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Winter Break Is the Time to Perfect Your College App

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

While most people enjoyed their Thanksgiving break and are looking forward to the holiday season, college-bound high school seniors likely have another thing on their minds: regular decision admissions.

Regular decision deadlines, while slightly different for each school, tend to fall anywhere from Jan. 1 to the end of February. That means that the period between Thanksgiving and school starting back again in January is crunch time.

While winter break may be a reprieve from assignments, it’s not much of consolation when college applicants are getting organized (sometimes haphazardly) and getting caught up with their applications (often frantically) ahead of winter deadlines.

If you find yourself among them and have yet to commit to school, use your winter break to run through this checklist for staying on top of your college applications.

1. Check In With Recommenders

Teachers and counselors are especially busy this time of year with administering finals, teaching from home and enjoy the holidays. It’s common for responsibilities that lie outside those realms to fly under the radar.

The last thing you want, after months of preparation, is to find out that you’re missing a letter of recommendation for one of your applications. By sending a quick email to your recommenders to just check in, you can save yourself from a world of problems come January or February. In the email, remember to be polite and sensitive to the fact that they are just as busy as you are. They will probably even thank you for the reminder!

2. Tweak Your Common App Essay

If you plan on using the same Common App essay you have used for previous applications, you won’t have much to do beside a few tweaks. My Common App essay changed a lot between the first time I used it and the last, mostly because each time I went back and read it, I thought I could do better. At the end of my application process, I felt proud of how my essay evolved. Reading over your Common App during winter break can help you identify parts you can change and improve.

3. Finish Your Supplemental Essays

When you’re ready to begin your supplemental essay journey, it can be helpful to create a document that lists every school you plan to apply to, the number of supplemental essays and the prompts for each (including the word counts). This will help you nail down exactly how much work you must do, and it prevents you from feeling overwhelmed late in the game.

Reflecting on the prompts for one school might come in handy when you realize that supplemental prompts are, often times, not unique to individual schools.


Your Guide to Acing the College Admissions Essay

4. Nail Down Your Final Application List

The list of schools to apply to is always in flux. Of course, no one is stopping you from deciding last minute to apply to more schools, but it does help ease anxiety if you can plan ahead for that. The person you are at the beginning of senior year could be completely different than who you are now, so now is the time to account for those personality and preference changes. At this point in the year, you may also already have acceptances to a school or two.

That extra security, knowing that you’ll have some place to fall back on, means you can feel confident branching out and applying to more “reach” schools than you may have originally intended.

5. Spend Valuable Time With Family and Friends

While this to-do is not as application-focused, it’s just as important.

The second semester of senior year is such a whirlwind, and before you know it, graduation will be here. I often think back and wish I’d made more of the time I had during my last high school winter break, instead of being so caught up in applications. Being home never really feels the same once you leave for college, so try to relax and enjoy some quality family and friend time this winter break.

Of course, there’s the virus to account for, but there are plenty of activities to do to stay safe and healthy while socializing. Follow the advice of health professionals, but don’t let your last winter break pass by without embracing the relationships you have at this point in your life.

Take a Break, But Stay Focused

Winter break should be exactly that—a break. However, your future self will thank you if you can use this spare time to get ahead on the application work that awaits you in mid-winter. Spending the time now to improve your essays and get organized ensures that you will be submitting your best possible reflection of yourself, which is the chance that everybody wants when applying to college. 

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Author: Jenna Spray

Jenna is a second year journalism student at Northwestern University with a concentration in law. She writes about fitness and relationships for Her Campus Northwestern and works on the corporate section of her school’s most popular magazine, North by Northwestern. In her free time, Jenna likes to sail, go to the gym, and eat pasta with her friends.