The misery index level of the college admissions process is relative. Relative to how studious and organized you are. Relative to how much effort you put into the application process. Relative to your attention to detail and capacity to follow through consistently. Relative to the dependability of those who contribute to your application process. And relative to whether you know how to deal with application anxiety.
How Studious and Organized Are You?
Starting the college application process late in the senior year of high school is like beginning to cook Thanksgiving dinner at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Not advisable. Curriculum choices and extracurriculars should reflect your college aspirations come freshman year or sooner. One timeline for the process begins in September of the junior year with the hunt for scholarships and ends in May of the senior year with Advanced Placement exams.
Filling out applications for prospective colleges is the last lap of the race. Where you place in the race depends on ability and preparation, and preparation hinges on being studious and organized. Those two adjectives define these tips:
- Do the homework. That applies to everything from high school studies to researching what the colleges you are targeting expect from applicants.
- Make lists. That’s a simplistic way to say you should identify your goals and the steps to achieve them. It also means using tools such as planning and tracking apps.
Are You Willing to Make the Necessary Effort?
Starting the application paperwork is the culmination of classes and activities chosen, grades made, and standardized tests taken. The paperwork push alone is a herculean task, and it can’t begin in earnest until you have done time-consuming things such as nurturing relationships that can produce good references and guidance and getting to know yourself well enough to write essays that will strike a chord with admissions office staff.
Yes, there are elements of the overall application process that are painfully daunting, including the push for your best SAT score; that’s why the process conjures words such as “stress” and “anxiety.”
The magic behind getting this tricky process right is timing. Study when it’s time. Engage with counselors and mentors when it’s time. Explore your talents and find your weaknesses along the way. Do all that, and when it’s time to start the final paperwork, you already will have done most of the truly hard work.
In short, it’s all about being willing to expend the necessary effort in timely fashion.
Are You Paying Attention to Detail and Follow-Through?
So, you’ve done the homework, you hope you’ve compiled the academic and personal bona fides needed to be a viable applicant, and you’ve mailed the applications.
Basically, there are three types of college admissions letters, and now you are waiting to see which you’ll get. You aren’t human if the wait doesn’t make you edgy, but there are steps you can take to avoid getting too edgy.
Under the heading of attention to detail:
- Keep copies of all elements of your applications and the applications themselves. Make hard copies of digital versions if possible.
- Save paperwork and digital notices of receipt that can help you show what you mailed/sent and when.
- Ensure that your reference providers and counselor have a record of what they sent and when, including hard copies when possible.
- Have names and telephone numbers of admissions office contacts at your target schools.
- Know application process timelines and tools for each school.
Under the heading of follow-through:
- If the schools you applied to don’t send paper or electronic confirmations when they receive applications and supplemental items, check via online tracking systems, by phone, or by email.
- Wait at least three weeks to contact admissions offices. It might save time to take your files to your counselor’s office and call from there. He or she might have records you will need to reference.
- If your test results don’t reach a school, check with the testing company to ensure they were sent.
- If reference letters or other documents provided by your college team don’t show up, go to the sources.
How Dependable Is Your College Team?
Your application process is a team effort made by you and some combination of friends, siblings, parents, counselors, and reference providers. You can’t choose your family, and your choice of counselors might be limited, but you know who your friends are and, through personal engagement, should know what to expect from your references.
This team will help you navigate the application maze and cope with the almost inevitable anxiety the process produces.
Are You Equipped to Deal with Application Anxiety?
The most common recommendation on how many schools to target is five to eight, so odds are you’ll get at least one rejection.
Along with your risk of being denied admission, the application process features stressful decisions on mapping academics and extracurriculars, the pressures of testing, waiting anxiously for test results and application responses, the weight of making the final choice, and the stress of finishing the college process. Some level of emotional turmoil is guaranteed.
The best solution for stress and anxiety is prevention, and all the effort and time spent getting the applications right will help minimize stress and anxiety.
About Joe Emerson
Joe Emerson spent 30 years as a magazine and newspaper reporter, editor and copyeditor who turned to freelancing after 20 years with The Tampa Tribune, which closed in 2016 after 125 years of serving the Tampa Bay area. Writing and delivering valuable information remain his passion.