A Procrastinating Perfectionist and an Indecisive Overachiever Take on the College Process


(Credit: C2 Education)

2 Montrose seniors detail their college applications process and different strategies that worked for them.

As second-semester seniors who applied to a total of 23 schools and wrote a combined 41 essays, we feel confident in saying that we’re experts in the college application process at this point. And because we take relatively similar course loads and have had differences in homework strategies in the past, we thought it would be interesting to compare our starkly different college processes in an article for all to see before senioritis takes us out completely. Below are our various trials, questionable decisions, and words of advice for future applicants fighting their way through the process that Mrs. Elrod calls “literal child abuse.”*

*Many people have done much more and much less work for college applications than we did. It really depends on your situation, knowing what you want, and the effort you choose to put into it!  

The Testing Process: 

KC: Having a senior brother as a junior definitely helped me ease into the college testing arena. I took the SAT three times: once before junior year without studying at all, again in March at Montrose, and a third time that August after studying over the summer. I took the ACT once too, but we don’t speak of it (there was a science section — how do you study for that?). I might have spent more virtual time with Sal Khan (essentially a demigod and the creator of Khan Academy) last summer than was warranted, but all was well after awaiting results with Erica Brown ‘22 during a very stressful cross country practice. Thank you Brookline High School! I spent more hours in that cafeteria than I expected in my high school career. 

TF: To be perfectly honest, I approached the SAT with an attitude of “I’m just winging it.” Leading up to the test, which I took for the first and only time at Montrose, I took a full-length practice test on Khan Academy (they’re certified by the College Board!) roughly a month before the real deal. I highly recommend taking the practice test because I felt so much more confident doing the real thing with the knowledge that I had already taken essentially the same test with the same conditions. Like Kasey, I owe my life (and my SAT score) to Sal Khan for the practice test, videos explaining mathematical concepts, and the hundreds of problems that I crammed into my schedule in the days leading up to the SAT. My final piece of SAT advice? Sleep more than eight hours the night before – you know everything that you can at that point, and being well-rested and calm is the best way to prepare yourself.

Common App 

KC: I kept a running list of funny things that happened to me / interesting parts of my life in my Notes app on my phone throughout junior year, so I had at least a few ideas when it came to the main Common App essay. Like the rest of Mrs. Whitlock’s AP Lang class, I wrote my first draft in May about what else but my faithful Latin textbook. Funnily enough, I was convinced that this draft was the be-all-end-all of college essays, that I would probably only need to make a few edits after, and that I would achieve my goal of finishing my main essay early in the summer. It was not so. Mrs. Whitlock handed me back my copy riddled with various red scribbles (rightfully so — I read the draft again recently and it made no sense), and I then realized that none of my college essays would be a single round process.  

So I worked on it gradually throughout the summer, did a big chunk of edits at the Montrose college essay workshop (thank you Mrs. Senackerib!), and finished it in early October. This was the hardest essay for me to write, I think because I initially felt a lot of pressure to put all of myself into an essay about my Latin textbook. That’s kind of hard to do. But in July, I heard an admissions lady from a pretty prestigious university say that her favorite Common App essay that she’d read was about the writer’s Sunday afternoon with their family. That comment kind of gave me the creative liberty I needed to write an essay that I liked and thought reflected who I was, rather than one that I thought would attract a college’s attention.    

TF: To be perfectly honest, I wrote my first draft on the night that it was due. I didn’t love it and I think that came across, but I saved the draft anyways (I would definitely recommend saving anything and everything that you write for a college essay because I later recycled this to become a supplemental for one of the schools I applied to!) For the next couple of drafts at the end of junior year, I changed the focus of my essay and read a lot of essay examples online. I left my essay alone during the summer and came back to it at the college essay workshop at Cedarwood. My lovely advisor Mrs. Kris helped me solidify my final draft, slightly changing the lens of my essay: in my final copy, I talked about my messy room and how various items lying around alluded to my wide variety of interests and commitments. 

Summer 2021

KC: Most of my college-related summer activities included either the SAT or the Common App. Other than that, I spent some time organizing the essay prompts on my list and drafting the essays I knew I would be able to use more than once.  

TF: The only college activities I participated in over the summer were college tours: one local tour and a day trip down to NYC with my dad to tour a couple of campuses over the course of several hours. We were able to register for two guided tours and additionally walked around the Columbia campus even though they had no official tours just to understand the ~vibe~. I found that being able to look at the campuses was extremely helpful – I decided to not apply to some schools solely based on my tour and became more interested in others after visiting those schools’ campuses. Besides that, I didn’t do much for college, but I had a job and participated in a couple of other activities that ranked pretty high on my Common App activities list.

