Four weeks from now

When The Beatles released Rubber Soul in 1965, it ushered in a new sound to Beatlemania. They traded their cheerful pop songs that made people clap and dance for more experimental, emotional songs that made people listen and think. No band had ever produced music like Rubber Soul’s before, and the album marked the beginning of a new era of modern music.

It was also written, recorded, and produced in just four weeks.

As related in Rolling Stone’s50 Years of ‘Rubber Soul’: How the Beatles Invented the Future of Pop”:

“The Beatles didn’t go into the studio with a mystic crystal vision to express — they went in with a deadline. They had to supply product for the 1965 Christmas season, which meant crunching it out in four frenzied weeks, from October 12th to November 12th. So they holed up in Abbey Road around the clock, pouring out music as fast as they could, holding nothing back. They were willing to try any idea, whether it turned out brilliantly (the sitar, the harmonium) or not (the six-minute R&B instrumental jam, which they wisely axed). They wrote seven of the songs in one week.”

For students staring down impending college application deadlines, it’s easy to feel demoralized and overwhelmed by the volume, stakes, and timeline of your remaining work. But as nice as it would have been to work at a leisurely pace months ago, the ever-shortening window means that it’s now time to use those deadlines as fuel.

Can’t get motivated? Writer’s block preventing you from penning a particular short-answer essay question? The enormity or pressure of the task actually making you hesitant to forge ahead? If you want to successfully apply to college, you’ll need to overcome those excuses and get to work. And deadlines can be like fuel to ignite that progress.

The Beatles went into the studio with nothing and came out four weeks later with Rubber Soul. It’s time to show what you can emerge with four weeks from now.

Time, budget, and scope

When you’re working on a project and it becomes clear you’re going to miss your deadline, you can change the time, the budget, or the scope.

Changing the time means adding more of it by extending the deadline.

Changing the budget means spending more—money, energy, resources, etc.

But changing the scope actually means doing less. Cut the project in half. Remove a feature or a requirement. Take away something that’s just not necessary, get everything else right, and ship it. Changing the scope can actually be like a purification system. Get rid of everything that just doesn’t matter and spend your remaining time and budget on things that do.

Many seniors are worrying about completing their college applications on time. So what are your options?

You can’t change the time—college deadlines are fixed.

You can change the budget by spending more of your attention and energy than you currently are. It’s entirely possible that you’ve been under-spending in those areas and it’s time to reallocate those resources.

But don’t forget to take a hard look at the scope.

Do you need to apply to 15 or 17 or 22 colleges? (You don’t.)

Do you need to apply to those three schools that you don’t know much about but everyone else seems to like?

Do you need to apply to that fifth reach school just because you think that adding more to your list will increase your odds?

I wouldn’t recommend chopping down a list that your counselor has already approved without discussing it with them first. But if you’re feeling pressed by deadlines and just don’t have any room left to spend more, consider changing the scope of your college application project.

“Your application is incomplete”

Some parts of the college admissions cycle are so 1) recurring and 2) fear-inducing that they merit a repost here every now and then. Here’s one.

“Our records indicate that your application is incomplete.”

Those are not the words you want to hear or read when you so methodically ensured that all of the required pieces were in fact sent by the deadline.

So, college applicants and their worried parents, I hope you’ll read or at least keep handy this past post about what to do if those words arrive. And even more importantly, make sure you click on the link within that post taking you to Patrick O’Connor’s excellent article, “Before you Scream at your High School Counselor.”

The dreaded “Your application is incomplete” often induces a lot more panic and unfair assigning of blame than it merits. I’m hoping those two reads referenced above will help you forge ahead calmly and productively if the dreaded message arrives in your inbox.

Guaranteed celebration

If you’re a senior who just submitted your early applications for November 1 deadlines, congratulations. There is increasing concern among counselors and even colleges about just how many schools are offering these programs right now, how many students are taking advantage of them, and how much added pressure that places on applicants, many of whom feel that they’ll be at a disadvantage if they don’t avail themselves of the early option. So if you successfully completed your application(s) and wrote the essays and pressed the submit button before the early deadline, you deserve a break. But here’s my recommendation.

Take a break, but get back on the application horse soon.

There’s an understandable inclination for early applicants to put off completing their remaining applications until they receive their early application decisions. After all, if those schools are your top choices and you’re admitted to one or more of them, the time spent completing your remaining applications will all have been for nothing.

Still, my recommendation for you is the same that we make to just about all our Collegewise students. Take the weekend off from applications. You deserve that. But please don’t put off all the remaining work until you receive a decision from the school(s) where you’ve applied early.

