Originally Posted: Oct 22, 2018
Last Updated: Jul 29, 2020
It’s midnight on a Monday in October, and you’re sitting in a pile of tissues and takeout wrappers. You’ve fallen asleep at your computer, still wearing your clothes from the day. You wake up to see you’ve timed out of your Common App without saving an hour’s worth of work. You begin to cry, wishing for May. Don’t let this be you! College applications are difficult; there’s no denying that, but there are ways to can learn to manage your time and your application planning without burning out. Follow these tips for a more successful college application season.
Know the signs of burnout
Forbes outlined the early signs of burnout, “defined as physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.” Symptoms include changes in eating patterns, exhaustion, neglect of physical and mental health, disengagement, and a lack of motivation. It may be easier to recognize if your friends are experiencing burnout, but don’t ignore these warning signs if you notice them in your own routine. If you know you’re becoming stressed, record it in a notebook or planner with a tally and try to pinpoint the reason why. If you find the same culprit for your stress on multiple occasions, you need to address the issue. Additionally, if you notice an overwhelming amount of tallies on your planner, you may be slowly burning out. Another good way to identify your main sources of stress and avoid burnout is to talk through your emotions with a family member or counselor.
To counteract the effects of burnout, try to focus your energy on positive relationships. Taking a walk with a family member and pet or going to a school football game with friends may be a good distraction. Try making an inspiration board: clip pictures from magazines or find uplifting quotes on Pinterest that align with your future goals. Knowing where you want to be in five months or five years will help you realize how fleeting your worries about applying to college are.
Use spare time wisely during college visits
College application season is filled with campus visits that often last whole afternoons, even entire weekends, depending on the college’s distance from home. Use this dead travel time when you’re stuck in a car, train, or plane to study flashcards or read a few chapters of your assigned English book. If you’re prone to motion sickness, see if you can find your required reading as an audiobook through Audible or your library. Audible has a membership fee, but your library’s downloads should be free. If you’re willing to deal with commercials, you can even access some books on Spotify for free. This is also a great time to feed a stress-relieving hobby or catch up on some sleep during early morning traveling.
Keep a list of ideas for your Common App essay
Try to brainstorm potential essay topics during your junior year or summer before senior year. Discuss these ideas with your parents and teachers to forge inspiration or narrow down your list. When it comes time to write, you’ll have plenty of ideas and won’t have a case of writer’s block two days before the deadline. Also remember that editing your essay is just as important as writing it—and waiting until the last minute to draft your essay leaves no time for thorough editing.
Schedule time for applications
Try to allot a block of time per week—say an hour every Monday night—to work on college and scholarship applications. For seniors, having even one study hall or senior privilege in your schedule is an asset for getting homework done so you have more time to focus on applications at home. The “divide and conquer” technique, where you work for short periods every week or month, leaves room for procrastination. You’ll produce a higher quality of work if you complete something in an hour rather than spreading it out and letting it weigh on you for a week. Some programs may be time sensitive and may not save work if you log on multiple times.
Assess your daily routine
Most students are concerned with enjoying every minute of high school. This may mean late nights with your friends, the final season of a fall sport, pursuing leadership positions in clubs, working a part-time job, and struggling through a mountain of AP homework. A schedule like this leaves little room for sanity. The popular opinion is to fill your résumé with a variety of activities to display as many of your interests as possible. This lifestyle might work for some, though other seniors may have a nervous breakdown and see grades and relationships suffer. Admitting when you’ve spread yourself too thin is a powerful tool for maintaining your mental health.
Don’t be afraid of burnout—it’s inevitable even for the best of us. In fact, it’s often disguised as senioritis. Change can be daunting, so try to soak up as many opportunities as possible before they’re gone—and with a little planning and assessment, you can adjust all your responsibilities to fit nicely into your schedule. Everything can get done, and you can still have fun. Just remember that enjoying your senior year isn’t a synonym for running yourself into the ground.
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