Applying to College: A Nightmare or a Dream?

It's approaching fall again, and everyone knows what that means. It's the peak of the college admissions season. If you are a high school senior, you know that this is a time-consuming, complex process.
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Co-authored by Drusilla Blackman, President of The Ivy Dean, Inc.

It's approaching fall again, and everyone knows what that means. It's the peak of the college admissions season. If you are a high school senior, you know that this is a time-consuming, complex process.

The next few months will see students compiling and submitting transcripts, test scores, letters of recommendation, resumes, and long lists of essays to their dream schools. And everything must be perfectly tailored to suit the interests, cultures, and philosophies of those schools.

It's no secret that applying to college is daunting and stressful. Unfortunately, many students find this process overly intimidating. In some cases, this trepidation can even hinder them from being accepted by their top colleges, or even going to college at all.

A few simple steps can help you overcome this fear and improve your outcomes.

What's the key to minimizing stress, producing a stellar application, and increasing your chances of being accepted into your dream school?


Without this crucial factor, even the best students can make simple mistakes. Missing a deadline or forgetting to submit a required document can prevent you from being admitted to the college of your choice.

Mapping out and applying strategy to the process can save you hours of unnecessary work and lots of heartache.

Before jumping into your applications, try writing down your answers to the following questions:

  • What deadlines, early or regular, do you need to adhere to when applying to each college?

  • Do any colleges have additional requirements for your application, such as a portfolio, supplementary letters of recommendation, or videos?
  • How many essays does each college require?
  • What are the questions asked?
  • Answering these questions will allow you to develop your own personal admissions calendar. First, fill in each college's deadlines and decide which school you will be applying to as early or regular action. Then, work backward and add in deadlines for producing essays and supplemental materials for each school. Mapping out your applications and consolidating the steps needed to apply to each college will make the process more manageable and less intimidating. It will reduce the time needed to apply and will make the entire experience less stressful.

    You might also find that some of your colleges ask similar questions or require the same supplemental materials. Recognizing this will help you organize your efforts and reduce the time and stress of completing your applications. But don't let these overlapping criteria lull you into a false sense of security. It is important to tailor and modify your materials to the specifics of each college.

    To ensure that your application materials are completed properly, always seek advice and feedback from a teacher, counselor, or community member who is familiar with the process. During my time in admissions, I witnessed countless students make mistakes that led to refusals from their chosen colleges. These included writing the names of the wrong colleges in their essays or forgetting to mention activities that might have swayed admissions boards towards accepting them.

    Recently, many students have sought personal help for their applications from independent college counselors who specialize in the process. This trend was first reported on by the Huffington Post in 2013. Many of their points have even greater relevance today.

    Private counselors are becoming more readily available and increasingly affordable. They can answer many of the questions and concerns that lead to the greatest stress and anxiety during the college application process, making them invaluable to students and families.

    But not all students need this personal help and not every independent firm is suited to students' particular needs. To avoid wasting both time and money, take the opportunity to reflect on who you are and what you need. What are your personal interests? Your college aspirations? Your career goals? Does it make sense to seek private help? If it does, how crucial is being accepted into a particular college to meeting those goals? If you determine that attending a particular college would be significant in achieving these goals, private help might be a worthwhile investment.

    Whether you seek outside help or decide to go it alone, planning ahead and staying organized can turn the process of applying to your ideal school from a nightmare into a dream.

    You may learn more about the admissions process by reading our blog.

    Drusilla Blackman and Chase Staub are affiliated with The Ivy Dean, Inc., an independent counseling firm.

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