For many seniors, the completion of college applications, especially those for the schools a student most wants to attend, can be divided into two phases:
1. The completion, where an application is technically complete.
2. The polishing, where a student seeks additional feedback and continues to make what are often subtle revisions in the name of completing a perfect application.
Both phases are important, but don’t let your polishing phase get out of hand.
I would never suggest that a student submit an application as soon as it is complete. Revising your application with a critical eye, often with the aid of additional feedback, is your opportunity to make improvements that can make a good application a great application.
But some students hold on to their applications until the very last minute, hoping that just a few more days of revisions can push them into the admit pile. And the rule of diminishing returns applies here. The longer you hold on to a completed application, the more angst you’ll generate, and the less valuable your revisions are likely to become.
Here are a few ways to identify if you’ve hit the revision wall:
1. Have the people you trust the most given you the “OK” to submit?
If so, resist the urge to seek additional feedback from other sources. If you ask 10 people for advice about how to improve your application, you’re likely to get up to 10 different opinions. Stick with your closest and most trusted advisors, whether they’re personal or professional. And once you’ve considered and potentially integrated their feedback, hit the “Submit” button and don’t look back.
2. Are you running out of revisions?
There comes a point with every project where your desire to improve it is greater than the number of available ideas to achieve that goal. If you find yourself staring at an application and the essays over a couple days without seeing any obvious points for improvement, that’s your brain’s way of telling you that you’ve done your best and that it’s time to send it off to the college.
I know it’s tempting to wait until you love every word, every construction of phrasing, every description and sentence and strategy you’ve brought together on an application to a college you really want to attend. But some students are more wired to experience that mental relief than others, and frankly, I’ve never seen a student reach that level of application pleasure simply by withholding the application, seeking ever more feedback, and over-polishing every section.
Yes, your college applications deserve your time and attention. And one of the most important reasons to start your applications long before the deadlines is to give yourself some breathing room to revisit and revise your first draft.
But at some point, you’ve taken in enough feedback, done enough drafts, and revised your application to a place where it’s as good as it is going to be. When that happens—and your trusted advisors agree—there’s no sense in prolonging your application anxiety. Be confident in yourself and the work that you’ve done. Then submit your application and enjoy the wave of relief to follow shortly thereafter. Perfection is a nice concept, but the most successful applicants trust themselves to know when good enough is good enough.