How to Prioritize Your Regular Decision Applications

How to Prioritize Your Regular Decision Applications

The vast majority of colleges have deadlines for regular decision applications that fall between January 1st and 15th,, so it is more than understandable to feel overwhelmed at this point in December. Way before you even started drafting your Common App personal statement or college-specific supplements, you probably imagined getting everything done early and may have even meticulously planned a strict timeline for yourself.

Unfortunately, school, work, family, and other personal responsibilities have a tendency to creep up on us at what seem like the worst times. But don’t panic! There is still time to buckle down and crank out all those essays that you did not start yet. Focus on getting organized today and prioritize your regular decision applications with the tips below.

1. Organize Your Applications Visually and Set Deadlines

Look at the lists you’ve made and remove the schools you have already applied to for Early Decision I and Early Action. Create a new handwritten list or Excel spreadsheet that clearly shows what schools you have left. Additional columns should have useful information that will help illuminate how to order your schools, including: “Reach, Fit, Safety” categorizations; “Essays,” where you include the prompts and their respective word limits; “Supplemental Material,” for schools that you want to send abstracts or portfolios to; and of course “Target Deadline” as well as “Official Deadline.”

Adding a time frame for when you will draft and edit the essays may prove helpful, too. You might consider color-coding the items in the Essays column to identify your progress (using strikethrough if finished, red if you have not started, and green for partially drafted but unfinished essays), or even linking each prompt to active drafts that are stored on a cloud service like Google Drive.

Here’s an example of an entry for Brown – a Reach school requiring four supplement essays.

Regular Decision Applications


Hint: Sometimes, supplemental essays do not appear under the “Writing Supplement” section of the Common App for each individual college, or will pop up only after relevant information regarding your intended program of study is filled in. Be sure to completely finish the Common App college-specific questions and browse through every tab when you are double checking the supplemental essays count.

2. Choose a Prioritization Strategy – Start Big or Start Small

Now that you have your schools and essays in front of you, the hardest part is ordering them so that you prioritize importance, but also pay attention to efficiency in terms of both the time and effort required. For a school like Brown that has four supplemental essays totaling 900 words (if you max out on the word limits), you may have to budget one hour for doing research related to your major, resources, and opportunities, and then three hours or more for drafting the essays. It makes a certain amount of sense to tackle these supplements sooner rather than later, knowing the amount of time that will go into them.

However, this is not always the best choice for everyone. Depending on your personal working style, you may actually feel more comfortable knocking out smaller, less complicated supplements first. Sometimes, getting a Safety or Fit school application completed and seeing one more school checked off your list can give you a much needed boost of confidence, helping you dive into more intensive drafting sessions. Again – the choice is yours! Do what has worked for you in the past, and even think about pairing long 650-word supplements with shorter 100-word ones, diversifying the types of essays you are drafting during a single period.

3. Reuse and Recycle!

As you chug through your supplements, the overlap between prompts will become very apparent, as schools often seek similar types of information about who you are in real life, why you are interested in a school or specific major, and how you will contribute to the community. It is totally okay – and encouraged, as a time-saving tactic – to strategically recycle parts of supplements. There is no reason to produce new content if you have already written sentences or whole paragraphs relating to the given prompt.

That said, proceed with caution here. Be very careful about replacing school-specific information – you should not be copy-pasting a whole “Why this School?” essay, although you can follow the general framework of something you have already drafted. Colleges want to see that you know specifics about their school, so taking the time to tailor your supplemental essays will pay off. You also don’t want to be that applicant who submits an application with the wrong school name! Whether or not you can reuse and recycle existing material will help you decide which schools you can save time on, and which will be more of a time sink.

4. Don’t Forget About Supplementary Materials

If you are hoping to share the abstract of a published research paper, a portfolio of your product design projects, or a video of your ballet dancing, make sure to factor in how long it will take to put together, organize, and upload such supplementary materials. Many colleges require you to submit portfolios using separate sites like SlideRoom, where you can include descriptions of each work and may have to answer additional questions related to your program or artistic process. If you are applying to a major or special program in which supplementary material is an important part of the application, prioritize this accordingly.

You do not want to be in a situation where all your essays are drafted and complete, but you are forced to rush your portfolio. You also do not want to be surprised by extra questions on the portfolio platform. For example, students applying to the University of Michigan’s STAMPS School of Art & Design create portfolios that account for 50% of the admissions decision – and their SlideRoom asks for 12-15 items, descriptions for each one, as well as a “Statement of Creative Work.”

5. Keep Your Personal Preferences In Mind

If you are still having trouble deciding how to prioritize your regular decision applications, look at the bare essentials necessary for doing anything: your level of motivation and drive! Ask yourself which schools you are most passionate and excited about – the ones you dream of, constantly bring up in conversation, and endlessly research – regardless of how competitive they are or how many essays they require.

Put your all into your top 2-3 regular decision applications, focusing on high quality content that may take a little longer, but that you feel good about. Alternatively, try browsing through all your remaining prompts to see if any really call to you, inspiring you to start writing immediately. Knowing how invested you are in a specific school can be a major determinate in prioritizing your regular decision applications in the weeks to come, so that you can put your best foot forward for the schools you absolutely treasure.

Don’t let yourself be intimated by the workload of regular decision applications! Take a deep breath, get organized, and get to work. You’re almost there!

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