It’s that time of year. Yeah, it’s the gift season, but it’s also frantic, college application frenzy season.
As deadlines for many college applications loom just around the corner, many students are now in what we call “Holiday Crunch” mode. If you’re a student–or a parent of a student–like most, who plan to use the Winter Break as a chance to get some wrapping done (as in, wrapping up applications), here are some tips for how to best use your time.
1. Put the finishing touch on your college essays
One of the most stress-inducing aspects of many college applications is without a doubt the essay portion. Students often struggle over which topic to choose and then find that after finally landing on one to write, they still have to actually write the thing!
The nice part about using Winter Break to crank out your essay is that you’ll have fewer day-to-day distractions. You can sit down and work through parts of your essay, and then come back to it later if you need to take a break.
2. Triple check that you’ve submitted any required supplements
Seriously–triple check! Look at the requirements for each of your college applications and go over each item carefully. This may seem like a given, but you’d be surprised at how easy it can be to overlook a simple page or form. And, having your application tossed out over a tiny technical detail is downright nightmare territory.
3. Proofread, proofread again, and then proofread again
Apparently, we like doing things in threes. But, yes, you really should proofread everything you’re about to submit–multiple times! Simple spelling or grammatical errors in your application can put an instant black mark on your chances for admission, especially if it’s a highly selective school.
It may seem that most colleges would see a small error and “let it slide”, and you may even be right, but if you’re selecting from two very similar students and one had a typo and the other didn’t, wouldn’t you probably choose the student who took the extra time to thoroughly proofread?
Bonus tip: You probably have a bunch of friends on break, too. You could probably lure them over with baked goods and coerce them into reading everything. Sometimes a second set of eyes is best.
4. Make sure your recommendation letters are submitted
Hopefully you’ve already found some people to write a few gushing recommendations. Now is the time to follow up with them and make sure everything is in order and they have either given them to you or submitted them directly.
5. Make sure you’ve paid your application fee
Holy smokes, this one can be a big “gotcha”. Without paying your application fee, your application essentially doesn’t exist. Do not forget!
If you’re having trouble with the application fee, contact the college admissions office or your school counselor’s office. There are many programs that help cover application fees for students.
6. Consider adding a Safety school
I know, I know. The last thing you want to hear is that you should consider applying to another college. In fact, you may be thinking that there is no time to apply anyway. But, if your list is lacking a safety school — a school where you’re nearly guaranteed to be admitted — then now is the time to make sure you apply to at least one of these.
The good thing is that many large universities and state schools have later deadlines than many private colleges. So, you may be able to add an application to one of these schools later in the process without a lot of extra effort. But, make sure that you check with the college to see their admissions deadline and requirements before you bank on that idea.
7. Write thank you notes for everyone who wrote you a letter of recommendation or otherwise helped you on your application
Show your gratitude to everyone who has helped you with the long process of college applications!
Remember that relationships are absolutely critical all throughout life, so taking just a few minutes to tell someone how much you appreciate their help can make a huge difference later in life–especially if you ever need to ask them for help again.
8. Start working on your FAFSA on January 1st
Unfortunately, submitting applications is just one part of the admissions process.
The next step is figuring out the costs and payments for college, which is largely dependent on completing the FAFSA. You should try to complete this as soon as possible, especially if you may qualify for federal PELL grants, which are awarded on a first-come-first-served basis until all of the funding is gone.
It’s also important to note that it’s recommended for most families to complete the FAFSA. Many colleges offer generous financial aid packages for families even with fairly high incomes, but you’ll need to complete the FAFSA in order to qualify.
Either way, if you are planning to complete the FAFSA, it’s better to get started early. Get it out of the way during the tail end of your Winter Break and you’ll thank us later.