The just right approach

One extreme approach to college applications is to procrastinate until the impending deadlines leave you no choice but to get things done. But that’s stressful, risky, and almost never leads to applications and essays that are as good as they would have been had you started earlier and spent more time getting them right.

The other extreme is the student (or parent) who meticulously plans an application schedule. Every application, every essay prompt, every necessary to-do is itemized and scheduled on a calendar, spreadsheet, or other organizational tool of choice. It’s better than the wait-until-the-last-minute approach, but these schedules tend to fall apart quickly. Seniors are busy, and many of their schedules are in a constant state of flux. You just never know when you’ll end up rehearsing late, completing an AP government assignment, or getting stuck on one of those application essays that takes more than the allotted time to complete.

Patrick O’Connor has a reasonable approach that seems just right to me. As shared in his post for counselors, What to Say When Your Students are Freaked About College Apps:

“Carve a two-hour block out of Saturday or Sunday (or both), work on your applications then — and only then — and forget about them during the week. That way, you get to study and learn, work on the homecoming float, have a great senior year, and write great college essays to boot. Plus, your applications will be done by Thanksgiving, so you can spend Christmas break with your family, not with your computer.”

I’ve helped a lot of students apply to college. My counselors have helped even more. And I can tell you that depending on where you’re applying and how many applications you’re submitting, if you follow this schedule–two hours, Saturday and Sunday—for even just 2-3 weekends in a row, you will either be finished with applications, or you will have made such significant progress that your stress levels will lower considerably (and you’ll have momentum on your side).

Here’s the key, though. You’ve got to make those two-hour blocks count. Turn off all your notifications. Avoid all interruptions. Go to a library or someplace else quiet with nothing to distract you. And then focus like your college applications depend on it.