Best Strategies for Applying to College on Time

Going to college is an exciting time in any person’s life. The potential possibilities seem endless. Exploring new interests, developing new skills, creating a new social network, and for some, moving to a new city or even a new state. That is the fun part. However, applying to college is far from being fun.

Every college has an idea of what they want to know about the applicant. Some want a specific application, unique only to them. Some give you a prompt to test your creative thinking (“how would the world look if the moon was indeed made of cheese?”), and some just want you to answer the simple question of “why us?”.

Whatever it may be, most universities ask for supplemental material that includes at least one or two essays that go beyond the common essay that all of them receive. To add to this complexity, there are different application deadlines, depending on whether one applies to early decision, early action, rolling enrollment, or regular application.

Are you pulling your hair out at this point? If so, you are not the only one. This brings me to the point of today’s blog – how to be on top of all of the deadlines and, more importantly, complete the college essays on time?

Are you a clock-timer or an event-timer?

In my research, I examine the way people perceive time concerning completing their tasks. My research shows that, in general, people fall under two scheduling states. One, clock-time, which relies on external cues to decide when to start and end a task. In this case, the external cue can be the time and date.

For example, I will start writing this essay at 1:00 pm on Sunday and have till Monday at 7:00 pm to complete it. These people will start on Sunday and send the essay out by Monday, regardless of whether it is perfect.

The second scheduling state is event-time, which relies on internal cues to decide when to start and end a task. They schedule their tasks based on the order of things.

For example, they will start writing an essay for the University of X. Once they are done with this essay, they will move on to University Y’s essay, then move on to University Z’s application, and so on.

These individuals will decide when the essay is completely based on how they feel about it. If they are satisfied with the essay, then they will move on. If not, then they will take a few more days to work on it. As a result, some essays might take longer to complete than others, based on how satisfied the applicant is with the result.

Which strategy is best for which type of scheduling state?


The best strategy is to make the process of college applications the most efficient, which will vary depending on which scheduling state of mind the applicant has. If the applicant is a clock-timer, the first stage will be to map out all the required essays and their timelines.

Then assess how many hours/days each essay should take and build an organization chart that ensures that the writing time of all the essays fit within the timeframe of the deadlines.

But what happens if the time allocated initially to the essay writing was miscalculated? If it took less time than anticipated, that is great, as the buffer zone got extra time. However, if it seems it will take more time than anticipated, what then? Therefore, a clock-timer should add a few buffers at the end of the process.

For a pure clock timer, the thought process will be to work on the essay within the timeframe allocated to it. When time is up, the essay is dropped, regardless of the stage it is in, and the next essay on the list begins.

When all the essays are attended to, as scheduled, that is when the buffer zone comes in handy. If, during the writing process, some essays were left behind as less than perfect, now is the time to go back and polish them.

The reason that a clock-timer should move on to the next essay even if it is not perfect, versus ignoring the timetable and going overtime, is simple.

One of the reasons clock-timers use an external cue to move on with their tasks is because they are perfectionists. Meaning that if there was no clock to tell them it was time to stop, they might work on a task forever.

Therefore, forcing a clock-timer to move on to the next essay regardless of the state of the current essay provides them with an effective mechanism and a sense of completion. Although not perfect, they know they have the essays under their belt and, worse scenario, can send what they have if the buffer zone would not be enough.

This strategy fits very well with clock-timers, and my research shows that there is also a sense of control and being on top of things once there is a fit. A clock-timer should embrace this method and move forward with the tasks in a timely manner.


This strategy will totally not work for an event-timer. Event-timers only move on to their next task based on their level of satisfaction with completing the current task. Therefore creating timetables and allocating specific timeframes to write each essay will immediately lead to debacle and be thrown out the window.

For this scheduling state, the magic sauce is order. An event-timer should start by ordering the essays from those that need to be sent out first to those which need to be sent out last. Then, among the essays that share the same deadline, another ordering is recommended—starting with the easiest to write (either shortest or an easier topic) and finishing with the most difficult or complex.

Unlike clock-timers, event-timers are not perfectionists by nature but instead are more goal-oriented. They are just trying to make sure they pass the bar. In this case, get into a college. This strategy provides a good fit with the event-timer scheduling state and provides a sense of self-control and well-being.

However, this method also has one main caveat: what happens if the writing process takes longer than the deadline allows? Unfortunately for event-timers, there is an external cue that they need to adhere to, even if it does not fit with their natural scheduling state.

This is why I recommended ordering the essays also based on their level of difficulty and not just their deadlines. Starting with the easiest and simplest first assures that essays will get done and that tasks will move forward.

In conclusion, one must use the strategy that feels most natural to them. For clock-timers, it will be, most likely, the one that relies on allocated timeframes, while for event-timers, it will most likely be the one that relies on the order of the essays.

However, both scheduling states need to be aware of the caveat of their strategies and make sure they avoid these pitfalls.

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