On top of classes, homework, exams, and extracurriculars, the college application process can feel like an overwhelming addition to an already packed schedule.

However, if you take charge and prioritize your time, you can find a balance between applying to schools and managing your other commitments. You can even make  time to relax with and enjoy your friends—it just takes a little advanced planning.

Here are some strategies to help you manage your time, so you can ace your college applications without compromising your senior year responsibilities.

Get Organized

Putting together a high-quality application takes time, so start early and plan ahead.

Check each school’s website to learn about specific requirements and deadlines, and track what you’ll need for each application in a chart or spreadsheet. It may also help to create a combined checklist of all the materials you’ll need, including essays, transcripts, standardized test scores, recommendation letters, and other paperwork. You can also use digital tools designed for organizing college prep to-do lists, like the College Covered®College Planning Calendar.

Taking the time to map out all of the requirements will ensure you don’t forget any crucial parts of your application.

Set a Schedule

Stay on track by marking important submission and financial aid deadlines on a calendar. Consider your current commitments inside and outside of school and think about how much time you’ll have each week to devote to your college applications.

If your schedule allows, add a free period during your first semester so you can dedicate time to applications to keep you on track. You can also use time during lunch breaks, holiday breaks, and weekends to work on your applications.

Once you have a sense of how much time you’ll have each week, plan out the work on your checklist and set personal due dates for yourself. You can also set reminders of the deadlines in your planner or on your phone so you don’t lose sight of them.

Putting together a schedule in advance will ensure you don’t end up scrambling as your application deadlines approach.

Ace Your Essays

Don’t wait until the last minute to begin writing your college essays. It may take you some time to decide on a topic, so start brainstorming as soon as you get the essay prompts.

Once you choose your topic, sit down and write a first draft. Don’t worry about trying to make it perfect—just put your ideas down so you have something to work with. Starting early gives you time to experiment, reflect, and receive feedback—all of which will pay off in the long run. Your college application essay should go through multiple revisions, so make sure to ask parents, teachers, or other valued mentors to read through your drafts and help you revise them.

Request Recommendation Letters Early

Most schools require two letters of recommendation. Brainstorm a list of people familiar with your work and achievements. It might be a teacher, a team leader at your volunteer organization, or a supervisor at your after-school job. Whomever you ask, make sure you approach them a few months before the deadline to allow them time to compose a thoughtful and personalized letter. Be prepared to provide them with a list of accomplishments and attributes that they can refer to as they work on your letter. As the due date nears, follow up with a friendly reminder to ensure their recommendation is sent.

Schedule Time With Your Counselor

Meet with your high school counselor, in person or virtually, throughout the application process. Keep them up to date on your progress and let them know about any challenges you run into. Their insights and experience helping students through the process makes them uniquely suited to offer advice and guidance. Be sure to do a final review of your application with your counselor to make sure you have all the required documents before submitting.

Take Time to Have Fun and Relax

Finally, stay engaged in your after-school activities and continue pursuing your hobbies outside of school. Listen to music, go for a hike or just hang out with friends and family. It’s important that you find time to relax and create lasting memories during your senior year.

With these time-management, organization, and self-care strategies, you’ll be in good shape to balance the demands of senior year and complete your college applications.

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