Beginner’s guide to doing all your college applications in three weeks

How to get into college in seven easy steps!

Chloe Koulefianou, Editor-in-chief

Hello fellow senior. Are deadlines creeping up on you faster than you imagined? Have you procrastinated on writing any college essays? Is the stress from keeping your grades up while simultaneously pursuing higher education keeping you awake at night? Well, fret not. My name is Chloe, and I am here to teach you how to save your entire future from your poor time management skills.

I am applying to eight universities, three of them being Ivy Leagues. Here is how I finished all of my college applications in far too little time and in far too much of a panic.

Step 1: Disclaimer

Step one to completing your college applications in three weeks: don’t do it.

“[College applications are] hard to manage along with classwork, extra-curricular activities, and actual work, but they’re like the most important priority at the same time,” said senior Izzy McReynolds.

While the Common Application provides for an easy way to get most of your information to colleges in one concise application, you still need time to write the Common Application essay and other supplemental essays to ensure perfection. I, for one, had over 4,000 words of combined essays to write. It got to a point where I was writing one essay a day. That time doesn’t even include the editing process, as you should have at least three people to read each essay in order to get feedback and critique from various perspectives. So, for the love of every admissions office in the country, please give yourself at least 2 or 3 months of time to complete your application.

Step 2: College List

Narrow down your list of colleges.

Senior Isata Sankoh shared, “By the time I decided what colleges I wanted to apply to, the application deadlines were all that week.”

Start by making a list of states you can bear to live in. Get your parents to help through this process. For example, my mother struck all the midwestern and southern states from my list before I could even blink. California was on the list until it caught on fire. Next, take a good hard look at your GPA, SAT, and ACT and think of what colleges you could really get into. If you have a 1.4 GPA and an SAT score of 800, I advise against applying to Stanford, because without a fee waiver, that’s $90 going toward an institution that most likely will not accept you.

Pick colleges that you can see yourself living in. Do not choose a college in the Yukon if you are prone to homesickness (unless, of course, you live in the Yukon). Some good websites to browse especially lesser-known colleges are U.S. News and Niche. After you have found some institutions you are interested in, visit the website and take note of things you like about the college as you will need this information for your essays.

Related image
Logos of some of Virginia’s best colleges.

At the end of this process, you should have a list of about six to ten schools you will apply to. One must be a safety, or a school you are absolutely certain will accept you (no matter what your grades look like, the University of Virginia cannot be your safety school). You must have one or two reach schools or schools that you do not have the best chance of getting into, but it doesn’t hurt to try. For example, if the school’s average SAT score range is 1300-1400 and you have a 1250, this may be your reach school.

Make sure you find a college that offers the major you are looking for. If you are going in undecided, try to find a college with a wide variety of majors.

Do not forget to check the admission requirements for each school. For example, Duke asks for two recommendations from core teachers and I had my two but one of them was my gifted teacher so I had to ask another teacher instead. Also, some colleges require SAT Subject tests, which can be taken three at a time, but you need time to register and study. Don’t let those extra little requirements take you by surprise.

Step 3: Teacher Recommendations

If you haven’t asked your teachers for recommendations yet, start begging.

Step 4: The dreaded FAFSA

Now that you have chosen all the colleges you are applying to, you must now figure out how you will pay for them if you get in. This is where the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) comes in. This form is the keystone in finding federal student aid in the form of grants, loans, and work-study programs. Also, most colleges require the FAFSA in order to qualify for need-based scholarships. Some colleges also require the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile, which is a financial aid form done through College Board. Grab your tax records and set aside an hour of you and your parents’ time to complete this form.

Step 5: The Common Application

The Common App is a way for you to enter all that tedious information like your name and address in one convenient form common for most colleges. While some colleges use other platforms like Coalition or specialized applications, chances are if you are applying to college, you will have to fill out the Common App. This should not take you more than 30 minutes to complete. This is also where you can check the submission status of your college recommendations.


The homepage for my Common Application.

Step 6: Tackling the essay monster

Essays are what can make or break your application. Most colleges do not consider test scores and grades to the same extent to that which they consider essays. When applying to colleges, you are selling your personality along with your intelligence. A lot of colleges ask why you wish to go to that specific college. Remember in step 2 when I asked you to take notes on what you like about each college? This is where that applies. If you mention specific programs that you’ve heard perhaps from an admissions officer or on a tour, this is where you would insert that information. Use a wide array of vocabulary and let your voice shine through. 

Welcome feedback. Not everyone will interpret your essay the same way you intended it to be interpreted, especially if it is on an identity unique to you.

Former Hylton student and current William & Mary sophomore Melia Edgecomb suggests “writing until you start to like what you’re writing and then don’t stop until you’re done.”

Step 7: Submit

Congrats! You’ve finished all of your college applications! Now that you have that huge weight lifted off of your shoulders, you can finally start making plans with your friends, focusing more on school, and applying for scholarships. Good luck.

Senior Evelyn Lindeman has another piece of advice for any underclassman reading this article, “Don’t wait ’till the last three weeks.”