Time Management During the College Application Season

Applying to college in a senior year can be a daunting time. Just as soon as you’re done with your homework in Math and English, it’s almost evening, and you still have your lab report to finish…And after that’s done, you realize you still haven’t gotten started on your common app essay! You may have been in this situation before, and you may have even repeated it over and over. You swear to yourself that you’ll get your college essay first draft done tomorrow, but then tomorrow becomes the next day, and the next, and the next…

If this sounds like you, or if you’re worried you might end up in this situation come senior year, here are Cardinal Education’s biggest tips on how to manage your time.

Tip 1: Start and Finish College Apps as Early as Possible

For those of you who haven’t entered the busy senior year yet, this is our #1 piece of advice. You’ll want to get cracking on that Common App and those supplements over the summer, rather than waiting for school to hit before getting started. Don’t underestimate how hefty this task is: you have your 650-word Common App, and it’s more than likely you’ll have to write at least 1 ~ 3 additional 250-word essays for each college you apply to! Of course, you can recycle some or all of certain answers to fit different prompts, but that’s still a lot of writing you have to do. And then on top of that is the polishing and the perfecting—so get it done while you have enough time in your schedule to take it steady.

Not only should you start ASAP, but you should also finish ASAP as well. The last two weeks before any college app deadline are the most stressful and may lead you to make some poor decisions. Get things done fast so that you can make choices with your writing to the best of your ability!

Tip 2: Break Things Down Into Chunks

You’ve probably heard of the “chunking” method of scheduling—breaking big tasks down into small pieces. Cardinal Education is here to expand on that piece of advice. College essays may seem daunting, with the hundreds of words you have to write and perfect come December—or even October, if you’re applying early. But if you chunk them according to a schedule, you’ll find that it’s not as hard as it may have appeared.

Let’s say you want to get your Common App essay done in the next four weeks. You might create a schedule that looks like this:

Week 1: Finish your current draft, and submit it to your college counselor for revision.

Week 2: Complete college counselor’s suggested revisions.

Week 3: Workshop with friends on Tuesday, complete the revisions by Thursday, and send them to your college counselor again. 

Week 4: Complete college counselor’s expected revisions again.

You can do the same for other essays as well. Split your big tasks into parts, and everything will seem much easier.

Tip 3: Schedule, Prioritize, and Set Hard Deadlines

If you want to achieve chunking, you’re going to have to put all of your action items on your schedule as well. Block time on Google Calendar, marking down not only the time you’ll devote to each step of your college process but also the time you’ll spend on all of your homework. Once your schedule is all laid out for you, it could also take a great deal of stress off your shoulders. A lot of work seems like, well, a lot. But visualizing it on your calendar might reveal that you had more relaxation time than you imagined, or that you can get everything done and still go to bed at a reasonable hour.

Prioritization will also help you schedule the most effectively. If you have a B+ or lower in a class that you’re desperately trying to make up, try covering that first each day—though it would be a good idea to put your college apps right afterward, to make sure you get that done. But if it’s your college apps that need a lot of work, try doing that as soon as you get home when you still have energy and your mind is fresh. Then you can move on to your most important school subject/assignment, then the next most important, and the next, saving the easiest and least urgent homework for last. Just like visualizing your schedule on the calendar, this can also help psychologically. Instead of doing assignments haphazardly and being left with a rush to get your most important ones done, you’ll be assured of finishing the most important and stress-inducing ones first.

Finally, set hard deadlines for your college application work, and strive as much as possible to fulfill them. Don’t just try to meet them. Meet or do not meet; there is no try. If you allow yourself too much flexibility in deadlines, you’ll just keep pushing back work more and more as you procrastinate—and then where would you be? So, you’ll have to really apply yourself in order to get everything done, especially since this semester you have college apps on top of your homework. If you’re reading this, it’s probably the last year of high school for you; finish strong!

Tip 4: Remember to Take Breaks

While overworked students might feel as though R&R is overrated, take heed of this advice just as much as the other advice we’ve presented. You can’t write and edit college essays to the best of your ability if you’re running on empty, so make sure you spend at least sometime each day doing something to truly relax and unwind. And we don’t mean binge-watching YouTube during study sessions or spending the night on video games once everything is done. Get some exercise. Spend time with friends and family. Cook a meal. Don’t pull all-nighters—you’ll be worse off in the long run if you keep resorting to them. And always, remember to drink enough water!