Making a List

KC: I had a pretty big list of colleges going into the year, but I narrowed it down as I went on. I found it really helpful to have a pretty basic factor that I decided I cared about going in — there are a lot of universities and I’m a very indecisive person, so I took a characteristic that I was pretty sure about (I wanted to be in a city) and ran with it. There was also a lot of waffling on my part on whether to apply Early Decision. It’s a big commitment, but I figured I would have to decide at some point, and better sooner than later. I ended up doing it TWICE (yes, that’s possible), and each time I was, inexplicably, a little afraid that I would get in. One rejection and a waitlist meant that someone somewhere knew where my heart lay. 

TF: I would love to be able to tell people what my criteria were for determining where I would send applications. However, I myself would have to know what the criteria were in order to do so, and I honestly have no clue. All I knew was that I wanted an urban school. By the end of September, I had a rough list of about 12 schools. Starting the essay prompts for each school really helped me decide whether I wanted to apply. I liked to do a lot of research on the school’s website as I would write the essay and there were several times that I decided not to apply to a place because I wasn’t seeing anything that particularly stood out to me. On the other hand, I became really excited to apply to some schools because they had something (like a minor, elective, or club) that I thought was very cool and had only discovered by doing a deep dive on their website.

Round 1: EA/Nov. 1 Deadline

KC: It was in September and October that I finally understood Mrs. Elrod’s grudge against the college system. My plan was to apply to 8 schools early, which meant 18 essays. There were a handful for which I could use essays I had written in the summer and many others that I generated ideas for relatively quickly, but I definitely felt like my work was cut out for me. My plan — which shifted constantly, but still worked for the most part — was to leave college essays for the weekend and do only homework during the school week. I tried to finish schoolwork by Saturday afternoons so that Saturday nights and Sundays were for writing essays. 

I think my most important takeaway from these writing-heavy 2 months was to give myself time to dawdle. It was sometimes really hard not to freak out about how much I had left to do and the time I was wasting looking at my cursor blink on the screen. For the most part, though, I was much better off when I was patient with myself and kept showing up to see my ideas through. Almost every writer’s block was met graciously by Mrs. Kris, who helped me talk out ideas for my hardest essays and get excited about them.

I learned a lot about the writing process in what feels now (not then) like a short period of time. Come Nov. 1, though, I was pleasantly surprised that the weekend meant I could go out with people again. 

TF: I think this is one of the points where Kasey and I differed the most… I applied to 3 schools early (one of which had no essays) and also had a November deadline for the 1 application for the 3 University of California schools that I applied to. I had initially planned to send in one or two more early applications, but I was won over by the option to put off applications until the regular round.

Again, saving anything and everything that I wrote was so helpful. I also ended up sort of recycling some essay prompts or formulas. A lot of schools have similar “why us” essays – while I definitely wanted to be school-specific to really show my interest, I found a pattern that worked for a lot of mine. Doing deep dives on the college’s website, watching student vlogs, and searching other online forums for reviews specific to the school and my major helped me both figure out whether I wanted to go to the school and what to write about in my essays for them. Some prompts were so easy to write for, especially when you find it particularly interesting, and some are not so much (usually the more generic ones). Regardless, I always tried my best to get my essays done with enough time to have Mrs. Kris read them over before submitting them (Mrs. Kris – I genuinely don’t know what I would have done without you throughout my applications and I can’t thank you enough!). In total, I wrote 9 essays that I submitted during the fall of 2021 and left another 9 for the new year.


KC: There are a lot of things better than writing college essays, and interviews are one of those things. I had interviews with wildly different vibes. I talked about Spiderman for a good 5 minutes in one; in another, my interviewer asked me about the fishing sanctions in my summer job. The college newspaper is always a great place to do some research on student culture, and interviewers love it when you bring up an article in your conversation. I tried to take advantage of them when I was given the opportunity, but they are definitely not something to lose sleep over. 

TF: My first two interviews were an hour apart (!) and both on Zoom. As I stressed out (unnecessarily) the night before, I looked online to get a general idea of what kind of questions would be asked and brainstormed my answers to them. This definitely helped me during the interview, both because I had a paper with the main points to refer to and because simply doing the prep itself made me feel more confident. The interviews are nice because you don’t need to prove that you’re smart – that’s what the application itself is for. I think that they just want to see that you’re a person with interests and that knows how to interact well with other (especially new) people well. One interviewer and I talked at length about the differences between the English translation and the original Latin of the Aeneid, and the other told me about the concert venues he and his friends liked to visit near campus when he was in school. I had a really good experience with both of my interviewers and, like Kasey, would just emphasize that interviews are definitely not stressful.

Round 2: RD/Jan. 1 Deadline

KC: November to January heralded a very peaceful time for me in comparison to the 2 months before. I had 2 more schools and an honors college application, which made for 5 — just five!– for me to do before January 1. I didn’t start drafting these until Thanksgiving break, but I finished two or three of them then and turned in my final apps during Christmas break. 

TF: I began the arduous process of applying to my last 7 schools over Christmas break, where my low point was definitely submitting an application an hour and eighteen minutes before the deadline, essays unseen by anyone other than myself to this day. After getting some kind of stomach bug (not Covid!), I applied to another school, this time carefully reviewing the essays with Mrs. Kris. 

