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Preparing for the College Application Season: Your Complete Survival Guide

Student Life

October 19, 2023

A lot of students have heard stories from their parents and friends about the excitement that happens in college. However, most don't warn us about how stressful the admissions process can be. Below is a complete survival guide to help you get through this uncertain period that many encounter.

1. Lists, lists, lists.

Lists are vital because they can keep you on schedule and remind you of application aspects you have yet to complete.

The first list one should have is of colleges they want to apply to. A lot of seniors are unsure about where to apply (trust me, I know at least fifteen who have no idea).

A college list will help one focus on specific sections that are important to each school. More importantly, it will prevent you from doing extra work and help you to remain focused.

Secondly, write down due dates and a work schedule. Between the different application deadlines, interviews, and schoolwork, seniors are going to have a jam-packed fall. Giving yourself deadlines will help you to remain on track, so create a schedule that works for you.

Maybe it's finishing one supplemental essay every three days or completing one full application a week. Whatever you choose, listing out your to-do's will ensure your applications are submitted on time.

After attending the Harvard Crimson Coaching Academy this summer, I understand how important it is to have a college list and a due-date schedule. One major takeaway that I had from this experience was that you never want to fall behind on your college applications, especially if you are applying to ten or more schools. I learned that essays are crucial for your application, so make sure that you keep up to date with everything that you have to do.

Finally, we have a list of different locations. These places could be your desk or kitchen table, Starbucks, or the public library. Switching settings to work on your applications will provide you with a break.

Most importantly, going to a new environment might sound irrelevant, but it can help with focusing. Whenever I'm studying for a while, I go to a Starbucks near my home. It helps to change the environment, and sometimes you even get inspiration from everything that is around you, especially when it is not your desk and school books.

Here is a link to an article from The New York Times, written by Benedict Carey, on how changing study locations helps improve retention.

Photo by Glenn Carsten-Peters from Unsplash

2. A Good TV show.

Another way to have a break is by watching TV. Doing so, especially mindless reality shows, provides solid downtime. The best part is that episodes can act as a timer.

If you want a shorter break, you could watch an episode that you are halfway through, or a longer one could be an hour-long episode. The timing of TV also gives you a good timer. If you watch The Bachelor, and it airs every Tuesday, you could aim to have all or part of your work done by the time the new episode starts. Then you know that you have a break, and might be more productive so that you can achieve your goal. Once one is over, you can go back to completing your application.

3. A Group of Supportive Friends.

This is the most important piece of the survival kit. Having friends that will be open for long FaceTime breaks or coffee runs will help your mental health a lot. They can provide fun interruptions from the stress of college applications and help you to not feel alone.

Plus, you can create study groups with your friends to make the applications more enjoyable. They will be going through the process too, so there is a shared understanding of the stress and process.

. Photo by Kimson Doan from Unsplash

4. The mental health starter pack: Fitness, water, and a good night's sleep.

These three things are basic but necessary. Keeping active, whether it's a sport or running at home, acts as a healthy distraction. It will also get you out of your desk chair for an hour or two.

Sleep is equally important, because a long day of working on college applications will leave you exhausted. Getting at least eight hours of sleep is crucial for students. This is because when you are asleep, your brain processes everything that occurs throughout the day (including interview prep and supplemental essay ideas!). However, a good sleep schedule isn't always attainable, so try to get as many hours as you can. Here is a link to an article about the negative effects of not sleeping by Harvard University Medical School.


Finally, drink water. Dehydration has many negative effects, such as headaches, increased anxiety, and decreased focus. Make sure to drink at least one bottle of water to stay focused. Here is a link to a healthline article about the symptoms and negative effects of dehydration.

5. Copies

Arguably the most important part of college applications is the essay. Whether it is the common app essay or one of the many supplemental essays, these could be the determining factor in which college you end up attending. As most of you know by now, these essays need multiple proofreads, including changing vital parts of the essay.

If you keep copies of each version of the essay, you can easily incroperate parts of earlier drafts into newer ones. Also, you can refer back to the essay later, when you are preparing for interviews. Keep these organized too, in a folder, it will help you find them easier once you need to access them.

Photo by Super Snapper from Unsplash

6. Passion

Nobody wants to write a college essay about something that they don't completely love, but sometimes it seems like it will make the application better. The best thing you can do is remain true to yourself, and be passionate about everything that you do. Let's say you enjoy running more than anything else on your application, but it isn't the most impressive activity in the extracurricular section.

Write about running! Colleges want you to be honest, and show the admissions officers your personality, and what you want to do anytime you can. Plus, it will be easier to come up with two hundred and fifty words about your favorite activity than a club that you are only doing for the application.

Keep these tips with you, and college application season will come and go faster than you think! Mental health is a priority, because it will benefit your wellbeing and the quality of your applications. In the end, you will end up at the college that you were meant to be at. Remember to have a positive mindset and know that you have got the application season covered!

Ava Jankowski
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Writer since Aug, 2023 · 19 published articles

Ava Jankowski is a rising senior at Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh, PA. She enjoys writing, traveling, shopping, mock trial, and playing tennis. She is excited for any learning opportunities possible. Ava will attend The School of the New York Times Summer Academy this July.