Overcoming College Application Obstacles

A veteran of the college search process shares some advice so you can steer clear of these three common roadblocks.

Applying to college is not the easiest task in the world, to say the least. It requires hard work, organization skills, and a whole lot of time. Personally speaking, I made minor and major mistakes when applying to college, including missing one college’s financial aid deadline. Being a veteran of this process, I am going to share some advice so your ride to success will steer clear of these roadblocks.

Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines!   

No one is going to hand you a golden list of all the deadlines you need to know. (Or if someone does, you’re lucky.) Go to your schools’ websites to check their deadlines for applying, financial aid, housing, and anything else. The Common Application facilitates this quite a bit by listing all the application deadlines once you add a school. But beware, the deadlines can be different for certain majors. As a film major, I needed to apply early for one college as opposed to sending in my application with the majority of students. Also, FAFSA, CSS Profile, and other financial aid sources can have unique deadlines, depending on the school.

College deadlines definitely put you in a tortoise-and-the-hare kind of situation: they seem far away and slow in their pacing, but one day they will catch up with you, and if you’re not careful, they’ll beat you to the finish line. In order to detangle the web of college deadlines, make a list. It’s best to arrange a master list in chronological order with each deadline and its date. Since I applied to a multitude of schools, I used a calendar to map out all the important dates. Post this list somewhere visible, like your bedroom door or bathroom mirror. This way, you won’t forget.

Related: The Top 5 College Application Deadlines You Need to Know About

College essays: a ticking time bomb

With deadlines come applications, and with applications come essays. Some college application essays may ask for 200 words; others may be 700. In any case, college essays are not something you want to complete the night before they’re due. Those essays stack up fast too, especially for students applying to many colleges. I remember writing a college essay last minute...it wasn’t the happiest moment of my life. Believe me, the earlier you’ll start, the happier you’ll be. With extra time, you can revise, rethink, and polish your essay. Also, it allows for more people to read it—your friends, teachers, parents, siblings, mailman. While you may think your essay is a masterpiece, having another person read it with a fresh pair of eyes can lead to invaluable advice.

If you’re stuck with writer’s block, don’t panic. Being a creative writer, I know the feeling. Not knowing what to write feels like an immense weight on your shoulders. However, it’s important to remember that writer’s block absolutely surmountable. Get some fresh air. Read a chapter of a book. Crank up your favorite tunes. Change your writing environment from your bedroom to your local coffeehouse. Most importantly, believe that what you’re writing matters—because it does. This is your chance to showcase your strengths, unique qualities, ambitions, and pure awesomeness.

Related: Our Best Advice for Writing Your College Application Essays

Stress happens

There will be times during your college application process that you get stressed out. Stress happens. It’s okay. You just need to know how to deal with it. One of the biggest ways to reduce stress is to start everything as early as possible. Essays, your Common Application profile, teacher recommendations, scholarship applications, etc. It’s way more difficult to manage your college applications, history homework, and soccer practice simultaneously if you’re waiting to work on the college apps the day before they’re due.

College is a huge stepping-stone in life, and it’s easy to understand why so many students are overwhelmed. But it’s so important to maintain balance and not spend 100% of your time lost in the process. This might include hanging out with friends, watching a movie, or running in the great outdoors. As important as college is, applying shouldn’t consume your life and obliterate fun!

Also don’t be afraid to talk to a friend, parent, or another trusted adult about it. It’s better to let out these feelings of stress than to bottle them up. Some of the most helpful people are located right in your high school. Guidance counselors are exceptionally well versed with this journey you are embarking on—they are here to help you out! Furthermore, school therapists and mental health advisors are also excellent resources to help reduce stress.

Related: How to Manage Your Stress for Better Health as a Student

By overcoming these obstacles, you’ll be able to sail smoothly through the waters of applying to college. Remember to breathe, persist, and always believe in yourself.

How are you overcoming these college app obstacles? Have these tactics worked for you? Find more college application advice in our College Application Process section!

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About Will D'Epagnier

Will D'Epagnier is a film student at Emerson College. He graduated San Juan Hills High School in June 2015. Having gone through a difficult yet rewarding college application experience, Will is able to lend an array of advice regarding essays, résumés, and more. He was able to build his college résumé by staying involved in high school clubs and creating award-winning films, including a suicide prevention PSA. He enjoys reading, writing, hosting movie nights, going to the beach, and making films.


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