An admission in early December will make for one of the best holiday breaks you could imagine. But if you don’t get the news you were hoping for and you’ve left all your remaining applications to complete, there won’t be any time to lick your admissions wounds. Instead, you’ll need to muster the energy to jump right back into this process. That disappointment will be a lot easier to manage—and you’ll have a far more enjoyable holiday break—if that work has already been completed.

You don’t necessarily have to submit all those remaining applications beforehand if you’d rather not bear the financial strain of paying the accompanying fees. Just get the work itself done beforehand and you’ll have something to celebrate no matter what early news you receive.

Our guide to the University of California application is here!

Hot off the presses, today Collegewise is releasing our official guide to help students apply to UC (University of California) schools. Inside the UC App: Collegewise Tips and Tricks for a Stellar Application guides applicants step by step through the entire app, with advice on everything from deciding which standardized tests to report, to utilizing the “Additional Comments” section, to avoiding common mistakes. Best of all, it’s free to students, parents, counselors, and anyone else applying—or helping someone else apply—to UC schools. You can get your copy here.

Pre-submit panic

Seniors, if you’re rushing to complete your applications for November 1 early deadlines, here’s a tip meant to calm, not terrorize you.

Expect to panic.

It’s not at all uncommon for seniors to second-guess everything about their application just minutes before sending it.

Should I have written a different essay?

I probably didn’t’ describe my volunteer work well.

I should have used the “Additional Information” section to mention my athlete’s foot and how that severely impacted both my leadership ability and my grade in trigonometry.

Don’t listen to yourself.

Your brain does terrible things to you before you do something really important. There’s a finality to this act. Once you click submit, it’s out there, out of your control. It’s instinctual to want to hide rather than do anything that feels risky.

Pre-submit panic is also why seniors who are done with applications well ahead of deadlines will then borderline hijack their work and refuse to push the “Submit” button. Why commit and take the risk today when I can put it off and stay safe?

I would never tell an applicant not to put time, effort, and care into their application. Get feedback. Make revisions. Have someone capable proofread it. It’s your college application, after all.

But once you’ve done those things, you’re ready to submit. Any sense of panic, any fear that you missed something, any feelings that you’re somehow a fraud who will soon be exposed as having no business at all applying to this college–all of those are just pre-submit panic setting in.

It can happen to anyone, even to the highest-achieving, most seemingly-perfect-on-paper student. It’s not rational. It has no foundation in fact. And it happens all the time.

So here’s a recommended strategy—expect it. When you feel the panic set in, just say to yourself, “Oh, there it is, the panic the Collegewise guy was talking about.”

Once you call the panic out like that, it actually starts to dissipate pretty quickly. Then you can get back to submitting, and to celebrating the completion of your (early) application journey.

Where’s the Common App “Submit” button?

A number of our Collegewise seniors this year have found that, after completing and revising and perfecting their Common Applications, they arrive at the page to submit the app only to find that there is seemingly no “Submit” button. If that’s happened to you or to your students, here’s the fix.

It appears that the default setting in the final proof page design is zoomed in far enough as to hide the “Submit” button, rendering a page with seemingly no possible way to submit your application. The simple fix is to just zoom out and you’ll see the button appear.

Here’s some language from the Common App’s “Support” page about how to zoom in and out of a web page. This language is in response to a query about what to do if you can’t see the “Continue” button at the bottom of the page, but the result should still be the same.

If you are unable to see the Continue button at the bottom of any page, try using “hotkeys” to zoom your browser window out while viewing that page: For Windows PCs: press and hold the Control key (CTRL), then press minus (-) For Mac: press and hold the Command key (⌘), then press minus (-)

Create your application support group

College applications have a way of generating a competitive atmosphere amongst peers, whether or not those friends are actually applying to the same schools. And most of that competition stems from comparisons: who scored what on the SAT, who’s already completed their Common Application, who has the purported admissions advantage, etc.

Seniors, instead of comparing and competing, what if you selected 2-3 willing friends and formed your own application support group? Choose your cohorts based on their willingness to commit to these five ideals.

1. Come from a place of “We’re in this together.”
The foundation of this support group should be mutual feelings that while the college application process may be stressful, you’re in this together and intend to pull each other through it. When you reframe a stressful experience as a group challenge rather than an individual burden, you’re less likely to feel discouraged and more likely to feel emboldened by the common goal. Commit to each other not to compare, compete, or otherwise turn this into a status competition. You’re in this together now.

