The end of another year doesn’t only mean winter break and holiday celebrations with family.

It also means college application deadlines are getting real.

Most regular decision college applications fall somewhere between January 1 and February 1. Meaning high school seniors have probably got about 20 days or less to get all their materials together and write a winning essay.

Don’t panic! We have four tips for how you can survive the stress and hit Submit on time.

1. Make a List

There’s a useful saying about facing your fears that high school seniors should really take to heart.

Deadlines. Sit down with a calendar — we recommend a real paper calendar — and write down all your deadlines.

Yes, a whole bunch of them are clustered together on the first and the fifteenth. Breathe.

Availability. Next, write down days you aren’t available to work on applications at all. You might block off Christmas, the days you are traveling, or your first day back at school for the spring semester.

Be honest with yourself and really consider which days you can reasonably work on applications.

(We know that at this point it looks pretty dire, but hang in there.)

Hours. On the days that remain, write down how many hours you think you can reasonably work on applications that day.

Example:
Dec. 25 unavailable
Dec. 26: 2 hours
Dec. 27: 1 hour
Dec. 28: 2 hours
Dec. 29: unavailable
Dec. 30: 4 hours
Dec. 31: 1 hour
Jan. 1: 2 hours (2 applications due)

Sweet! You found ten hours!

Others will have more, others less. Regardless of the number, it’s important to assess what is really possible.

2. Check It Twice

Now it’s time to itemize.

Everyone’s calendar at this point will look completely different because everyone’s applications will be in different states of completion.

For one application, all you need to work on is the essay.

For another, you haven’t even started.

Write down on your calendar — in priority order based on deadlines! — all the remaining steps.

“Finish Common App ®” will probably be at the top of your list.

“Edit activity list” is probably going to be up there, too.

Don’t underestimate the amount of time that tracking down transcripts, test scores, and recommendation letters will take. If you haven’t requested these items for January 1 deadlines, you may be out of luck since school is out. Contact your counselor with questions.

P.S.: Teachers really don’t like being surprised with recommendation letter requests, so get those out ASAP.

At the end of the day (or at least of this step), you’ll have a master calendar with a list of how many tasks are left to do, how many hours you have to work with, and the exact days that you plan to work from now until the final application is submitted.

3. Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Seeing the calendar full of tasks might give you a sense of peace, knowing that there are a series of steps to complete in order.

Or it might make you feel overwhelmed by everything that still needs to be done and the limited time available to do it in.

In either case, you need to take a methodical approach to the time that you have committed to application tasks.

One of the best methods for maximizing productivity and minimizing burnout is called the Pomodoro technique. Many successful business people also use this time management method.

“Pomodoro” means tomato in Italian. The creator of the technique was an Italian who used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to break every half hour of work into two chunks of time.

– Work for 25 minutes.
– Take a break for 5 minutes.

That’s it. That’s the magic formula for working slowly and steadily to win the race.

You can try the Pomodoro technique yourself using numerous productivity apps or an old-fashioned kitchen timer.

Stop working as soon as the time is up, resume working as soon as the break is over, and avoid distractions during the work session.

Work briskly without getting either rushed or bogged down.

The main lesson here is to pace yourself.

4. Take Time for Real Life

So much is changing (or is about to change) for high school seniors. That feeling, commonly called “senioritis,” is the recognition that time is running out not only for college deadlines but also on a stage of life.

What is meaningful, however, is to appreciate all the time that is left.

Don’t miss opportunities to make lasting memories with family, friends, and classmates. Time spent together will offer perspective on what matters in life.

College applications are very, very important.

But so is living real life.

Strive to maintain the challenging but essential balance between working on college applications and forming memories that you will carry with you into college and beyond.