How to Handle College Apps Crunch Time

Sheelah Bearfoot
Sheelah Bearfoot

Our collaborative team of content writers and researchers stay up-to-date on the latest news to help you ace your applications. We hope you enjoy the blog.

It’s college apps crunch time! Deadlines that could determine the rest of your life are right around the corner. If you’re getting a (very) late start on essays, here’s a quick guide to surviving the next few weeks and salvaging your admissions chances.

1. Construct your college list.

Two important things to keep in mind as you do so:

A. DO NOT apply to schools only because of external pressures (family expectations, peer pressure, or prestige).

You will be spending four years of your life there. Make sure YOU can picture yourself being happy at that college. Be realistic with yourself and your chances. There’s no point in wasting time applying to a college that you KNOW you’re not going to get into, at the expense of schools you have a reasonable chance of acceptance. If you’re starting this late, you should only have about two reach schools, three tops. You don’t have the time to be overly optimistic.

B. DO NOT become obsessed with getting into a particular college.

You literally don’t have the time for it at this point. Focus instead on the good qualities within each school on your list and how’ll each one will prepare you to contribute to society. Most of the time, what you do with your four years in college matters a lot more than the name of your institution.

Action on Black-Golden Watch Face with Closeup View of Watch Mechanism.

2. Be ruthless with your time.

If planning and writing is a challenge for you, don’t be afraid to ask for help. As you can see with this sample schedule below (which is about as lax a version as you’ll find) there’s no room to be unproductive.

Sample Student Schedule for College Apps Crunch Time:
Applying to Seven Schools in Two Months

Nov 5th 

outline rough drafts of four UC essays

Nov 11th

cleaner versions

Nov 18th

final version – submit ASAP

Nov 24th

outline of Common App

Dec 2nd

cleaner version of common App

Dec 5th

final Common App

Dec 11th

Hopkins draft & Pitzer drafts

Dec 17th

Hopkins and Pitzer final drafts, submit ASAP

Dec 22nd

Cornell drafts

Dec 26th

Cornell cleaner version

Dec 30th 

Cornell final, submit ASAP

To get the most bang for your buck, prioritize “one app, multiple campuses” institutions, like the University of California (UC) system. And we can’t say this enough: have a support team in your corner that includes a mentor figure and people who can edit your writing. 

  • Plan for two to three meetings each week with your mentor: one between each updated version of your materials, and one to sign off on the final version. Set and keep meetings with your mentor and come to those meetings well- prepared so you don’t waste time!
  • Use your editing team AT LEAST between drafts and cleaner versions, and ideally between the clean and final versions, too. Have your essays ready at least the night before your meeting with your counselor. Again, you don’t have time to procrastinate.

If you don’t have a team on hand already, consider setting up a meeting with our enrollment team to match you to a best-fit counselor.


3. Keep it real.

Your clock isn’t just ticking, it’s ringing a loud wake-up call. This college apps crunch time is the time to do some unflinching self-evaluation. It’s not fun, but remember that who you are now isn’t the version of yourself that you’ll be stuck with forever. The more honestly you evaluate your weaknesses, the more likely you are to conquer them later! It’s never too late for self-improvement. So with that said:

  • Be realistic with your writing abilities; honestly, it’s totally normal to have a lot of difficulty writing in high school, and these are really tough essays!
  • If deadlines are on top of each other, start with the school you’re most likely to get accepted.
  • Prioritize productive windows of time. There is nothing wrong with being a night owl rather than a morning person and vice versa.
  • Growth mindset; you might feel like your drafts are awful, but you can improve!
kaboompics_Office Desk Table With Red Roses

4. Get in your “zone.”

It’s hard to write when you’re stressed, and being down-to-the-wire can increase the pressure you feel. Give yourself more bandwidth to focus on essays by:

  • Arranging your work environment to meet YOUR creative needs (e.g. getting hot tea and blankets in your room if you feel better while cozy, or venturing out at a cafe if you need some mild social pressure and background noise to focus).
  • Limiting other stressful activities; unless you’re talking about them in your apps, now is not the time to enter unnecessary competitions or plan elaborate social events.
  • Avoiding toxic interactions as much as possible (so ignore all those social media trolls… if you don’t listen to anything else I’ve written here, deactivate all social media until February). The holidays can make this extra difficult if certain family members or friends cause you high levels of distress; if possible, talk with someone you trust about ways to handle or avoid social gatherings with them. Worst case scenario, it’s pretty easy to fake having stomach flu.
adult-book-book-series-545062 (1)

5. Reward yourself.

This is hard work and burn-out slows you down. Do something that makes you feel good about yourself. I started running a lot during my grad school app process, partially because it was instant gratification after I completed a run. This can be anything moderately challenging (in a fun way!) to do daily. The time you take to do something you enjoy that makes you feel good about yourself allows you to be more productive later. You will ultimately save time. It benefits nobody to spend 30 minutes having a mini-breakdown from stress rather than spending 30 minutes reading for pleasure or doing aerobics.

Remember, motivation and productivity are not born from shame and guilt. You can’t change the mistakes you made in the past. Focus on how you’re going to improve your future. This is the time to draw on your support systems.

If you don’t have one yet, please reach out to us to learn more about we can help you.

Questions? Let us know!