Procrastination and College Admissions


By: Jessica Brauser, M.A., LSW

The college application process is something that nearly everyone has to experience. My parents did it back in the day, as did yours probably, and now I help students go through it. Everyone has a different path and a different deadline, but most likely, everyone at some point has to decide when they are going to apply to college.

Today college admissions requires more from you than it did for your parents, and this new version of the process can be overwhelming. Selectivity in colleges has skyrocketed, and the application has evolved. Today there is much more emphasis on storytelling and personal details. Before, the emphasis was on high school grades (and they still are). But now, managing the parts of today’s college applications requires significant organization. There are letters of recommendation, transcripts, score reports, payments, and of course, the essays. Because the list of college application requirements is much longer today, its challenges incite a range of emotional reactions. Some people love it, some people hate it, many fall in between, but again, most people have to experience it — college admissions is almost unavoidable.

I once worked with a student who applied Restrictive Early Action to Princeton at 11:59 pm on Nov. 1. And where is he studying today? Princeton. While I don’t recommend his literally-last-minute approach, I draw it as an example of procrastination and college admissions  because it showcases that a deadline is a deadline and if you apply on time, your application will be considered.

The pace you choose to go through the process is up to you. There is no right or wrong— and I mean this quite literally. Some of you may decide to postpone college, and you might find yourself applying in your mid-twenties.  Others of you might have your application submitted weeks, or even months before it is due.  However, you choose to approach the process, especially if you favor procrastination and college admissions, be mindful of the process and how it can challenge you.

  • Some colleges are easier to apply to than others. Check your schools’ requirements before you even apply. For example, many colleges don’t require an essay. Students don’t realize this, and they put more pressure on themselves than necessary.
  • Sometimes there are hidden essays. Yes, there’s usually a personal statement, but there are essays that can automatically populate in an online application if you, for example, indicate a particular major. Be aware of this because if you are the last-minute type, hidden essay surprises can cause you trouble.
  • Some essays require extensive research. Today, a significant number of colleges employ the classic “Why Essay.” The Inevitable College Essay Question: Why Are You A Good Match? Essentially, you need to write 100-650 words about your reasons for applying to the school, and the more specific you can be with your details, the likelier you are to get accepted. If you write this essay at the last minute, you might not have enough time to carefully research a well-articulated response. What Goes Into A Great College Essay
  • Sometimes systems fail. It’s a trite warning, but yes, online application systems can crash. Or your town can experience a power outage because of a bad storm (in that case, colleges usually make exceptions) — but be aware!
  • Sometimes students become very attached to their work. The desire to edit the essays, search for the perfect word, or finesse a conclusion can be daunting. If this happens, reach out for help and let someone else advise you about when it is ok to stop and submit. I like to say that there are a thousand ways to write your chosen topic for your personal statement. As long as what you write makes sense and aligns with your voice, then it is ok to let go of sentences that you love, but don’t have a place in your final product.

Whenever you are ready to apply to college, you will learn a lot about yourself and how to respond to external pressures, such as application deadlines. College admissions operates within a very organized system and as you apply to be a part of it, how you apply could reveal a lot about yourself. Enjoy the process, respect the process, and remember that no matter what, you will get through this process— at one point or another. That’s the nice thing about deadlines; they eventually become a thing of the past.