Thursday, September 20, 2012

Seniors Panicked About College Apps?—Tell Them to Slow Down

By Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

The school year is less than a month old, but some college-bound seniors feel like they’ve been writing forever. Many colleges released their applications August 1st, which led to thousands of applicants running—or being led to—their computers to sign up, log in, and apply away.

Much of this rush was understandable. Most seniors are a little bored by August, so the idea of starting a college application sure beat another afternoon of a trip down Tween Memory Lane by watching iCarly reruns. With most seniors having more free time before school starts, August is also a good time to start essays, since many students need to dust off their writing skills after a long summer of rest.

Students often wonder if they have to start early, and like many college questions, the answer is—it depends. You may be applying to colleges that work on a rolling admissions deadline. This means the sooner you apply, the sooner you hear back; it also usually means the longer you wait to apply, the harder it becomes to get admitted.

Since most of these colleges don’t require an essay or letters of recommendation, it’s a good idea to apply to rolling admission schools soon, and first. Not only do you get to “warm up” on an application that only has a few parts, you also may get admitted to a college before Halloween. How cool would it be to know you have at least one college to go to next year only six weeks after senior year starts?

It’s also a good idea to ask early for letters of recommendation. If you asked your teachers last spring, now is the time to remind them about the deadlines they have, and to thank them profusely for finding time in their overcrowded schedules to write a letter for you. If you didn’t ask yet, now is the time; teachers need 2-3 weeks to find the time to write a good letter, and since you want a good one, make sure you ask, pronto.

Ditto for test scores. You don’t have to apply to a college before you have ACT or SAT send your scores—in fact, it’s better to have the test scores there ahead of time. Colleges hold on to your scores through next spring, so take the time to order them now.

“Whew” says you, “so is it ever smart not to start early?”

Actually, there are some times when it’s a bad idea to finish early. Many students who crank out college essays in August want to hit Submit so they can “be over” with applying to college, but the frenzy of writing a first draft can sometimes convince you that your essay is a Hemingway; reading it two days later, you may be saying “no way.”

You also want to make sure someone with strong grammar skills checks your essays. This isn’t the time to not know you write with lots of comma splices— make sure you have the time to let someone tell you that.

Finally, you may just want to wait on essays because you can. If a college app is due January 1st, no one is going to read it just because you turned it in early—and that’s a couple of months of living and thinking that could make for richer essays.

It’s always good to finish a project, but you give your essays some time to just sit in your computer, and sit in your head—remember, not only do you want finished essays, you want strong, finished essays.

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