5 Tips for Stress-Free College/Graduate Applications

By Ryan Hickey + updated on September 14th, 2012

September has arrived and with it, the start of another academic year. While it can always be challenging to refocus on school after time away, students who plan to apply to college, graduate school, or a professional program this year face an added burden on top of regular academic and extracurricular commitments.

If you’ll be applying somewhere in the coming months, take a look at the following tips designed to help you balance applications with the demands of being a student.

1. Start Early

This is the single best tip out there for all applicants, yet a remarkably small number actually take it to heart. Applying to a school or program is a complicated and time-consuming process with many parts. A few elements, like taking standardized tests, must be planned and completed well in advance of actual deadlines. The rest, however, are completely in your hands.

Rather than leaving things until a week or few days before deadlines, you’ll find the process much smoother and less stressful if you start early and give yourself added time to get everything done. You’ll avoid last-minute panic and, more importantly, your application will be more polished and impressive. The three elements most important to focus on when starting early are:

- Writing and revising your essays or personal statement

- Securing professional or teacher recommendations

- Putting together any supplementary information, from resumes and CVs to portfolios, requested by your target program

2. Break Things Up

Rather than try to get every part of your application done at once, break it up and focus on one section or element at a time. That way you can focus on the task at hand (usually leading to better results) without letting the application completely consume your life. This is particularly important for full-time students, as they need to balance applications with coursework.

3. Stick To a Schedule

Get online, find your target programs’ websites, and write down all of the important dates for applications this cycle. Remember, there may be more than one deadline (for example, early application vs. regular decision for college applicants and Round 1 vs. Round 2 vs. Round 3 for MBA applicants). Also, some things, like standardized test scores and recommendations, may need to be sent directly from someone other than you by a given deadline.

Once you’ve pulled all of the deadlines for your programs, get them on a calendar so that you can keep track of everything. If you’re using an online tool like Outlook or iCal, set automatic reminders to go out two weeks, one week, and two days before each deadline. That will help you stay on top of everything even if school or extracurricular activities distract you.

4. Utilize Support Systems

Just because you’re the one applying somewhere doesn’t mean that you have to go it completely alone. There are many resources that provide valuable help for applicants, from parents and friends to teachers and counselors.

Don’ forget about professional admissions experts as well. Services like EssayEdge connect you with experienced admissions professionals who have been through the application process many times before.

5.  Relax

Last but definitely not least, make sure you take time away from your applications to enjoy whatever makes you happy and keeps you sane. Exercise, socialize, and just sack out with a book or movie. Applications are important, but worrying too much about them won’t help you in the least. You’ll be much more motivated and efficient if you don’t let applications completely take over your life!

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Ryan Hickey

Ryan Hickey is Managing Editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants. He enjoys sharing his knowledge to aid others in achieving their educational goals and, when he gets a break, loves hiking and fly fishing with his wife and two border-collie mixes.

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5 Responses to “5 Tips for Stress-Free College/Graduate Applications”

  1. I’m a senior in High School and my teachers want us to start applying for college early. I’m writing college essays, and doing other things that have to do with college. Is it as hard as it looks?

  2. Ryan Hickey says:

    Hi Sierra,

    Thanks for the question. Applying to college is definitely a challenging and complex process, but for many applicants, actually completing applications ends up being less challenging than dealing with the stress associated with them. Worried parents, nagging teachers, and sensationalized media attention can turn what is already a hard process into a nightmare. Moreover, because most high school students haven’t experienced anything like the college application process before, fear of the unknown can make everything seem more difficult than it actually is.

    That’s why starting early and planning ahead can be so beneficial. If you know what’s coming and have a plan to deal with it, you can relax and know that you are in control. Once applications are submitted, there’s pretty much nothing you can do but wait and hope. Until that point, though, you are in charge! The closer you get to deadlines, however, the less freedom you have – stuff has to get done, rushed and sloppy or not.

    Also, even the best laid plans often go awry: a computer crashes, you run into a nasty case of writer’s block in the middle of your essay, or a couple of teachers both assign massive projects in the same week. If you’re working on applications well in advance of when they are due, obstacles like those won’t completely derail you – you’ll have plenty of time to come back to things after dealing with the unexpected challenge.

    Hope that makes sense – best of luck with your applications!

  3. Hi,
    This is really helpful for students who are looking to improve their essay writing skills. I agree with all points of yours.
    Great help, thanks for sharing.

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  5. chelsea says:

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