Updated: Jan 2, 2020
Most American universities have undergraduate (and graduate) deadlines very close to the winter holidays. Whether you celebrate Christmas, or Hanukkah, or New Years, scrambling to finish your applications in the second half of December is sure to put a cramp on your family time and winter break. Obviously, things would have been easier, if only you had started earlier! Alas, you find yourself, yet again, in a grave of your own making. What do you do?
Step 1. First, procrastinate on making an actual plan by watching this Ted talk by Tim Urban, aptly titled "Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator." Feel attacked? Good, that means you're ready to start working!
Step 2. How many days do you have left? 14? 5? 2? You will need to make a concrete, realistic plan for whatever time frame you have. Sometimes, it means removing applications for schools you were never really super into. Sometimes, it means acknowledging that you WILL have to go to your mother's holiday party, and it WILL set you back 3 hours. Well, let's be realistic, more like 10. Make sure to not only create a task list, but assign deadlines to each task, allowing time for external review and proofreading. Shoot for the day BEFORE the hard deadline. You will really need that extra time for troubleshooting.
Step 3. So you've created a more or less realistic task list. Trust me, whatever is in front of you is still too ambitious. You will need to delegate some of the tasks to other people. If you have a consultant, like one on the Hermiona team, great - you have backup! If you don't, make sure to recruit family members, teachers, older siblings and their friends. Bribe them with chocolate and ice cream. You will need their help. Figure out who's going to be your proofreading person, who you can bounce ideas off of, who can answer questions about how to pick less than 10 extra-curriculars.
Step 4. Start working. At the end of each day, give yourself a status update. If you're progressing too slowly, adjust strategy. Cut more programs off your list, delegate. This step is essential, to optimize every available second you have.
Step 5. Once you're ready to submit, double-check and proofread everything. Once, twice, seven times. Submitting something clean is better than not submitting anything. After all, you wrote it, and your track record over the past four years will shine through in your transcript and your letters of recommendation.
Step **. Prepare for the worst. College admissions is a very competitive process. If you were wise, you applied to at least one safety school. Many promising and intelligent people were rejected from top universities - it is not a mark of your personal aptitude, but rather the amount of effort you put into your applications. There is good news, however. Gap years are very popular and can be an incredibly useful step towards your future. As long as you spend it doing something interesting, continuing to learn and develop - you can try again next year. This time, you will definitely start working on applications early. Or at least not this late.