College Students Share Tips for Managing the Application Process

High school seniors should begin their college applications early and follow through on tasks.

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High school seniors should aim to tackle small college application tasks weekly rather than attempting to do everything all at once.
High school seniors should aim to tackle small college application tasks weekly rather than attempting to do everything all at once.

Each month, we ask current college students to reflect on their college admissions experience. Their advice for prospective students about how to manage the college application part of their senior year of high school is the subject of this month's Freshman Flashback.

Is senior year of high school the year to slack off and relax, or the most stressful time of all? Between the madness of college applications and with graduation fast approaching, it can be difficult to determine how exactly to spend these months. 

High school seniors can follow sage advice from their college-going peers for managing this overwhelming time. 

[See these five tips for high school seniors preparing for college.] 

1. Determine your strengths and play to them: After three years of high school, you're bound to have a plentiful list of compelling experiences and achievements to draw upon and show college admissions officers what a strong candidate you are. There is no time to spare, however. Students advise starting to brainstorm these points as soon as possible to ensure you have them ready to go when you begin your applications. 

Hannah Mueller, a second-year student at the University of San Diego, knew exactly what experiences she wanted to highlight in her personal statements before even looking at them. 

"When writing my essays and answering questions in the application, I already knew what I wanted to talk about before even reading the prompts," says Mueller. "I had made a list of everything that put me above other applicants, particularly things that made me especially different from them." 

Never underestimate the impressiveness of certain extracurricular activities as well. Asit Shah, a sophomore at the University of Houston Honors College, believes his membership in one group held significant influence on one of his college applications. 

"I feel my extensive involvement in Habitat for Humanity helped my application stand out," Shah says. "My commitment to giving back to the community really might have encouraged the university of my choice to offer me a full tuition scholarship." 

[Avoid making these common college application mistakes.] 

2. Don't spread yourself too thin: Perhaps the biggest feat of all is successfully dividing your time between college applications and high school course work. It is crucial to figure out a personal strategy that will allow you to do both, perhaps by tackling small tasks weekly rather than attempting to manage everything all at once. 

Mueller notes how easily the entire college application process can catch up to you. "The application process in total took time. It took time to fill out all of the information, write all of the essays and have them proofread, and to get letters of recommendation," she says. "All of this needed to be finished by the most important deadlines of my life." 

Additionally, when you select a task to work on, it is important that you stick to it through the very end and give it all you've got. Aleena Glinski, a sophomore at Yale University, did everything in her power to ensure her application essays would truly shine. 

"I spent months going through countless drafts, throwing out bad ideas and keeping the good ones," Glinski says. "Most of the other information on your application speaks for itself – it's the essays you have to work the hardest on." 

[Read these 10 tips for writing your college application essay.] 

3. Face your stress so you can overcome it: Although students say they felt stressed during senior year of high school, they also say getting that first application completed was half the battle. "Balancing schoolwork with the application process was not easy at first," Mueller says. "But after my first application was sent in, I learned how to balance it all pretty well." 

Shah commented that finishing his applications led to improvement in his classes. "I actually felt more confident about my schoolwork and was able to concentrate on it more," he says. 

Brigham Young University junior Brittany Strobelt says she wishes she had thought more carefully about her application list before diving into it to reduce stress and save time. 

"I really wasn't that invested in all of the schools I applied to," Strobelt says. "There were really only a handful that I was seriously considering. If I were to do it again, I would at least narrow my list down to five." 

Cathryn Sloane is a marketing coordinator for Varsity Tutors. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Iowa.