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Monday, September 17, 2012

USA Today: Staying Organized and Sane During the College Application Process

Emily Herzlin, an admissions consultant, gives expert advice to high school students navigating the college admissions process:

"You’ve got 12 tabs open on Firefox: Gmail, Facebook, a smattering of college websites, your SAT scores, the Common App and driving directions for your next college visit. Your desk is cluttered with old drafts of your resume and pages of brainstorming for essay topics. Your schoolbooks are scattered around you on the floor, on the bed, maybe even dangling from the ceiling fan. You’re about to slap your cheeks and let out a scream Macaulay Culkin or Edvard Munch would be proud of.

Stop right now, and take a deep breath.
The college application process can be incredibly stressful. Not only do you have tons of writing and paperwork to do, but you also have to balance your schoolwork and keep your grades up, and there’s the pressure of being judged by a committee of strangers. Let’s face it — this is stressful! There’s no avoiding stress during this time, but how much stress — that’s a different story.

Here are some tips for staying organized and relatively sane during the college application process:

1. Trim the fat from your schedule
Be realistic about what you can take on this semester. Sure, it’s important to stay involved with extracurriculars, since in addition to providing a social atmosphere for you to de-stress and have fun with friends, they look good on an application. But stick with the ones that you’ve been committed to for a few years or ones that highlight your specific academic interests, and don’t take on too many new obligations. You need time and energy to write those college essays.

2. Survey the territory before you dive in
As soon as your college applications and supplements become available online, take a good look at them. Take note of deadlines immediately. Make a list of every item needed for each application, and pay special attention to the essay topics. Rather than starting from scratch on each one, some of them can be used (carefully– you want to make sure you ARE answering the essay question) for more than one application, or can be tweaked or tailored to fit more than one application. This will help you gauge how much time you need to devote to your essays.

3. Technology is your friend
There is absolutely no need to clutter up your desk with papers. All that chaos just makes you feel nuts. Use Microsoft Excel to create a spreadsheet checklist. Give a tab to each school and make a list within each tab of the items (recommendations, resume, essays, supplemental questions) that needs to go into the application. Use Apps like Evernote, Dropbox, or Google Docs to keep your documents stored digitally so you can access them on-the-go. Use a calendar like Google Calendar or iCal to plan out a weekly task list of what needs to get done when so you can stay on top of deadlines. Don’t throw away old drafts (you never know if you might want to refer to something on a previous version) but instead scan and file them in clearly labeled folders. 

4. Take care of your mental and physical health
If you’re stressed, lethargic, hungry, or starved for social interaction, your mental energy will suffer. College applications can seem like a second full time job (your first one is being a high school student) but it’s important to make time to do things that make you feel good. Get to the gym or go on a walk or bike ride or to a yoga class — move! Take stretch breaks if you’ve been sitting at your computer for a while. Be aware of your mental energy, and if you’ve been working for a long time and feel yourself starting to burn out, take a fifteen-minute break and listen to music or call a friend and complain together (he or she is probably as stressed out as you are). Stay on top of your health by eating right and getting as much sleep as possible (we know, easier said than done, but it makes a big difference).

Most importantly…

5. Be your own guidance counselor
This doesn’t mean stop listening to your school guidance counselor. But check in with yourself every so often and ask yourself how you’re feeling and what you have going on. It’s good to do this on a Sunday evening before the week starts. Take a look at your schedule for the week: have any tests coming up? Papers? What tasks did you assign yourself for your college applications this week? When are your club meetings? Figure out when you have pockets of time in your schedule to do work, exercise, and see friends, and use them wisely. But don’t schedule yourself so tightly that there’s no room for error. Sometimes unexpected things come up, and it’s good to allow yourself some wiggle room.

The college application process is a stressful time, but if you can stay relatively organized and aware of your own needs, you’ll be able to sleep more, maintain a sense of balance and freak out less."

More on getting organized for college:

100 Free and Essential Web Tools for the College Bound

Organizing College Applications

Three Steps to Time Management for the College Student