The background on this past admissions cycle given in our last post suggests at least three things for college applicants: engagement with universities before you apply is now more important than ever; the thoroughness of your college research is also more important than ever; and, while test scores remain optional for most schools, it’s still worth it to consider ways you can maximize your test results, whether or not you end up sending them in the end. In this post, we’ll take you through these three aspects of your application process and provide a timeline from now until submission. Everyone’s timeline is different—but we hope this general guide will be helpful as you set your plans in place.
Brainstorm and Begin Drafting Essays
Start early! The Common Application Main Essay will be the most important piece that you write, since it will go to every college you apply to through the Common Application. This 650-word essay usually takes 4-5 revisions to get just right—real revisions! Not just changing a few sentences here and there. This takes time, and it’s a good idea, if your summer schedule allows, to aim to have this wrapped up by early August. That way, you can use August to work on some of the many shorter, school-specific supplemental essays you’ll need to write.
Make sure to take your time with your supplemental essays as well: these essays are more crucial than ever in this application landscape, since they help demonstrate to admissions officers that you’ve done your research about their school and thought carefully about why you hope to attend.
Engage with Universities Based on Thorough Research
Throughout the pandemic, we have been advising students on how to maximize remote research opportunities (you can read two of our previous posts about this here and here). Strategies include attending virtual info sessions or student panels, digging into department-level webpages, and following colleges on social media. Reach out to friends or alums of your high school who attend colleges of interest and ask them about their experiences—there’s nothing better than first-hand information!
Most importantly, more and more admissions officers are open to direct outreach from potential applicants. Check out Admissions Office homepages and see if they offer any guidance on how to connect with them. Reaching out to your regional admissions officer with one or two informed questions can make a big impression early in the process. Remember, in the context of rising application numbers, admissions officers are highly focused on figuring out which applicants are most likely to attend; showing them that you have done your homework can help show them that you are seriously interested.
Be Informed about Standardized Testing Policies
Before deciding whether or not to send scores, seek out information on particular colleges SAT / ACT score ranges, as well as how many applicants submit scores.
If you are planning to take an upcoming SAT or ACT, our Marks Education test-prep tutors can help you set a schedule, and work with you as you prepare. Keep in mind, too, that there are many excellent resources for self-studying for both tests, including the College Board SATs 1-8, which have detailed answer explanations; Khan Academy; and Marks Education’s Four Realistic Tests with Answer Explanations. For the ACT, consider Marks Education’s ACT Math Workout and the Sample Questions on the ACT’s website: English, Math, Reading, and Science.
Set a Timeline
With all the work ahead in the coming months, it’s important to set out a rough timeline, to make sure you stay on track.
- Continue researching universities of interest
- Create a Common Application account and fill in the first three data-entry sections
- Brainstorm topics and start drafting your main Common Application essay
- Continue with test prep, if needed
- Engage with universities and, where possible, with admissions officers
- Finalize main Common Application essay and start working on supplemental essays
- Finish filling in your Common Application, including the activities section and adding colleges of interest
- Continue engaging with universities
- Confirm application plan with high school
- Finish university-specific supplemental essays
OCTOBER / NOVEMBER
- Plan to submit all Early applications at least ten days before any deadline