How To Use The Holidays To Work On College Applications

While others are stuffing their mouths with food and watching football, you can schedule some time to work on your college applications.  Spending time during the holidays to make progress on your applications will give you a significant advantage in the spring.  You will be much less rushed and avoid the "last minute crunch" many applicants face.

Below are some tips for working on your applications during the holidays, adapted from this New York Times article:

1. Plan, plan, plan

If you know where you're trying to go, you're much more likely to get there.  Set specific goals for your applications that you want to accomplish during your one or two weeks off from school.  Maybe it's "complete all my application essays" or "ask three teachers for recommendation letters" or "visit two colleges."  Whatever your goals, set timelines and remember to ask others for help whenever possible.  

2. Double-check with your teachers and high school school counselors

Don't be one of 10 or 20 students asking for a recommendation from their favorite teacher come spring.  Ask early for recommendation letters.  Jog your teacher's memory by giving him or her a copy of your resume.  After a week or two, drop a reminder note.  Don't assume that your recommendation letter will be sent by itself.  Also, check with your school's college counselor if there is anything you are missing or could work on.

3. Confirm that official test scores have been sent to your colleges of choice

Again, don't assume that your SAT or ACT test scores are "already there".  Check with the college to confirm that they have received your official test scores.  Avoid getting tripped up by technicalities such as, "Sorry, we never received your SAT scores."  

4. Ask for help with your application essays

Draft a few essays, ask others for constructive and specific feedback.  Wait for them to reply with edits before you start revising your essays.  Remember that writing is often an iterative process, so schedule blocks of time here and there to work on your essays.  It's rare that you'll get it "right" the first time.  Most importantly, it's best to have another pair of eyes look over your writings.  The people on the admissions committees reading over your essays will come from varied backgrounds.  Having a diverse group of people read over your essays can give you a good idea of the committees will react to your writing.