonderful time of the year, so I have a different deadline: December 23. (Not required, but “highly recommended.”)
Whether or not you have family holidays in the days to follow, you deserve to properly enjoy your time off from school after an incredibly busy four months.
Here are my five tips to help students stay organized so they can turn in the strongest college application, while also properly enjoying winter break.
Keep your foot on the accelerator.
Run through the tape. Finish strong. However you’ve heard it, the sentiment is clear: continue to focus on your coursework so you can turn in a glowing mid-year report. The mid-year report is sent to all colleges to which you applied Regular Decision, as well as any to which you are deferred, and it encompasses your grades from your first two quarters/first trimester. The supreme challenge of the fall of senior year is that you must get your best grades in the hardest classes you’ve had while applying to multiple colleges. It’s crucial you accomplish all three. Because school should always come first, how do you best balance the college application aspect?
Make a spreadsheet of the schools on your list, sorted by their deadlines.
Create a column with the following additional headers: writing supplements, interviews, demonstrated interest. Put an X for each that apply. The schools with the most X’s will require the most attention, and you should start paying attention now. An organized student is a happy student.
Don’t leave your supplements for last.
Just because they are shorter does not mean they are easier! Supplements are arguably more important than the personal statement on the application. On one hand, supplemental essays allow you to show more of who you are; an admission counselor should learn something new and more after reading each prompt, so be sure to take advantage of supplements to display a variety of experiences and opinions. On the other hand, institutions add writing supplements because they are looking for students who are willing to put in more work and more research specific to them. A well-written, tailored supplement that genuinely feels like the student put in careful time and effort will be noticed – and will often tip the scales when close decisions are being made.
Determine which of your schools offer interviews and schedule them now.
Interviews are almost always optional – which is code for highly recommended, which is code for “if you want to give your application a boost, you should do this.” Interviews can be conducted on campus by admission staff, near your hometown by alumni, or virtually through Skype. Regardless of format, the deadline to request or have your interview is always before that final application deadline. Map out your commitments before December 23 – you may suddenly realize you only have a handful of days that you can make a trip to that campus. Finally, putting in interview requests now saves you from the frenzy of trying to schedule last minute; trust me, final-day interview gridlock is worse than holiday traffic.
Demonstrate you care.
Many universities will track demonstrated interest, meaning a campus visit, an interview, or even an email is logged into your file and influences your chances of admission. As you’re applying to schools on your list, you will come across accomplished faculty, impressive offerings, and unique traditions; these are perfect topics about which to email your admission counselor. I very much discourage emailing your admission counselor every two weeks, but a thoughtful email with real questions every two months will show you care about the school and are interested in learning more. And, from an admission standpoint, it’s in your best interest.
The last couple of weeks before January 1 application deadlines can be the most stressful for college bound seniors. It’s not uncommon for students to need help reviewing applications, refining essays, and more at the zero hour. At IvyWise we have a number of services for seniors to help them finish their essays and confidently submit the best applications possible.