Winter break can be a great time for students to focus on their college applications and polish them before sending them off in early January. Here are some tips to help you put the finishing touches on your essays and activities sections so that you’ll feel completely ready to hit submit!
Winter break gives high school students a much-needed break from the stress of the school year once the first semester of the year is over. But for high school seniors in the midst of the college admissions process, this break takes place just a few weeks before most Regular Decision college applications are due, which can make it stressful, but if you make the most of that time, you’ll be able to rest easy knowing you did the most you could to improve your college applications.
Even if you’ve planned out your application timeline so that you’re not waiting until the last minute to finish everything, you can still make use of this free time to make sure your applications are polished and ready to go. You may even be able to submit ahead of the deadline (although it’s important to note that this does not give you a leg up in the process at all). You can also make final changes to your college list, scholarship applications, and more.
Here are five things you can do over your winter break to make sure your college applications are in top shape.
1. Get feedback on your personal statement.
Hopefully, by the time winter break rolls around, you’ve completed at least a first draft of your personal statement. If you haven’t, that should be your top priority.
Then, you can ask any trusted advisors — tutors, family, friends, teachers (only if they’ve agreed beforehand to help you over break!) — to read it and give you any feedback. Different perspectives can help you get a sense of what big ideas and details resonate with people and where you may be able to clarify and strengthen your points.
Some questions you can ask them to answer are:
- Does this essay give you a sense of my personality and values?
- Does this essay sufficiently address the prompt?
- Does it feel like a laundry list of my accomplishments?
- Are there any spelling or grammar mistakes?
Use their answers to help guide these final rounds of edits. However, unless you’re getting negative feedback across the board, this is not the time to completely start over on your essay. Since you’re so close to the deadline, it’s more important that you work on revising the story you’re already telling. After all, you are the best judge of which pieces of feedback are most helpful in your writing process.
If you’d like more help revising your personal statements, check out this blog post about how to refine your Common App essay.
2. Add more specifics to your supplemental essays.
You can also spend this time adding more specific information to your supplemental essays after doing more research on each of your schools. Specificity is what you should be aiming for with all of your essays, but for the supplementals, your job here is to show that you have done your research on the school and are well-equipped to make the most of the resources on campus. If you visited the campus since you last worked on the supplemental or communicated with a faculty member or student, you can include that as well.
3. Add any updates or new achievements to your activities and honors sections.
The first semester of your senior year is still important to your college application, which is why your grades for this semester are submitted for Regular Decision applications. You may have also garnered new accolades in the meantime — maybe you won something at a debate tournament, were able to fundraise more for a local charity, or got into a prestigious summer program.
Whatever the updates may be, these updates will show that you’re still an active participant in your community and at your school in your last year. And even if you don’t have anything to add, look at your activity descriptions and see if there’s any way to spruce up the descriptions. If you’d like more advice on how to craft your Common App activities list, check out this blog post.
4. Make sure your letters of recommendation have been submitted.
While the authors of letters of recommendation are in control of when they are submitted, it’s your job as an applicant to double-check that the letters are submitted on time. It’s usually best to check on this before school is out to avoid any difficulty getting in touch with your teachers. However, if you weren’t able to and they’ve still not submitted the letters, you can give them a respectful reminder about what the deadline is.
Usually, the deadlines for these letters of recommendation and the actual application differ, and admissions officers can be more lenient since their actual submission is not entirely within your control. If you’re really having trouble getting your recommender to submit, you can notify the admissions office and ask if there’s anything else you should do.
5. Work on financial aid and scholarship applications.
Another important component of many college applications is also due in January: the FAFSA. Even if you’re not sure you qualify, it’s usually in your best interest to submit a FAFSA in the event you do qualify for either federal grants or tuition assistance from your school of choice.
You can also apply for external or merit-based scholarships, many of which have deadlines early in the year. Sometimes these come from private organizations, or there are merit-based scholarships from specific schools. There are many scholarships out there that are based on academic performance, extracurricular involvement, community service, and more. If you’re looking for scholarship opportunities, check out our list of 10 full-ride scholarships to U.S. universities.
Looking for more last-minute strategies to help improve your applications? Check out our guide here or set up a free consultation with one of our experienced college admissions counselors.