What to do BEFORE Applying Regular Decision

Michael Gao
December 28, 2023

You’ve just hit the submit button on your Early Decision applications, what a relief! As tempting as it may be to sit back and relax, the time between Early Decision and applying Regular Decision is crucial. 

As confident as you may feel, there is no guarantee things will go your way. Countless students wait to hear from their Early Decision schools before applying Regular Decision applications, meaning they scramble to finish everything during winter break. The most important thing to do between deadlines is completing your Regular Decision applications before the January 1st deadline and starting them early

Need help finishing your Regular Decision applications? Schedule an appointment with a Dewey Smart tutor!

Making Last Minute Improvements to your College Application


After your Early Decision applications are in, the first step is to assess any weaknesses you may have had in your application. For example, let’s say you didn’t have many collaborative experiences to talk about or you could’ve written a better essay about your diverse background. 

Although you can’t change that application, you can change how you use the time before the January deadline to strengthen your essays and activities lists. Some schools mention what they look for in their applicants: see Caltech and University of Maryland. Compare your experiences and resume to their standard and think about how you might compensate for those factors where you fall short. 


The second step is to research the schools you’re applying to and look at their supplemental essay questions and application requirements. How would you answer these questions with the experiences you have? More importantly, what do you wish you could say? For example, if you’re attempting to demonstrate interest in biology, wouldn’t it be great if you could talk about how you’re currently volunteering at your local health clinic or doing research on lung disease? 

Another requirement to research is the number and types of recommendations a school asks for. Who do they allow as recommenders? Do they want 2 recommendation letters from teachers and one from a coach or mentor? Do they want a peer recommendation (as Dartmouth does)? If you know this information ahead of time, you might realize that you should start cultivating a good relationship with your science teacher because you’ll need them to write you a strong letter of recommendation. 


Research gives you a sense of the goals you need to achieve, but having the right strategy helps you to attain that goal in the most effective and efficient way possible. Let’s be real, two months is not a whole lot of time. You can’t demonstrate commitment or perseverance, but you can accomplish something surprising, novel, or unique. 

You could organize an event for your club in order to show leadership, initiative, and the productivity of your club; get a poem published in a magazine; win a contest; collaborate on a project that incorporates complex A.I. code; or give a speech to the school about economics! These types of experiences could make or break your application. Perhaps your application is strong and you need one more experience to make your interests more persuasive. Utilize your time and talk to an admissions counselor to help you figure out the best way to do that.  

The Benefits of Last Minute Improvements

Completing another activity can have benefits besides helping you while applying Regular Decision. For example, if a school gives you a deferral or puts you on the waitlist, you can leverage what you achieved in these two months by writing about it in a letter to the school. This demonstrates your productivity and continued passion in your major. 

This could also be useful in helping you decide what area you might be interested in specializing in. For example, you might find that your general interest in history can be narrowed down to WWII, or you are actually interested in child psychology. It is an advantage to have a more specific interest in your college application. 

Why You Should Start Your Regular Decision Essays Today

Whether you choose to try to make last minute improvements while applying Regular Decision, you’ll inevitably find yourself writing more essays. It is vital to begin this process now, rather than later. 

If you’re applying to selective colleges and want to give it an honest effort, you should be casting a wide net of at least eight to ten schools (including Early Decision schools). Each of these colleges will have at least one, if not more, supplemental essays to write. Add in a potentially still unfinished personal statement, and that adds up to a whole lot of writing required before that January 1st deadline.

Moreover, it is important to not only just write these essays, but to write them well. Producing quality essays means not just cranking out a final draft within the days leading up to your deadline. You want to give each essay its due time, revising it yourself at least a couple of times as well as having at least somebody else proofreading it.

In order to complete this process, you should begin yesterday. Get a finalized list of schools and budget out your remaining time, giving yourself deadlines to meet for both rough drafts and final drafts (drafts that have been revised by yourself at least twice and proofread by at least one other person).

For some extra assistance in making your essays stand out, check out Make Your College Essay Stand Out: 3 Ways to Be Likable and The Key to Writing an Interesting Supplement.

Don’t Forget Recommenders, Transcripts, and Financial Aid

Besides the creative and work intensive tasks of projects and writing, there are a handful of tedious yet vital things you should be working on in this time frame. If you already have applied to a school Early Decision, you have probably already figured out your recommendation letters, counselor invitations, and (hopefully) financial aid. 

Those who haven’t yet applied to any schools should start by inviting your required recommenders through Common App or similar application website as soon as possible. It’s important to be courteous and initiate this process early to make sure that your letter isn’t rushed or, worse, not submitted before the deadline. As you are requesting these recommenders, you should also send a request to your counselor through the CommonApp. You can initiate both of these invitations in the Recommenders and FERPA tab of any given school. Once you do this process for one school, you can reuse your recommendations for as many CommonApp schools as you want. Again, it is important to do this soon to guarantee that your counselor uploads your materials before the deadline.

After your recommender and counselor requests are settled, you want to complete the financial aid forms required for the schools you’re applying to. After all, the only thing worse than getting rejected from a college is getting accepted and not being able to attend due to money. Almost everybody should be filing the FAFSA to qualify for federal funds, and those applying to private colleges should check their schools’ policies to see if they are required to also submit the CSS Profile to receive institutional aid. To complete these forms, make sure that you have access to your parents’ most recent 1040s and W2s. Most schools require that you apply for financial aid at the same time as or soon after you submit your application so take care of these tedious forms sooner rather than later. 

Feel overwhelmed by college applications and want help from a college admissions counselor who attends a top college? Schedule an appointment with a Dewey Smart tutor!

Time Management

With all the work that goes into applying Regular Decision, it can be hard to balance applications and schoolwork. The months after Early Decision can be the most stressful part of your senior year. That is why making a schedule for completing applications can be a useful way to budget your time. Every person is different, meaning one person’s plan may not work for another. That being said, here are some tips to guide you:

  1. Finish one school’s supplements per week: Depending on how many schools on your list this may vary, but complete applications on a regular basis
  2. Figure out when you normally have the most free time: This could be over the weekend, in the mornings, or maybe one day after school
  3. Set aside time specifically for applications: Try to make this the same time every week so make it a routine

Want even more guidance on managing your time? Read our blog about getting the most out of a student’s schedule.

Even though this is an important time for college applications, make sure you are taking care of yourself and your mental health. Do not overextend yourself with too many applications, as the quality of your work is more important than the number of schools you apply to.

Schedule an appointment with a DeweySmart tutor to get help on your applications today!


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