Launch Global Education
Sparks blog: The application season: Stressful or exciting?

by Mr. Michael Wagner

There is a common occurrence I see with juniors right at the end of the school year. Excitement pours over them because they realize that they will be entering their final year of high school when they return. They cruise through the summer and then suddenly, BAM! The short-lived excitement of entering senior year is replaced with fear, anxiety, and stress about the college application process.

There are countless decisions that need to be made during the process: where do I want to go? How do I pick a major? Then, there is understanding the cost of college and determining how to finance it. The list goes on and on.

Next, there are the dreaded essays, deciding which prompts to choose, what to write about, and wondering if it is something that will attract the interest of admissions representatives. And we can’t discount the stress of the student’s parents, with concerns about completing applications on time and worrying about time being wasted. For ill-prepared students, it feels like the pressure is mounting from all sides. And while this scenario might seem exaggerated, I have seen it over and over.

Through the years, I have gained a clear understanding of what a successful college application season can and should look like. And the good news is it does not have to resemble what I outlined above. There is no reason that students and their families should experience the college application process as a miserable, painstaking task. It can and should be a process that is positive, rewarding, joyous, and celebratory. Here are a few guidelines to make it a more pleasurable experience.

Don’t wait until senior year

It all begins with a solid plan that should be started well before the start of senior year. In fact, I believe that a successful college application process begins in the summer before ninth grade. Ideally, a student’s plan should be crafted, reviewed, and updated with the guidance of a school counselor and/or independent college counselor over time. However, no matter where you are in the process there are things you can do right away to make things less stressful.

stressed student

Create a checklist and a timeline

A solid checklist of items that need to be completed will guide a student to stay on task. You should start this before the end of junior year. The checklist should include:

·       Creating an application list of 10 – 12 colleges that meet the criteria a student has identified.

·       Reviewing the application’s deadlines and requirements for each college or university and prioritizing the tasks for each.

Writing essays, both the standard submitted essay to prescribed prompts and any additional supplemental essay responses for individual schools. These essays should be completed over the month of July and reviewed by a trusted reader/mentor before returning to school.

Obtain letters of recommendation early

Ask for letters of recommendation, ideally beginning in the late spring of your junior year, and seek to obtain them prior to the school year ending. Obtaining recommendation letters early minimizes unforeseen circumstances such as teachers leaving the school.

Begin filling out applications as soon as they open

Completing applications can be a cumbersome task. A student will likely have some schools on a universal application, such as the Common Application in the U.S. and the UCAS system in the U.K., and some schools that require a direct application. Review each school’s application requirements and plan to have them completed well before the due dates to avoid any last-minute problems, such as a system going down. Another reason to submit early is that admissions counselors can view the date and time you have applied and may consider a student who has waited until the last minute as disorganized and less serious about the university.

Keep parents in the loop

Keeping parents informed and involved lowers the stress for everyone. As a student-driven process, students should have regular, healthy conversations with their parents or guardians with the aim to keep everyone on the same page. Agreeing on a well-rounded set of schools that meet the student’s criteria—and will provide a positive college-going experience—should be everyone’s goal.

time to organize clock

Stay organized

As you read down this list it becomes clear that an essential element of the college application process is to stay organized. Whether students manage this process on their own or ask for some assistance, the more organized you can be, the better.

Don’t procrastinate

The college application process does not have to be stressful, or anxiety-ridden; however, you cannot procrastinate. Whether it is waiting until the beginning of your senior year to get started or waiting until the final minutes to submit applications to meet deadlines, most of the stress of the application season centers on putting things off.

to do list featuring procrastination

With some organization and fortitude, you will find the excitement can outweigh the stress. Good luck! And enjoy the experience – it will be worth it.

Mr. Michael J. Wagner

Michael Wagner, MAED is a founder and the Knowledge Pilot for Launch Education.  Mr. Mike has assisted hundreds of students around the world on their college pathways.