College Application Process 101

Lucy Edmunds, Editor-In-Chief, Senior

Applying to college is STRESSFUL. As a senior who has been through the early admission process and emerged relatively unscathed, here is how I recommend you manage this process.

Don’t get started until Junior year is over. Junior year has enough stress in and of itself, the last thing you need is the additional stress of the application process. Take your time to focus on work and exams rather than rushing to begin the daunting task ahead of you.

Staying organized is a KEY! Set yourself up for success by creating a folder solely for college stuff (and if you want subfolders for each task)

  • Task #1— Activities Profile!
    • Not only will you have to supply your guidance counselor with a copy, but it can be extremely helpful to send to your teachers for recommendations as well as general inspiration for main and supplemental essays.
    • PUT DOWN EVERYTHING! Anything you do outside of school is above and beyond and colleges should know about it! You will have limited activity slots on Common App so begin to prioritize which activities you’d like to flaunt. 
    • Remember: Family obligations (i.e. babysitting and pet sitting) count as an extracurricular activity
  • Task #2— Teacher Recommendations
    • Some teachers will want your request during junior year spring, so take this into consideration as early as possible. 
    • Choosing teachers to write your recommendations can be difficult, but take a moment to think about who not only knows your academic abilities but also is familiar with your development on a personal level. Colleges love to see growth, if you’ve had a teacher more than once– they can write some great recs!
    • Some colleges actually allow for outsider recommendations. If you have a mentor (not in your family!) or a boss who you feel has a good idea of who you are this can give colleges even more insight to what you are like outside of a school environment. 
  • Task #3— The Common App
    • UGH the Common App is a pain! There is no doubt about it, but getting it over with is great to clear some headspace. Take an afternoon to sit down with a parent/guardian to help fill out all that basic information (they wanna know EVERYTHING). Once you have the common application completed, your time spent on that website will be greatly lessened. 
  • Task #4— THE ESSAY

Dun dun duuuunnnn… the dreaded essay. When picking a topic here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Try to avoid clichés.
  • Write about something that interests YOU
  • Try to demonstrate growth. Your essay can literally be about anything but you want it to say something about you.  My essay topic was about the friendships I’ve created just from taking my dogs to the park over quarantine.
  • Remember, it’s only 650 words– if you are planning on taking AP Lit or AP Euro, this will feel like nothing.
  • Finally, a second set of eyes never hurts. Okay, well, almost never. Parents and relatives can be overly critical and difficult to take criticism from. Try asking a teacher!
  • Task #5— Finding Schools
    • To preface– there is no “one” school for you. There are thousands and thousands of colleges to choose from and more than one (if not tens to hundreds) where you could succeed.
    • Easy additions: You know those incredibly annoying college emails… yeah. It’s important to actually keep an eye out because many schools who would want to see your application will waive their fee. Yes it may require a bit more work (supplements etc.) but if it’s for free, there is no school not worth applying to.
    • Make a list! Find yourself a rainy day and wander the internet/naviance. Keep a list of schools that strike your fancy and BE PICKY. Try not to just add schools for the sake of adding schools. 
      • From this list make a sublist for each institution including your county representatives, interview date, info session date, and virtual tour. Try and be able to check off 3 of the 4 for each school in the upcoming months. This is called demonstrated interest, and more and more schools have begun tracking it. Yes, it’s a pain but it’s also helpful in determining schools you do and don’t like. 
    • Once all these schools have been explored, update your list and you are going to want these to both your Common App and Naviance (you can ask your counselor for help!)
  • Task #6— Supplements
    • Supplements are essays that are specific to certain schools. Although they require a little extra work they serve for a great way to show colleges more about yourself (besides your grades and test scores!)
    • A common supplement will ask “Why this school?” With so many different schools it can seem a daunting task to pinpoint why exactly the school is of interest (let’s be honest, a lot of the time it is because of their food). Regardless of the school they absolutely do not want you to rewrite their website– they wrote it, they know what it says already! Rather, try to connect a certain aspect of the school to a past experience that you have.
    • For example, for a supplement I wrote about how growing up in Pelham made me appreciate a smaller, close knit community, and how I believed that school would continue to foster such an environment.

Okay that was A LOT! Remember you have time. Little by little is the way to go, your mental health shouldn’t be sacrificed to get into college! Use my summary below to plan for the upcoming year. *This chart is for ED/EA students, but getting done with all your applications early is a great way to get some stress off your shoulders


June 2021
  • Get started on the common app! The sooner you start the sooner it will be done:)
  • Begin doing school research– create your chart
  • Teacher recommendations should be decided
July 2021
  • Try to have your basic Common App finished!
  • Wrap up your school research (picking out which you’d like to pursue)
  • Start brainstorming essay ideas
August 2021
  • Start making your way through your college chart, getting those interviews, tours, etc. done
  • Try and have an essay draft (if not a few different ones)
September 2021
  • Your essay should be in progress!
  • Take a look at supplements (make a list and start checking those bad boys off)
  • Start emailing teachers to ensure they are working on their recommendations
October 2021
  • Final draft of essay
  • Supplements should be wrapping up
  • Begin review any individualized Common App questions for your specific schools
  • Recommendations should be in and submitted (Naviance)
November 2021
  • Deadlines for EA/ED are due– Make sure your contract is signed for ED
  • Take another look over your Common App!
  • Check in with guidance counselor
December 2021
  • Take a breath:)
January 2021
  • Regular decisions are due
  • Take one last look at those applications and a huge sigh of relief!