At this point, I made my big, last-minute decision. After falling down an internet rabbit hole one night, I chose to apply to five schools in the U.K. I had to write a new personal statement (which was very different from the Common App!), learn how to navigate their national application system, and decide where I wanted to apply all in the week and a half between my decision to apply and the deadline. I brought it up at the last minute to my parents and my advisor: when I had started to look at schools in the summer of 2021, my dad had actually suggested looking abroad, and I had been somewhat interested but never got around to doing the research, so my family was supportive of my (albeit very late) decision to look abroad. Mrs. Kris can testify that I had a brief phase where I wanted to apply to school in Japan, but even though that quickly passed and I settled on looking exclusively at British and Scottish schools, we both agree that studying abroad would fit me well. My recommenders deserve a shoutout (and much more) as they were extremely helpful as they had to send in recommendations to these schools on their own on my very short timeline, and Mrs. Kris and Mrs. Demirjian wrote scholarship recommendations for me with embarrassingly little notice (give your recommenders a lot of time to get their letters done!). As of January 26, I submitted a single application to all five schools (a huge benefit of their application system), and the wait for decisions began. 

Advice for Juniors?

KC: Make a plan! Try to at least organize yourself in the summertime, but don’t stress out about it too much because it’ll get done either way. Teachers are sometimes pretty lenient about homework at the beginning of the year (especially Gov and Capstone). Talk about your essay topics at the dinner table, with your advisor, or with your friends — it’s much easier to face your essays if you like your ideas for them. Also, be sure to take advantage of Mrs. Kris and the essay workshop. 

Try to be less of a wreck about getting it done than I was — take time for yourself on the weekends too! I don’t regret being structured about writing my essays, but it was definitely a hard 2 months. 

Finally, selecting a major in the college process does not mean that you have to stick with it for the next four years. I chose to apply as a computer science major because it’s something I’m really excited about, but I made a conscious effort to apply to schools that have CS in their liberal arts college so that I can pursue the other subjects I’m considering — physics, philosophy, history, etc. I felt so much better about applying with an intended major when I knew that there would be some wiggle room once I actually got there.

TF: To be perfectly honest, I would not suggest doing what I did. At the same time, if you learn anything from my experience, let it be that if you need to take some time for yourself from sticking to a schedule you’ve made, there’s probably time to do it. It’s your senior year!! Be a person and hang out with your friends and have fun because, at the end of the year, you’re going to want to block out the college application process and instead be able to think about all the other things you’ve done. It’s not healthy to get so wrapped up in the process that you can’t give time to anything else.

Mrs Kris is my advisor (since 9th grade – so this wasn’t a strategic move for college application season) and she is so incredibly helpful. Quite literally everybody in our grade has gotten help from her and she’s so encouraging and gives such constructive feedback, and I cannot recommend enough getting help from her, whether for another pair of eyes on your essay or for general encouragement.

At the beginning of the year, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do major/career-wise. I had so many adults and people older than me tell me that that was ok and to not stress, but in the moment, that doesn’t always feel helpful. For me at least, the process of learning about how to apply to college and learning about the different colleges themselves actually helped me to decide what I wanted to study. I think my advice if you’re really unsure when you’re applying would be:

  1.  As annoying as it sounds, you don’t need to stress about this. Honestly, just try to put it off of your mind. It can be kind of stressful when well-meaning parents or adults ask you what you plan on studying, but don’t be afraid to explain that you’re still figuring that out.
  2. If you have absolutely no idea what to apply to, see if the school either has a specific program for people that haven’t decided or doesn’t make you pick a major until later on (i.e. Northeastern) or apply for a course that you think could be useful broadly in a lot of career paths.


You may be wondering: where are our commitment balloons in the senior commons? Given Tess’s procrastination track record and Kasey’s crippling indecision, the hesitancy of both of us to select a college should not be surprising to anyone. We will likely not have an answer to the timeless question all adults are desperate for until midnight of April 30, if even (Kasey’s mom is constantly pushing for a gap year, anyway). Regardless, the process would be far more difficult if we hadn’t laughed over horrendous interview answers, cursed the College Board, and celebrated every decision outcome (good or bad) as a class. We are very much indebted to College Guidance, Sal Khan, and Mrs. Kris for their help and encouragement. As Latin scholars, we leave future seniors with the words of Aeneas: “Durate, et vosmet rebus servate secundis.”*

Author’s note: We had very much planned to get this article published at an earlier date. Fittingly, you just have to look at the title to explain why it’s getting published now: Kasey finished her part a couple of weeks ago, and I (Tess) just wrapped mine up 🙂

* For those without AP Latin expertise: “Endure, and save yourselves for happier times.”

Tess Farr ‘22 and Kasey Corra ‘22, Managing Copy Editor and Co-Assistant Editor in Chief

22tfarr@montroseschool.org, 22kcorra@montroseschool.org