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Staying Organized during College Application Season

By Ari H on December 10, 2023

For me and many other students, this fall marks the start of college application season. Maintaining grades, extracurricular activities, and a social life on top of applications, essays, interviews, and more can be extremely stressful, especially since we’ve never gone through this before. Time management and organization are crucial to staying happy, healthy, and productive during your application process. Luckily, I have about 17 years of experience with organization and time management, and I’m aiming to apply to around 14 schools. Here are the most helpful strategies I’ve used and will continue to use during the application season.

Choose a Medium

While your final applications will likely be submitted online, how you decide to organize or create your supplemental materials is up to you. Choose a calendar app and a spreadsheet program to organize your deadlines and required materials, or kick it old school with a pen and notebook. You can even mix and match mediums, that’s what I chose to do!

I have a spreadsheet for my applications that includes the average GPA and test scores for my chosen schools and a checklist for my supplemental essays organized by submission deadline. I have a designated a color in my calendar app for all things college-related: deadlines, application openings, decision dates, test dates, even workshops and tours.

To complement my digital system, I also have a handy composition book for all my supplemental essays so that I can brainstorm and record my ideas in real time. I can cross things out instead of deleting them completely, that way I can always go back and decide if some of my ideas could fit in a different prompt. I have outlines, mind maps, tables, and workshop notes all in one place as I’m devising and revising my essays. Once I have a written draft I’m happy with, I transcribe it to a Word document so I can easily share it for critique and feedback.

This is my approach, but it may take some experimenting to figure out what works best for you.

Designate a Space

In addition to setting aside time for your applications, setting a separate space for them can be helpful in reducing stress and distinguishing those tasks from your usual daily activities. Different rooms in your house, a local library, a school study hall, or a cafe/diner/restaurant are all great work spaces, and you can always invite a friend for support and company.

Having a certain space virtually can also help! Create a file folder in your desktop or Google Drive. If you’re taking a traditional approach on with paper and pencil, pick a specific notebook/binder/folder for your college applications or one for each school to keep your ducks in a row.

Start Early

The Common Application opens on August 1 of every admissions cycle, so compiling your activities, awards, possible recommenders, and finalizing a list of schools can make things easier on you when senior year approaches. If you haven’t already heard, the Common App prompts for the class of 2024 have been released! Start brainstorming and drafting to narrow down what you might want to write about for each prompt.

Some schools have already released their supplemental prompts, so collecting your thoughts and planning those essays early is another great way to stay on top of your applications, especially for schools that have multiple required prompts.

Recycle Your Writing

You’ll notice fairly quickly that supplemental essay prompts often share similar themes and topics. Reuse concepts, ideas, and phrasing from your various essays to save time! If you have access to them, try to recycle different essays from English classes, scholarship applications, writing contests, etc. You might be able to use them for specific prompts or give you the opportunity to build a stellar portfolio of some of your best work.

Don’t Do It Alone

Your school guidance counselors can be very helpful in sophomore and junior year as you consider where to apply to college and how to get there, so don’t be afraid to include them in the application process as well. You can ask them about how to request letters of recommendation, test prep classes or essay writing workshops, and they may be willing to proofread or edit some of your essays.

There are also other support networks and guidance outside of your school resources.

GetSchooled is a free college and career support network that can review your essays, applications, and resumes, as well as provide test prep resources, scholarship databases, and other forms of guidance.

Student support networks like the NSHSS or Ron Brown Guided Pathway Support Program are ways to directly connect with alumni, admissions professionals, advisors, recent high school graduates, and fellow applicants. You can connect with like-minded individuals, while also networking and making friends. Studying in groups for test prep or having a writing group to swap and brainstorm essays can be a great way to hold yourself accountable and put your best foot forward.

Schoolhouse even has a subworld for college advice!

Make Time For Yourself

The most important thing about applying to college is making sure you get there in one piece. As you budget your time for schoolwork, essays, test prep, and extracurricular activities, don’t forget to set aside time to recharge, regroup, and reorient yourself. Eat well and hydrate, meditate or exercise, whatever you need to do to stay healthy during this very stressful process.

Thank you Sharon V for editing this article! peer tutoring, for free.


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