College Applications: Why You Should Start Early
Your senior year of high school is going to be your busiest school year yet. You’ll be taking the most rigorous course load possible, you’ll be serving in leadership roles in your clubs and on your teams, and on top of that, you’ll have several college applications to complete, unless you are wise enough to start earlier, and complete most of it over the summer.
Get Recommenders Early
Not only are you going to be under a lot of pressure in the fall of your senior year, but so will your teachers. That is why you should ask your teacher for a recommendation before the end of your Junior year. Your teacher is going to be irritated if you ask any later than the first day of school Senior year, and this will color the teacher’s attitude towards you, and because you are now burdening instead of flattering your teacher with your request (your request would have been flattering, had you made it in June), your recommender might write you a shorter and more perfunctory letter than they would have otherwise. Aside from the annoyance factor, your recommender just won’t have the time to do a good job if you ask too late. Your teacher will have many other letters to write, at that point in time; had you asked for your recommendation early, the teacher could have spent more time perfecting your letter.
Get started on your personal statement early
Writing a good personal statement is crucial, yet many students don’t take it very seriously. Students often assume that the hardest part is thinking of the right topic, and then waiting for inspiration to strike. In fact, the personal essay for most students is far and away the most difficult piece of writing they have ever attempted. It will require you to write often, even when you don’t feel inspired at all. In the past, when you turned in an essay it was over. Your personal statement editor, on the other hand, if that person is doing a decent job, is going to tear your essay to shreds over and over again until you have made it compelling, concise, personal, and focused on what you can contribute as an angular student (admissions speak for having a strong self-motivated interest in pursuing one talent, interest, or field of learning). To do all of that in a fluid, graceful essay is a difficult balancing act indeed. And that's not all! Your essay also serves as your writing sample, demonstrating whether you write the kind of skillful prose stylist that professors and teaching assistants love to read. Expect to write five or six drafts of this statement, each with significant changes. And if you’re applying to a UC, you have to write four personal statements - each is half the length of the common app, but each also has to achieve a kind of perfection, like an Olympic dive. So, four times six, and now you’re writing twenty-four drafts. It takes a LOT of time, and your goal should be to have these almost finished before you begin your very busy senior year. Did I mention your senior year, particularly the first semester, the college app semester, is going to be unbelievably busy?
And then there are the supplemental essays!
Finally finished the personal statement with a few hours left before the deadline? Well, then you’ve made a huge mistake. You are about to discover that each of the ten colleges to which you are applying has four to eight supplemental essays to complete. The term “supplement” can mislead students into assuming these essays are of secondary importance. But supplements are just as vital a component of the application as any other. They help the college form a holistic portrait of you, learn how good a fit you are for their college, and inform them of what you will bring to the campus. These also are writing samples, and have to be written skillfully. Even though many schools have questions in common, the way the question is posed is usually unique, so each essay will need to be personalized for each school. That’s another forty essays for you to write. And some colleges will throw curveballs at you like “Odd or even numbers?” and you will want to come up with a thoughtful, even witty answer. You aren’t going to be paralyzed by such a question when you’re relaxing under a tree in late June. In late October, it will cause you great anguish.
Don't forget all the little details
Some colleges want resumes, and if they do, you should write a great one. A resume is a much more time-consuming task than you might think, involving a lot of formatting and reformatting, and going over each line with a fine tooth comb to make sure it’s perfect. Your activity list requires a lot of thought - in what order should your activities be listed? If you keep in the Dungeons and Dragons club, will you seem creative and sociable, or like a person without enough academically oriented activities? Should the list be arranged in such a way that it presents a coherent narrative about your angularity as a student? Resolving these questions takes much longer than you would think.
If you don’t start the college admissions process early, somewhere along the way you’re going to forget to check the box that says you’re interested in an interview, thereby losing that potential edge. You’re going to misread the prompt and talk only about why a college is a good fit for you, and not why you’re a good fit for the college. Or you’re going to talk about overcoming a difficult challenge but not about how it changed you as a person. And then you’re going to have to rewrite it. Starting late, when you have no time to spare, paradoxically means everything is going to take longer than it would have otherwise because you’re going to make mistakes. Mistakes because you’re tired, and mistakes because you’re rushing, and mistakes because your brain is panicking.
So start early.
If this post has turned you into a nervous wreck, you may need a hand to hold, the hand of a skilled admissions professional who can guide you through the process with efficient and expert advice and great essay feedback. Contact Bentham Admissions if you are interested in learning more.