Managing Your Time During the College App Season

Time management can feel nonexistent during the Common App season; there’s just so much to be on top of. Balancing homework, classwork, extracurriculars, test prep, mental health, and your social life can be  very overwhelming! During the summer before my senior year, I didn’t feel a real sense of urgency when it came to writing a draft of the personal statement, so I only had a few transient ideas on paper. However, I was able to do a lot of heavy research on colleges I was interested in, including my dream school. So, while all wasn’t lost, I still feel as though I could’ve done much more to ease up on the workload I’d have coming for the fall semester. Thinking retrospectively on what I could’ve done better as a senior, these are the major things I would’ve prioritized:

1. Start as early as you can.

This is a given. With all the colleges you’re applying to, it’s crucial to have all your information sorted out before you get down to writing the individual prompts. By starting early, you’ll be able to perfect each college’s short essay without having to gloss over any details that might sound too general or underdeveloped. The prime time to get started is the summer leading into your senior year. While this might seem very early, it’s the only time you’ll truly be able to dedicate full consecutive hours to college research. Not only that, but there’s also additional information to keep track of, such as deadlines that don’t follow the traditional regular-decision date, financial aid forms like the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and College Scholarship Service (CSS) profile, college interviews, etc. If you’re unable to get much done during the summer for whatever reason, certainly aim to utilize the first few weeks of September to know what you have to get done. By this time, it’d be ideal to have a rough draft of your Common App personal statement, along with the first few drafts of short essays (if those prompts have been made available on the Common App). Once you’re past the midpoint of September, classwork and homework will start to take up the bulk of your time.

2. Make sure to get the proper amount of sleep!

Being a high school junior or senior doesn’t excuse you from getting at least seven hours of sleep! It is very much possible; I even knew a guy who wouldn’t risk getting less than nine hours a day! The best way to make this possible is by being efficient with your time. Being efficient generally means prioritizing tasks that have a more immediate deadline, and then getting smaller chunks done for assignments and applications due at a later time. During my time in high school, I would try to squeeze in all seven hours of sleep by setting a hard bedtime and then waking up very early (around five or six in the morning) to finish up any extra work. This isn’t feasible for a lot of people and is a very difficult habit to develop, but this isn’t the only way to get enough sleep. Some of my friends would take long naps after school, because they realized they worked better during the night. It all boils down to recognizing when you work best and using that to your advantage.

3. Utilize free time at school to finish up homework.

Have any free periods during the school day? Fantastic! Those blocks of free time will be essential for getting work done in a timely fashion. Amidst college applications, school projects, and extracurricular activities, homework may easily feel like the least of your concerns. But don’t underestimate its impact on your grades! From personal experience, when the first semester of senior year gets hectic, test grades can easily slip, so having homework grades to cushion that fall can put you at the right place by the end of the semester. And trust me, you don’t want to mess up first semester grades right before colleges get all your transcripts. You don’t have to be a perfectionist for homework, though; just make sure to crank out decent assignments so that you’ll have a significantly smaller portion to complete at home.

4. It’s okay to miss some meetings for extracurriculars.

With college apps, schoolwork, and homework bumping heads all at once, it would seem as though the extracurricular activities you’re pursuing are going to make things far more unbearable. That’s already an hour or two of your day, maybe even more if you have multiple things happening throughout the week. During those weeks when it gets extremely overwhelming, it’s okay to contact someone on the board of your club or organization and say that you can’t come in. Of course, be sure not to make this into a habit, because you don’t want to lose your standing in the activity. After all, the activity is something you’ll likely be adding to your resume, so you still want to maintain your presence. But mental health is also very important, and the board members (especially in high school) may be more understanding than you’d think.

5. Schedule at least half an hour of SAT/ACT studying every day.

Half an hour doesn’t sound so bad, right? Because it really doesn’t! If you can find the time to dedicate an hour every day to test prep, then by all means go for it. But when it comes to managing everything else (including the things we may tend to look over, like eating and personal hygiene), half an hour is more than enough for any given weekday. That being said, be sure to make effective use of that time. Focus on the subject areas you’re genuinely struggling with. For me, that was the science section of the ACT, which was persistently the section in which I scored the lowest in all my practice tests. Once you’ve set up a mini-routine for the weekdays, find the time to run through several sections from practice exams in real-time during the weekends. This will be a really effective way of assessing whether or not these study habits are actually helping you.

6. Balance the weekend with homework and relaxing.  

By starting long-term assignments earlier in the week and working through exam prep in smaller increments, you’re likely to find more time opening up on the weekend. For all the “studyholics” out there, it’ll be really tempting to start working on a bunch of assignments due the next week. And while getting ahead is always ideal, you’ll also probably fall into a loop of starting work in advance, only to spend all your free time on doing work. No one wants that! The aim is always to maintain some form of balance, so perhaps you might choose to split the weekend into school-related work and “you time”. Typically, I would get home on a Friday afternoon and just come up with a basic game plan of what homework is due on the immediate Monday and the specific chunks of homework I ought to work on for the following week (for more help on creating a study plan, consider signing up for college counseling with us at UPchieve!) I would aim to have all the things I want to get done by mid-afternoon on Saturday; the remainder of the weekend would be spent just hanging out with friends and family or watching Netflix. Of course, the way you want to break up the weekend is totally up to you. Just be sure that you’re not overwhelming yourself with homework and anything college app-related, because that’ll only exhaust you for the following week.

7. Prioritize mental health!

Above all else, be sure to prioritize your mental health! A lot of students might take this in jest, because the college app season feels like it’s designed to be stressful. But when you really think about it, being overly exhausted and anxious to the point of it adversely affecting your everyday life just isn’t worth it, not even for college. Self-care can look like a bunch of things. Whether it be jogging early in the morning or taking the time to nap after school, be sure to allot a specific time for that activity sometime during the day. Write it down in your planner if you have to; do whatever it takes to normalize self-care practices, so you don’t disregard them in an attempt to be more “productive.” As a busy student myself, I can imagine this seeming like a huge bulk of your day. To combat this, you can try limiting it to an hour-long activity. At the same, try not to be too time-conscious; otherwise, you won’t be able to actually enjoy this well-deserved break, which will definitely make you a lot more anxious and perhaps even tired as the night progresses.

Time management isn’t something you can develop overnight. While it may seem unnatural to utilize your time differently, it alleviates a lot of the stress that’s typically caused by college app season. You got this!