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Dear Mitch,

What do people mean when they say the "Official Deadline" for college applications, and when is the deadline this year?

I'm a junior and it may be early but I don't want to miss it. Also (and this is not a joke) is there some kind of "Unofficial Deadline?" And if there is what is it?

And, last, how serious are the deadlines because I know you hear adults sometimes talk about projects they're working on for their jobs and they'll say they are 'way past deadline', but they don't seem to think it means that the project will be turned away when it's done, so is it like that? Or is more serious?


M.N. Livio

Auckland, New Zealand


Dear M.N.,

You packed several different questions into just a few concise lines.

So, rather than try to give truly complete answers to each and every one here, I'm going to do my best to hit what I think are the most important points for you to know as soon as possible. Later, in the next week or so, I will get to your other questions (which are actually the ones I find most interesting, such as your insightful query about how serious dates are, but, until then, you can safely assume they're as hard as stone.

Now, there is no single universal date that marks the deadline for getting your college applications to the schools you hope will be excited to receive an envelope adorned with your name. In fact, it is important to find out the deadline of each school to which you might apply. Then, it is important to put a calendar up someplace in your home that you cannot avoid seeing every single day until the actual moment when you must part with your masterpiece.

Usually, people find that a good place to post this calendar is on the refrigerator or a bulletin board that is not merely 'easy to see', but is actually seen. And absorbed. For me, kitchens readily come to mind, particularly refrigerator doors (the exterior surface, not tucked between bottles of salad dressing on one of the door's shelves or behind the tubs of salsa); kitchens work well because they tend to have the kind of items in them that draw traffic.

Also, even if you correctly feel that your bedroom is the place where you will spend the most time viewing that calendar, the kitchen holds an important advantage: others are equally likely to see it, and become irritated that it's slopping up their elegantly remodeled gourmet station. But the power of annoying people with a focus should not be underestimated.

You may feel you hate the people that nature or circumstances has assigned to you (this 'hatred' by the way, generally dissipates over time), and so you may not want them too involved. BUT NO MATTER HOW CONVINCED YOU ARE that you can handle it yourself and might do a better job without their nagging, several studies show that even the most persistent naggers typically and paradoxically reduce the level of your stress by relieving you of some of the burden of having to nag yourself (which is a 2-tiered reflexive stressor and, just like a 'HAPPY MEAL' at McDonalds, encourages you to take stuff you don't want because it's part of the deal, the task of self nagging comes with guilt -- it's part of the deal. (By the way, despite all the pretense of 'hating to bother you', the secret truth is that botherers enjoy bothering. Often, they relish it. It gives them a specific task, and they tend to pride themselves on their ability to stay 'on-task'. Besides, if you're like the majority of students entering college today, you are probably going to get at least some financial help from the bigger people in your house, even if it's "just" a loan. (Count your blessings; many students do not have parents or guardians who can lend money even though they would love to, and the "just" in "just a loan" is a big loving JUST.)

It is also possible that you'll be getting substantial help -- financial and otherwise -- in the obscenely expensive world of college in many countries (with America, of course, being the worst/best on this point). So, since the big people are paying something, at least let them have their last big thrill before you go to a campus far, far away: Let them nag. It helps. In fact, many successful adults are likely to fire their secretaries or assistants if those employees are not effective enough at nagging. "It's four-fifteen, the client's been waiting, take a break from the email and go into your meeting, NOW."

O.K. But we haven't yet talked about what information the calendar should have on it. The answer is this: VERY LITTLE. Rather than use whatever communal calendar your family happens to have (from the pharmacy's freebie to the twenty-four dollar landscape print beauties, you should not have to see any words that do not relate to the deadline focus.

In other words, you do not need to see that next Tuesday is the anniversary of the death of Madame Curie, the pioneering scientist who is credited for her groundbreaking work on, well... on something scientific. (I'll get back to you on that one after I get some much-needed sleep.)

And, for this brief period, you don't need to know much about the moon's cycle -- with the possible exception of a total eclipse that might detract ten minutes from your steady polishing of applications to locate a flashlight.

Most importantly, the calendar must be dedicated to YOU and your deadlines and should be considered almost holy that way.

Younger siblings should not be permitted to put a pen to it to warn everyone of their upcoming soccer practice, or sleepovers, or the loss of a first tooth. A family calendar is for that.

Your calendar?

A printout from one of the free calendar print-out sites online or a handmade grid in black and white, and something like a thick red marker or crayon circling the important dates.

Then, check it again and again against other calendars to make sure the one you received from your printer was indeed accurate for the relevant year. (There are sites, believe it or not, that do not bother to update often enough to make their calendars useful.)

O.K. So... What ARE THOSE DATES????

It depends.

On a lot of factors.


And check your accuracy. Three times. If Santa has time to check his list twice, you can probably squeeze out the time to check your list three times. And do that checking three different ways, rather than rely on the same misinformed source repeatedly.

Then, sort through the ambiguities and contradictions contained on each chart, and start marking your calendar.

And to give an idea of the range of deadlines the process can involve, I pulled the files of six students who I am currently advising, and here is the (simplified!!) information of each of the student's (realistic) first choice school. (Simplified, because there are all kinds of caveats, but that would be an inappropriately frightening mass of information for this forum, at least for today.)

Amherst College:

January 1st

Duke University:

October 19th


November 1st


December 10th


January 2nd ,

(Depending upon whether the student is going for what's called 'early admission', 'regular admission', or using the 'common application' as opposed to the Duke application.)

Pomona College:

November 1st


December 28th


January 2nd


December 15th,

(Depending again on early admission, regular admission, or whether they are applying from outside the U.S. -- but not 'electronically').

Kenyon College:

November 15th


December 15th

(OR, if the student is applying for an academic scholarship)

January 15th.

Mount Holyoke College:

November 15th


January 1st

Harvard College, the undergraduate part of Harvard University:

Recently announced a change in deadline policy. Now, instead of a set of dates no less varied than other colleges, since the fall of 2007, it has all applications due by...

January 1st.

LASTLY, in recent years more and more students have reported to me that the refrigerator in their family's kitchen is not magnetic. They are stainless steel or covered with a dense wood imported from a country whose name was new to me. WHAT TO DO?????????

Scotch tape.

Your calendar can stay up with scotch tape

If you think the tape might ruin the finish on the fridge, do it. You have my blessing. (My arm almost came out of its socket opening a pretty, silver 'Subzero' refrigerator.) And I missed magnets.

Soon, very soon, we will go into how to write your application essay in 90 minutes that will make an admission board laugh, cry, and become inspired to do what they can to change the world with your help, through simple things, such as devoting their holidays to picking trash up off the streets and placing it in the receptacles where it belongs, and, perhaps, start thinking about spending more time mending shoes for blind people.

Hope this helps,