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Factors You Can Control Increase Confidence in College Applications

By Deena Maerowitz

This year brings the second cohort of seniors to engage in the college application process since the pandemic began. Thankfully, vaccines and shifting safety guidelines have allowed many colleges to welcome prospective students back to campus for tours and interviews. Simultaneously, colleges continue to offer the plethora of virtual tours, panels, and forums that they developed to build relationships with candidates off-campus. Yet amidst this wealth of resources, this year’s applicants continue to navigate uncertain waters. More than ever, the specific set of opportunities available at each college is unique to that institution—and may change from week to week—based on COVID conditions on campus or in the surrounding community.

This raises the organizational load for this year’s applicants, many of whom still feel stress from the broader context of the pandemic. Applying to college already requires young adults to contemplate future unknowns, and adding layers of ambiguity increases the tension around decision-making. The unpredictability of COVID and the rise in college application numbers last year can bog this year’s applicants down in unanswerable questions.

And none of those factors are within students’ control. The challenge for this year’s candidates, then, is to focus on what they can control.

Implementing these strategies can help you feel more confident in conducting your college search:

Give yourself time to write thoughtful essays. These important elements show colleges who you are and what you can do. Starting early will help you take charge of your own story.

Take advantage of Early Decision and Early Action deadlines. If you have identified a frontrunner school, then go for it in the first round of application deadlines, when you are competing against fewer applicants. Even if you are not ready to commit to a specific school (as Early Decision requires), then applying for Early Action will bring you decisions from those schools in December or January. Having some acceptances in hand can energize you to finalize remaining applications.

Make a resume. Many colleges request this as a supplemental document, providing a concise summary of your major extracurricular activities, honors, and leadership positions. This is another opportunity to craft your personal narrative.

Make a calendar of when, where, and how you will connect with colleges. Check each school’s website for the options and make a schedule that you can track easily. Also be sure to participate in events on campus or virtually through your high school. Do not feel pressure to do everything. Rather, focus on the events that will be most meaningful to you, as well as scheduling your interviews.

Double check the details and be prepared for small surprises. Confirm that the deadlines and essay prompts posted in the Common Application portal match those on each school’s website. Fill in as much of your Common Application information as possible and proofread it. Doing these activities well before any deadlines gives you flexibility to resolve any miscommunications that you encounter.

It’s a good feeling to know that one has put their best foot forward. By focusing on their own process, college candidates can find a sense of calm amidst the uncertainty that surrounds them. That centered confidence will become its own reward as students get to know themselves better at the same time they pursue their college dreams.


Deena Maerowitz advises students throughout the entire college admissions process. She works with students ranging from freshmen to seniors and is an expert in both undergraduate and graduate education. She is widely published and sought-after as a speaker on college planning. She can be reached at