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10 Tips for Surviving the College Application Process

09/06/2013 09:10 pm ET | Updated Nov 06, 2013

So, it's college application season. Which sometimes can feel like open season on the masses of frantic college seniors scrambling to perfect the applications that determine the next four years of their lives.

Speaking as someone who's been there, it isn't enjoyable. You will be stressed. And sleep deprived. And occasionally, you'll just want to rip your essays up and go join the circus. But with a lot of deep breathes, copious amounts of chocolate or your comfort food of choice and these tips, you can make it through this process and settle in to actually enjoying your senior year. Which, for the record, will be a lot of fun once you get to it.

1. Beginning super early is a great way to kickstart your college application process. However, if you're reading this right now, you might not have, and that's OK. Most people don't start writing their essays right after they were released in August. What's important here is to not get overwhelmed with however much time you do have. You do have a lot of work to do, and that can be scary and anxiety inducing. You might find yourself panicking about all the work you have to do instead of being able to sit down and do it. Take control of your work and your time by devising a plan that breaks down that big pile of work into manageable chunks. Figure out when each application is due, and then give yourself goals and deadlines to get it all done.

Bonus points if you allow an extra several days in your plan to account for technical difficulties; keep in mind that if you're submitting applications on the last day they're due, that leaves very little margin for error, and technical failures do happen.

2. This applies more for after you start hearing back, but keep it in mind for now:
It is a fantastic achievement to get into an Ivy League or other top ranked school. It is not a waste of four years if you don't. You worked hard for your acceptances. Be proud!

3. However, don't let those four years go to waste. I know you're at the point where one more standardised test or essay is almost more than you can take, but finish strong. If you think retaking the SAT is a feasible and reasonable thing for you to do, then do it. If the college you really want to apply to requires subject tests, then take them. Your college applications represent one of the first truly adult self directed choices you'll make, because the strength of your applications depends on the effort and hard work you decide to put into them. Don't make it a choice you'll regret.

4. Know your limits. Understand that there is a point where you can have too much of a good thing, and that's the point where the number of hours you put into an essay or ACT studying stop correlating to improvement and start dropping off into mental fatigue and burnout. The college admissions process is a tough time and it's important to be aware of both your mental and physical health. Put in the work, but don't let it dominate your life. Take a day or two to relax and refuel.

5. Have someone look at your essays. And then someone else. And a third person as well, if possible. You might think you don't have typos, but 99% of the time, you do. If you're submitting an essay that you haven't thoroughly revised at least once, it could be a better essay. Plus, even if you're typo-free, extra readers can comment on how you come across in the essay, its clarity, its flow, etc. It's beneficial to you to understand how your essay is read by someone else because admissions officers have a lot of essays to read, and they don't have time to figure out what you were trying to say if it isn't clear from the very beginning.

6. College applications really are about fit, so don't present yourself as somebody you aren't. Even if you're reading this right now and thinking that you'll be whatever gets you into *insert dream school here* no matter what, trust me. You want to be somewhere that also wants you to be there.

7. You may think you know what colleges you want to apply to, but I promise you there is a college out there you'd love if you knew about it. Be aware of the options you have, and spend a little time exploring! There are lot of fantastic search engines out there that let you plug in preferences for major, for academic ranking, for school size, for extracurricular opportunities, for diversity, etc, and give you a list of colleges that meet those specifications. Try out the College Board's Big Future feature or College Confidential's Super Search to get started.

8. Be aware of your financial situation now. Be aware of any other kind of considerations like that now. For example, are you comfortable living in a big city? Is it important for you to be close to home? You will be living at the college you choose for four years, so it's important that it's a place you like! You'll also be paying tuition to this college for four years, so make sure that's something you can feasibly do.

9. Scholarships. Scholarships, scholarships, scholarships. Start now. Procrastinate from college apps with scholarship apps. Use places like fastweb.com, the Scholly app, and a million other helpful sites to track down as many as you can. This is one of the few times in your life when you'll be eligible for free money, so take advantage of it.

10. Yes. Finishing your college applications does call for a monumental celebration. Dance around your house, eat a whole pizza by yourself, catch up on all the TV you've missed in the past two months. Relax. And enjoy the rest of your senior year!