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You Snooze, You Lose

It’s “game day” in the world of college admission. It’s go time. Ask any educational consultant, and they’ll tell you that August 1st is the day when the adrenaline shows up and those game day jitters kick in.

Why is that?

It’s because August 1st is the day that the Common App (and, in fact, many other applications including the University of California application) go live for the upcoming admission cycle.

Yep. Go time.

Even still, many students across the U.S. and abroad will wait to start filling it out (and perhaps filling out their other applications) for a month. Or two. Or three.

But there are some significant, tangible consequences to waiting. Beyond the stress that builds when we procrastinate, the college admission process favors those who have the foresight to plan ahead.

Why The Common App

Let’s first establish why the Common App is so useful and why I’m focusing on it here. The Common App has over 1,000 member institutions. While some of them accept it and other applications like the Coalition Application, the Questbridge Application, or perhaps their own institutional application, the Common App both streamlines and simplifies a student’s application process, allowing them to fill out one main application and submit it to many different schools. Generally speaking, colleges do not have a preference with regard to which application a student fills out, so choosing the Common App for as many schools as a student can saves some serious time.

3 Reasons That’ll Convince You to Start Now

So, given teens’ busy lives, what will compel them to dive in now? Here are 3 reasons why they simply can’t wait.

  1. Stealth Essays. That's right—some essays are hidden, and they can present a harsh (and unwelcome) 11th-hour surprise when uncovered too late. Stealth essays are essays that only populate after a student has answered particular questions in a college’s My Colleges section. For example, a college might ask what the student plans to major in, and only after the student answers that question does a new essay populate asking the student about his experience exploring that field. And here's the thing: supplemental essays matter. They really matter. They're where a college can get, among other things, a feel for a student's fit for their institution and it's where some of them glean demonstrated interest. Students who wait to fill out each college’s questions can face a real shock when a new essay pops up and they're forced to scramble to write a coherent essay with only days—or hours—to spare.

  2. The Add Date is Visible to Colleges. The colleges to which a student is applying have the ability to see when that student adds their institution to the dashboard. And while they may or may not use this information, students certainly don’t want to be in the position of appearing to add a school at the very last minute.

  3. School. It’s that simple. The start of school is around the corner, and juggling the demands of your senior-year coursework and extracurricular activities with your college applications can become overwhelming. You certainly don't want your performance to suffer when you're finally at bat. Getting a head start on some of the busy work now will pay off in dividends later.

. . . And One More Compelling Bonus Reason

In the spirit of our game day theme, let’s go into overtime and explore one more bonus reason students can’t wait to work through the Common App. There are several sections of the Common App—4 in particular—that require particular time and attention. (Check out my free Ultimate Guide to the Common App for more on that.) Here, I want to highlight one of those sections in particular.

Completing the Activities section in a certain way is key to a student’s success in the process. What I mean by that is that students can either use the Activities section to their advantage to stand out from the applicant pool, or it can be a wasted opportunity. Within this section, the Common App gives you a mere 150 characters (not words!) to articulate all of the amazing things you’ve done within each activity. (For reference, the previous sentence was 147 characters). That means that every single character needs to be chosen with intention and must pack a punch.

What I’m getting at is simple: The Activities section takes time and thoughtful planning. Activity descriptions pulled together at the last minute almost certainly will not give students the edge they need to stand out. Indeed, my students work on their activity descriptions on and off over a period of a couple of months to make sure they get everything just right.

Continuing with our sports metaphor, college application season truly is a marathon—not a sprint. Just as winning a long-distance race involves stamina, intention, and forethought, so too does this process. Getting a jump start now will no doubt set you apart from the competition.


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