Time is a fall-term senior’s most precious commodity. Nevertheless, year after year we see seniors making the same time management mistake as they play the college admissions game: they put application work ahead of schoolwork and test prep. Oops!
It’s a mistake that has two negative consequences: first, it prevents seniors from doing their best work and getting the best grades they can (remember: colleges care more about your grades than ANYTHING else), and second, it inevitably leads to greater stress for them and their families. And their #1 accomplice in this crime? Their well-intentioned parents who simply want them to get their applications done… NOW!
Most of the seniors with whom we work at CollegePrepExpress are busy during the fall getting the best grades they can, preparing for their last SATs and/or ACTs (juniors take note: if you set a goal to be DONE with your standardized tests in your junior year, you’ll gain a huge advantage and have much less stress in your senior year), and working on their CommonApp and supplements. And that’s in addition to their regular commitments to sports, extracurriculars, community service, and other responsibilities they’ve had throughout high school. Not to mention trying to enjoy the status and privileges that go with being a senior. It’s a huge load to carry, creating levels of stress and anxiety most students have never experienced before. (One of the silver linings, though, is that it serves as great preparation for managing the million different directs in which they’ll be pulled in college.)
If you’ve been making this mistake, we strongly encourage you re-prioritize your college admissions to-do list. Working on applications in the name of getting them done, often weeks and even months before their deadlines, you squander the opportunity to focus on schoolwork, i.e., first marking period grades, and raising standardized test scores. For example, we are currently working with students taking the SATs and ACTs in September through November. The EARLIEST application deadlines are 11/1 and 11/15 (for ED and EA). Left to their own devices–and the often relentless nagging of their parents, who understandably want the applications finished–many of these students will spend significant time in September and October writing their personal essays, working on their activities list, and digging into the application supplements. (Incidentally, CPE’s advice is to do much of this work over the summer, but, if you didn’t do it, don’t fret, particularly if you’re not submitting an early application). By dividing their time and attention among school, test prep, and application writing, students tend not to do their best work on any of them, and juggling all these balls tends to raise stress to unprecedented levels. We see it every year.
A much better approach is to prioritize and work through your to-do list one item at a time. For example, if you’re taking an October SAT and/or ACT, you should spend all, or at least most, of your time preparing for those exams. Once they’re over (at which point you can’t do anything to raise the scores), you turn your attention to the applications. It may get your parents off your back to finish your apps as soon as you can, but you might want to explain to them that given the college admissions calendar of exam dates and application deadlines, which of course you had nothing to do with, it is much smarter to work single-mindedly toward the next big deadline.