2. Leave negativity at the door.
Yes, talking about your stress can help you manage it. But there’s a fine line between vocalizing what’s eating you and serving up heaping portions of negativity. You’re creating this support group specifically to combat, not to invite, negativity. So commit to each other that your discussions about all-things-college won’t be just group gripe sessions. Instead, use your conversations to find the positives. Which brings me to…

3. Infuse positivity.
According to Harvard researcher Shawn Achor, a positive and engaged brain is one of the greatest competitive advantages, resulting in a 31% increase in productivity, 23% fewer stress-related symptoms, and a host of other effects that help humans perform better. Your support group can cultivate this advantage by infusing positivity. Give each other recognition and encouragement. Look for ways to celebrate wins like a completed essay, a submitted application, or the very last time one of your members will ever take the SAT. And don’t forget the fact that barring a serious error in your college list creation (one that can be avoided by getting your counselor to OK your list), all of you will be in college somewhere next year. Remind each other that while application season may be stressful, overall, life is good.

4. Keep each other accountable for work completed.
The most effective application support groups don’t just offer support and encouragement; they also keep each other accountable for getting the actual work done. Consider this recommendation by high school counselor extraordinaire Patrick O’Connor and carve out a two-hour block every Saturday or Sunday (or both) for the next few weeks to do nothing but work on college applications. If your group is focused enough to do that work together without interrupting each other, great—gather together at one of your homes or in the library. But if you just can’t resist turning those blocks into social time, then do the work independently, but check in about your progress collaboratively. Supportive and productive peer pressure can be a good thing if it helps you achieve a common goal.

5. Plan your application completion celebration.
One of the best ways to get through a stressful period is to have a bright spot at the end of it to look forward to. And in this case, the entire group can use that bright spot as a means to get your work done earlier than procrastination might have allowed. Plan an activity during the first weekend of your upcoming December holiday break to celebrate the completion of all your college applications, and make an agreement together that you’ll actually be true to the reason you’re gathering. No excuses, no “I just have a few more changes to make this week and I’ll be done.” I know you can’t possibly imagine just how wonderful it will feel to gather together, collectively say, “We’re done!” and mean it. But trust me on this one. The combination of pride, sense of accomplishment, and relief will feel almost as good as the inevitable acceptances to follow will.

Monday morning Q&A: How many colleges to apply to?

Kathryn asks:

The number of colleges that guidance counselors at our high school recommend students apply to has risen over the last decade – almost at the same pace as college tuition. This year they’re recommending students apply to 8-10 colleges. That number doesn’t seem unusual in our area (outside Boston). If the increasing number isn’t just specific to our area, why is this happening? Our family has theories and frustrations, since we have a student who can’t find 8 colleges that he wants to apply to.

You’re right, Kathryn—it’s happening, and not just in your area. There are a lot of reasons, but here are the three that are really driving that change. In no particular order:

1. Submitting multiple applications has gotten easier.
I completed my college applications using a typewriter. Then came online applications. Then came the Common Application, which allows students to complete one application and submit it to multiple colleges. Adding just 1, 2, or 8 more no longer necessarily requires a comparable addition in time and energy required to do so.

2. Lottery logic runs rampant.
Many students, particularly those who want to attend the most prestigious colleges, use lottery logic and assume that the more schools they apply to, the better their chances of getting in. But as I’ve written before, that logic doesn’t work. Harvard’s Dean of Admissions explained the flawed approach of applying to 20 highly selective colleges in a bid to improve your odds by using the analogy of an archer standing 1000 feet away from the target. His words: “The fallacy is to think that if you apply to all 20 schools that you will broaden the bull’s eye…all a student has done is drawn a circle around the pea-size target 20 times.”

3. Fear.
There was once a time when a student could apply to just 2-3 colleges and feel confident they’d be admitted to one. With over 2,000 colleges in the country, that’s still a viable approach, but not for the most popular colleges. Add in all the surrounding pressure, anxiety, and drama that the admissions process creates and you’re left with fear. That fear sounds like:

“What if I don’t get in anywhere?”

“What if I was wrong about the colleges on my list?”

“What if we don’t get financial aid?”

And many families choose to combat that fear by applying to even more colleges.

There’s no universally accepted number of schools students should apply to, but the best way to combat the three behaviors above is to create a balanced college list. Here’s a past post on just how to do that, and another for families who may need help falling in love with less famous colleges.

Thanks for your question, Kathryn. I’ll answer a different question next week. Here’s the form for readers to submit one of their own.