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How to Motivate Yourself to Start College Applications

You know you have to start your college applications, but you could use some inspiration or something at this point. Here's the motivation you're looking for.

If you’re going into your senior year (like yours truly), this upcoming semester might mean one thing, one scary thing: college applications. College applications are known for being a lengthy and arduous task for all high school students. And while it’s definitely not the smartest idea to put your essays off until a week before the deadline, the process of submitting test scores and answering questions is intimidating. So if you want a head start on your college apps but can’t seem to find the motivation (or courage) to do so, here are a few tips you might find helpful.

Throw a college application party

Yes, I know this sounds like some sort of geeky get-together hosted by a local SAT tutoring company, but hear me out. Buy some of your favorite snacks, get a group of your friends together, and block out a couple hours to talk about everything college. Bring laptops, paper, pens—even test prep books. You can research your top schools, create application spreadsheets, or write a list of questions for your high school counselor. Brainstorm essay topics or narrow down the colleges you’d like to apply to. And if none of you know where to start, feel free to vent about all your fears and concerns for the upcoming school year. Even if you don’t make noticeable progress, this first meeting can be a great starting point.

Related: How to Survive College Application Season

Leave it up to chance

If applying to college seems like it’ll never end before it even starts, leave it up to chance. Break your application up into smaller parts such as essays, test scores, letters of recommendation, general information, and extracurriculars and find a way to randomly pick one of the sections. You can write down your options on sticky notes and spin a bottle to see where it lands. You can also divide different sections of a dartboard and take aim while blindfolded, or assign each task a number and ask a member of your family to pick a random number. There are a million ways you can pick a task, but once you do, stick to it and focus on that area of your application until it’s done. This method will make the application as a whole seem a bit more manageable, and you’ll finally have a bit of direction for tackling your college apps.

Use a buddy system

College admission decisions are handed out individually, but there is a way to make your college applications a two-player game. If you can’t seem to start the process by yourself, go ahead and get someone else to hold you accountable. First, write a to-do list of application tasks and dates those tasks must be completed by. Then seek out a responsible friend, parent, or teacher and ask them to check in on you on each date. If you’ve successfully completed a task by the due date, you can reward yourself through the approval of your trusty task checker. If you haven’t met your goal, allow your accountability person to give you a penalty of their choosing. It may sound extreme, but this system can be a prime motivator for you to finally get things done.

Related: Senior Year College Application Timeline

Create a college collage

If you’re the artsy type, it’s time to get out your poster board and a glue stick. Find and print images that fit your description of what college should look like and arrange them into a collage. Your pictures can range from specific school pennants to your favorite college mascot to your dream college classroom. Having a physical representation of the goal you’re working toward can help the college application process become more realistic and rewarding. As a fun by-product, you can now proudly display your college collage (and challenge anyone to say “college collage” five times in a row).

Visit an actual college

If you haven’t done so already, this might be the perfect time to see what college life is all about. Whether it’s a large state university or the nearest community college, visit a school for a day to better understand life on a college campus. Many schools have open houses or daily tours for prospective students that provide great insight into what the school is like. By visiting any campus, you can get a feel for what you like and dislike about the college atmosphere. The more schools you travel to, the easier it will be to picture your ideal college setting (and add to your college collage). You may even stumble upon your dream school in the process. Regardless of what university you go to, you’re likely to find inspiration to start your applications once you step foot on college grounds.

Related: 6 Ways to Make the Most of Your Campus Visits

Watch YouTube videos

Although this may sound counterintuitive, there’s a whole genre of YouTube videos dedicated to college admission. Learning from a slew of experts can give you even more ideas on how to start your admission journey or what to look for in possible schools. If you’re having a hard time believing there’s a light at the end of the college application tunnel, try searching for college decision reaction videos. Kind of like baby gender reveals or promposals, seeing how other students get excited over their acceptances could give you the secondhand happiness that you need to begin your own college application process. (Just be careful to avoid YouTube rabbit holes that bring you way off topic.)

It won't last forever...

The college application process is bound to be a long and tiring one. But just as high school will come and go, the whole college application process will be over before you know it. Try to make the most of your experience while you can. The sooner you find the motivation to embrace the system and dive into the challenge that lies ahead, the more rewarding the results will be.

Find the motivation you need by searching for schools on CollegeXpress using our College Search tool.

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About Bella Medina

Hi, I'm Bella. I'm your average AP student trying to make it through my last two years of high school. College apps are coming up, and I'm honestly terrified. But I have faith that we'll all make it through this process together. When I'm not completely stressed out by school, I love to read, write, play volleyball, and hang out with my two dogs. I'm a huge Dodgers fan and I'm anxiously waiting for the day there's a championship parade in LA.


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