Strategize First for a Smooth College Admissions Process

Cathryn Sloan

It's not difficult to get a college student to reflect on what they wish they had known as an applicant. From tips on managing multiple applications at once to what to look for on campus visits, there is a ton to learn about the college admissions process.

High school upperclassmen can only figure out so much without having actually experienced it. Fortunately, there are some helpful ways students can strategize to make the application process flow smoothly.

[Avoid making these common college application mistakes.]

When in doubt about what to do, go right to the source and talk to current college students about the process. There are plenty of ways to do this, such as attending college info sessions, participating in a campus overnight program or asking questions on a student-led campus tour.

Searching through your extensive network can help students find sources of advice. Reach out to relatives, friends, acquaintances, co-workers and friends of friends.

One thing some current college students agreed on was the importance of time management in de-stressing the daunting application journey.

Zachary Cousins, who will be a senior at the University of Houston Honors College this fall, says that confidence was an issue for him in choosing which schools to apply to and getting started on the applications. He says a simple time management plan would have helped him tremendously.

"I imagine that the biggest barrier to college entry is the tediousness and intimidation that comes along with the application process," said Cousins. "Early on, if I had spent one hour every week filling out portions of the applications, I would have gotten many more finished."

[Learn how to achieve better time management in college.]

Every college sets and each student has to meet a different set of deadlines. These depend on factors such as whether the student is applying early action or early decision, or taking scholarship applications and financial aid paperwork into account.

Time is valuable, and students can't allot their time based on a best friend's schedule, or by assuming a few all-night sessions will allow them to get everything done.

Prioritizing responsibilities is another key element of successful college admissions. Students must categorize their application tasks and determine what is most urgent, and what can wait.

Christine Tran, a rising sophomore at Stanford University, says she found the essay portions of college applications to be the most stressful. She said that the attention she gave to them was appropriate given their high level of importance.

She also emphasized the benefits of having your work reviewed by people you trust prior to submitting. Make time for editing a priority.

"It's really important to get feedback from multiple people so you can get different perspectives on your writing. Healthy criticism is okay. That's how we improve," Tran said.

"Since admissions officers cannot meet or get to know each applicant personally, personal statements do most of this work for them. These essays can reveal more than you may expect about who you are," she said.

The financial burden of education can be another major issue that some students face in applying to college, so be sure to consider adding scholarship applications to your college admissions timeline. While some students and their families have saved money for a long time, others are not as prepared.

[Follow these seven steps to navigate the college application process.]

Overwhelming scholarship applications or the news that a school will not grant financial aid can discourage students. But as with the college applications themselves, students just need to attack these tasks and persevere.

Michael Zhou, a rising sophomore at Rice University, says that diving into those scholarship applications can be well worth your time, even if you have been lucky enough to receive university financial aid.

"Just because colleges may grant you aid does not mean you shouldn't still apply for scholarships. The average scholarship application is only a few hours long, but that few hours could earn you thousands of dollars," he said.

Ultimately, all the work and self-discipline that goes into applying to universities is also key preparation for the entire college experience. Students are going to face exciting opportunities and new challenges daily.

Cathryn Sloane is a marketing coordinator for Varsity Tutors. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from The University of Iowa.