Step 4

When should I start working on my essays?

While there is no “right time” to start working on essays, it does make sense to start at least thinking about the topic you want to talk about well before December. Writing good essays takes time, and typically, you want to leave time for revisions. Having multiple people look at your essay can be a great idea, too, so you can get feedback on how best to revise your essay. So while there is no right time to start working on your essays, starting earlier, not necessarily in the writing process but just in the thinking process, is hugely valuable.

The thought of all of these applications is really overwhelming. Do you have any organizational tips?

Because students typically apply to so many schools these days, not pacing your work will mean digging a huge hole for yourself once deadlines start rolling around. Once you have a fixed list of all the colleges you will be applying to, create a document with all of the different essay prompts divided by school. You can use this to jot down ideas for possible topics, as well as to keep track of your progress—color-code the document according to whether each essay is completed, in progress, or not yet started. Having a list of all of the essay topics means that you can more easily see similarities between different schools’ applications. Seeing what you can reuse and recombine has the potential to drastically cut down your workload and your stress. Applying to colleges is a feat of organization as much as anything else—starting early, setting concrete milestones for yourself, and keeping careful track of how much work you still have to do will prevent you from feeling overwhelmed.

If I have a low AP score (say, a 3), do I still have to report it?

Whether or not a school wants you to exercise so-called “score choice”—the ability to cherry-pick which scores to send to schools and which to keep buried in the deepest recesses of a College Board server somewhere—depends on the school. For example, some schools that respect score choice include Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown (although if the tone of their website is any indication, a bit begrudgingly), and MIT. However, it is important to note that the following schools want you to send all of your scores: Yale (students who wish to use their SAT I results must send in all of their SAT I results but needn’t send in their ACT results, and vice-versa. However, if students wish to have both tests considered, all scores from both exams must be sent), University of Pennsylvania, and Cornell. Caltech and Amherst say they “recommend” sending all scores, but stop just short of using the word "require."

Am I too old for Harvard?

According to administrators across Harvard's schools, there is no age limit. People of any age can apply, be it to the College, the Medical School, the Extension School, etc. As Marlyn E. McGrath, the director of Harvard College admissions, said in a 2011 Crimson article: “We have no age limits. We’re really looking at individuals on the basis of individual achievement and personal characteristics.”