Five Tips for Completing Last-Minute College Applications

Email a Friend

With the Jan. 1 application deadline at many four-year colleges and universities just a few weeks away, here's some helpful guidance for you last-minute filers. For starters, don't panic.

Q: Is it too late for me to add a college to my application list and still meet the Jan. 1 deadline?

A: It may not be too late to add those colleges, but only if:

  • It’s okay with those who have to send supporting documents on your behalf, including your counselor, the school registrar and the teachers responsible for supplying your recommendations. You may have missed some important deadlines at your school, but there is no harm in asking your counselor or the school administrator who sends out transcripts.
  • You can write an application of which you are proud in such a short interval of time and feel confident that you know enough about that college to do so.

Q: I haven't started my personal statements and other application essays yet -- any advice?

A: Don’t freak out. You can still do it. Just start now!

  • Think about the stories you want to tell about yourself (a good place to start might be a formative experience, and how it changed you) as well as why you are applying to your particular colleges.
  • Look at all the writing you need to do, including main essays and supplemental writing. Which topics overlap, and how many essays can you adapt for multiple purposes? You probably don’t have to write as many essays as it may seem.
  • Don’t overthink this. Answer the question that is asked; tell the stories you want to tell. You don’t know who is going to read your application, so you can’t worry about what the mythical “they” want to read.

Q: I am running into technical difficulties with the Common Application, what should I do?

A: While students and counselors encountered some technical glitches earlier in the fall those issues are believed, for the most part, to have been resolved. That said, if you have problems with your Common Application, send the organization a help ticket. It is critical that you send the help ticket while logged in from your account and computer. Here’s how to do so: From the Common Application dashboard, click Help Center and keep clicking through until you can submit a question. The help team’s response time is often extremely quick, counselors report.

Q: What sort of final checklist should I be running through?

A: How about something like this:

  • Applications you have submitted: Make sure your application, fees, test scores, and other student forms have been received. If not, ask the colleges how they would like to have those documents sent (or resent)
  • Applications with upcoming deadlines: Send scores now and make sure the application, fees and other student forms are submitted by the deadline. Remind recommenders and your counselor of upcoming deadlines, in particular deadlines that occur during any holiday break. Don’t wait to write your other applications until you receive an admissions decision from your first-choice Early Decision college. Nothing is more soul-crushing than writing five “Why Your College” essays when you are angry at the one you wanted the most.
  • Be sure to thank your teachers, counselors and others who may have written your recommendations, and keep them updated about what you hear from colleges
  • Pay attention to financial aid deadlines and requirements

Q: How can I enjoy my Christmas break with my family with these deadlines looming?

A: The short answer: Get the work finished before break. And if not:

  • Set a schedule of when you will complete the applications. Break it down day by day into manageable, realistic bites. Keep in mind days when you simply won’t, and shouldn’t, be able to work on college applications. Show your parents your schedule, ask them to help keep you on track.
  • Come up with a plan for how you and your parents will respond to questions about you and college admissions. Well-meaning family and friends will have lots of questions about your future; they aren’t always thoughtful in how they ask or respond. Decide what you want to say, if anything, and to whom.
  • If all else fails, remember this: many colleges have deadlines that extend beyond Jan. 1, and sometimes even into the spring.