College Applications Season: Apps and Recs and Essays

Matt Larriva
Nov 21, 2015
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Essays and deadlines and recs—oh my! College applications season is here.

It’s that time of year again: not the holidays, but the college applications season. There is a lot to juggle, and plenty of reasons to stress, but remember: keep perspective (you’re almost done!) and know what’s important, and what isn’t.

Stay Organized with your College Applications

The one thing that is irreversible is missing a deadline, so be sure to keep a calendar of college applications due dates. UC Apps are due November 30th, while most Ivies have first-week-of-January deadlines. Some things can be done at the last minute—finalizing essays and submitting applications. But other things need to be done well in advance: like asking teachers for recommendations.


These are the NACAC (National Association of College Admissions Counselors) top five factors affecting admissions (in this order): 1. grades in college prep courses; 2. strength of curriculum; 3. standardized test scores; 4. grades across all courses; 5. Essays. So if you’re debating between studying for your midterm and devoting time to your Essay, prioritize the former over the latter.

A Note on Essays

They are not as important as you think they are. Depending on the survey, only about 1-in-4 admissions officers in private schools said the essay was a “very important” part of college applications; in state schools that number drops to 1-in-10.  A Stanford sociologist spent 18 months shadowing admissions officers at an undisclosed top-tier liberal arts college and found that admissions officers rarely even looked at the students’ essays as a deciding factor. Even a Shakespearean essay will not produce admissions if the grades and coursework just aren’t there.

Finally, be interesting.

Your grandparents and your volunteer experience might be important to you, but that doesn’t mean they’ll make for interesting writing. Here are some first sentences of Stanford applicants’ essays, who received acceptance:

1.       I change my name each time I place an order at Starbucks.
2.      When I was in the eighth grade I couldn’t read.
3.      While traveling through the daily path of life, have you ever stumbled upon a hidden pocket of the universe?
4.      I have old hands.
5.      I was paralyzed from the waist down. I would try to move my leg or even shift an ankle but I never got a response. This was the first time thoughts of death ever cross my mind.

Get Help

Seem like it’s all a bit too much to tackle on your own? Contact our friends atAdmissions Hero. They specialize in all of this and can hold your hand through the whole process to make sure your application is as polished as you are. Let them know we sent you and they’ll take great care of you.
Good luck, and keep us posted.