Plan now, feel better later

By Lee Shulman Bierer, College Admissions Strategies – Founder


You can still qualify for the honor of being called an “early-bird” as long as you complete at least one college application before school starts.

While your teenager may be prone to romanticizing about the last remaining lazy days of summer and getting anxious about the stress once they return to school; my recommendation is to be the “bad guy” and make them commit to start working on their college applications, now. Once school starts you know for certain they’ll be feeling pressed for time between their homework, extracurricular activities and social engagements.

Here is my Top 10 list of simple tips to get the process started:

Make a simple chart or spreadsheet with the following information for each school:

1) Name of each college.

2) Your best educated guess on your chances of being accepted and label each school with R/T/S: R- reach/dream schools, T- target/likely schools and S- safety/slam-dunk schools.

3) College admissions webpage url.

4) Application deadline (note whether the college offers Early Decision which is binding or Early Action which is non-binding) – put the colleges in order of their deadlines.

5) Label each as to whether or not they accept the Common Application.

6) List the number of essays required and read through the application to see what optional essays they offer.

7) Find out whether they are listed as “Test Optional” or will require you submit either the SAT or the ACT.

8) Research the school website to find out if their Scholarship Deadline is earlier than their Regular Decision deadline.

9) Look on the Common Application to see how many Letters of Recommendation they require and how many are optional; both for teachers and non-teachers.

10) Review the application to see if you can submit a resume with the application.


Print out each college’s essay prompts. Hopefully many of the colleges on the list will be members of the Common Application which means that they will all accept the same main essay. Be careful to note which ones have supplements and which do not. Also many college applications don’t require any essays or may only have optional essays for an honors program. Be thorough in your research. Once you have created documents with each of the essay prompts, print them out and start comparing which prompts are similar and see where you can multi-purpose one or more essays. In many cases you’ll be able to use the “bones” or general idea of one essay for an entirely different prompt. As an example, one college might ask you to write about your most meaningful extracurricular activity and another college might be more specific about your contribution to community service. For most people, that’s the same essay.


Create a timeline with due dates that are reasonable. Plan to submit your final application at least 10 days prior to the deadline. Make sure you put in assignments such as: sending in test scores, sending in transcripts, asking teachers and others for letters of recommendation, following up with recommenders, completing the data input on the applications, updating and finishing your activity sheet. Plan any fall campus visits now and put them on your calendar.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;