How to Get Your College Applications Done by Winter Break. Magic!

Get your applications in early with a minimum of drama.
November 29, 2018

January 1 college application deadlines will soon be here.

But you already knew that. 

DON’T PANIC. But don't dawdle either.

How nice would it be to get your applications done by winter break so that you can actually relax and enjoy yourself and celebrate other things that matter in your life? 

Here are 4 things you can start working on TODAY in the final sprint to winter break:

1. Check in with your teachers, counselors, and testing companies about their supporting documents

Believe it or not, your teachers and counselor are as stressed as you are about all the college application deadlines. The more lead time you can give people to write letters on your behalf, the better. If you owe them any materials or conversations, or have yet to get the ball rolling, don’t put this off another day.

If you want to hit those January 1 deadlines (let alone with time to spare), don't make them scramble. They are your allies for your applications, so be super nice to them.

Also, if you haven’t already found out, ask your counselor whether or not your high school uses Naviance to submit their parts of the application. Do so before you start entering your counselor or recommender info into the Common App, because your submission logistics will be different depending on the answer.

Are there any test score reports that still need to be sent by the College Board (SAT), the ACT, or ETS (TOEFL)? Double-check that now and get them ordered if you haven’t done that. (One big money-saving hint: don’t ever pay for rush processing — the colleges download on a regular schedule, so rush processing means nothing.)

We have lots of tips in Inline around recommendations and submission logistics and also so-called FERPA waivers for your recommendations. (You will be asked whether you are waiving your FERPA rights under federal law, and we have some advice around that too.) 

2. Create a work schedule for your applications between now and winter break

Create an application work schedule and go over it with your family. Breaking your application work down into a couple of hours a day will be MUCH more effective than giant marathon sessions. It doesn’t matter whether you use a paper calendar or an electronic calendar, but use some kind of calendar, and map out exactly when you’ll be working on your applications every day.

Then stick to the plan. Stick to the plan. Stick. To. The. Plan.

Between now and winter break, that work calendar is sacred. Some of the Common App or college-specific supplemental questions will require input from your parents (for example, questions about state residency, their marital and family history, and their education and work history), so coordinate your calendar with theirs to budget for that parent-input time. You might also need their signatures for certain parts of the application, like binding Early Decision contracts.  

3. Get cracking on your Common App essay and any supplemental essays for individual colleges

We know. The essays can be scary. And maybe you’ve been putting off all your essay writing until winter break. 


Inline gives you lots of exercises and worksheets and step-by-step instructions to help you with your essay writing, and we even show you sample essays that explain how those samples are effective from an admissions officer’s point of view. (At Inline, we’re former admissions officers, and we’ve read enough application essays to last us a lifetime.) We know you’re way too smart to copy the essay samples or engage in any plagiarism, but you can get a sense of the range of responses that work really well for different essay prompts and let yourself be inspired, and also guided by plenty of tips based on actual admissions expertise.

You might be tempted to start writing RIGHT NOW, basically throwing a bunch of spaghetti at the wall and hoping something sticks. That’s not the formula for successful application essays, though. 

Instead, organize your essay topics first so that you can figure out where the overlap is, and where you can recycle your essays. Did you know that you can even swap out the Common App essay for different colleges? You might want to mix-and-match different Common App essays with different supplemental essays for individual colleges. Inline shows you how.

4. Use the Common App Help Desk

The good people at the Common App have a Help Desk (or as they call it, the Solutions Center) during the application season. If you’re running into problems with the Common App platform, contact them for help. More info here:

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

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