College admissions might feel more competitive than ever due to the increased applicant numbers, so taking extra time to craft a strong college application is key. While winter break is usually considered a time to relax and de-stress, this extended time off serves as the perfect opportunity for students to make significant strides on all those essays! With a majority of the regular decision deadlines falling between early and mid-January, some strategic allocation of that coveted, winter break “downtime” can make the difference between a good application and a great one.
Get into the right mindset.
How you think about the process is everything. Focus less on checking-off a bunch of to-dos and more on sharing with your sought-after colleges what makes you YOU: your unique and compelling narrative, your “why”, what you “geek out” over, where you foresee yourself making a contribution, that can, in turn, contribute to your career trajectory, growth, and dreams.
Create an action plan.
We recommend “reverse engineering,” which is working backward from submission deadlines and allocating blocks of time for various tasks. Create a schedule that holds you accountable for meeting benchmarks while allowing some flexibility and time for self-care.
Send your SAT/ACT score reports to colleges with time to spare.
Be sure to log online and check to see that you’ve sent your scores to all the schools that require them. Allow ample time for the scores to be sent, received, and processed by your various colleges. Pay attention, too, to the schools that are test-optional – then make a decision that best represents you and your strengths as a student.
Request letters of recommendation now.
Asking your teachers and mentors for letters of recommendation well before winter break gives them more time to write you a specific, effectively thought-out, personal letter. Consider sharing your main personal statement or a synopsis of it – along with a brag sheet and/or resume – so that your writers have a sense of how you are presenting yourself in your applications. Think of these letters as opportunities to reinforce, build upon, and add credibility and specificity to what you are already conveying about yourself.
Choose The Right Environment.
Put yourself in a space that inspires you. Bring your laptop, iPad, or journal to some of your favorite places and let the ideas flow. Changing up your environment can help college “memoir-style” essay writing feel less overwhelming, making room for writing that is more nuanced, sincere, and vulnerable.
Look over the application prompt before you write.
Formulating a comprehensive, authentic answer can be tricky! Take some time to reflect on the prompts and what they mean to you before attempting to write that fully-realized, polished narrative. Start by bullet-pointing or engaging in some uninhibited free-writes.
Use your community.
Collaboration is the stuff of inspiration, growth, and brilliant epiphanies. Meet with a trusted friend or mentor who fuels your creativity or plan a small group session. Getting out of your head and connecting with others can help tap into narratives you may not have explored and qualities you might not be able to see or hear in yourself.
Apply for scholarships.
Most students are eligible for a number of different scholarships, many of which are easy to receive, as not too many students apply for them. The extra paperwork may seem daunting at first, yet with all these application supplements and such immense personal reflection underway, you’re basically primed to jump right in! And just a little time spent pursuing scholarships over the holiday break can pay off big-time in the long run! Be sure not to ignore the ones with smaller dollar amounts, for the more the merrier as everything will quickly add up.
Always keep your squad of supporters in-the-know. Help them help you. Stay in touch so they know deadlines for submitting application materials, and the angle you’re incorporating in your narrative portfolio so that they can reinforce it and add credibility to your application through their own relevant anecdotes and examples.
Keep up with your email.
Watch for alerts from the Common App or any of the schools to which you’re applying. Communication, follow-through, and making sure everyone is on the same page can make a world of difference.
Cindy Chanin is the founder of Rainbow EDU Consulting & Tutoring.