This may sound like the intro to a bad comedy bit, but what’s the deal with teenagers and procrastination?  As a reformed procrastinator myself, I get it.  It’s tough to juggle school demands, a social life, extracurricular activities, and maybe having dinner with your family once in a while.  But I’m finding that procrastination is a widespread disease that can lie dormant before coming on full-force.

UC schools and other college like them make their firm Nov. 30 application deadline heard loud and clear at counselor conferences.  We, in turn, strongly encourage, urge, and constantly remind our students to not wait until 11:59pm on November 30th to press “submit,” unless they enjoy technical issues and want to risk their application not getting in on time or being considered at all.

I’m particularly frustrated with students waiting until the last minute because of the panicked emails I received over winter break—a time for students and faculty alike to enjoy some well-deserved rest and relaxation.  While I’m glad students were continuing to perfect their essays and work on Common App Supplements, I didn’t enjoy getting emails at all hours of the night with subjects such as “URGENT! Please read this ASAP?!!?!”  In most cases, if the students had taken the time to search for the answers themselves, they would have found them easily and saved everyone from freaking out momentarily.  In some cases, I responded at 1:00 am with a link to the college’s website that provided the answer they were looking for; in other cases, I waited a day or two because, come on, it’s winter break!  I constantly battle between the urge to immediately put out fires for my students and letting them stew a little so that I don’t create the expectation that I will drop everything at any time to help with their crisis-of-the-moment.

One thing that I find quite interesting is that procrastinating isn’t just something a certain type or group of students does.  It’s widespread.  The students who would rather tweet than study procrastinate, but so do the brightest and most focused students. I’m not sure these students understand that there can be, and are, real consequences if they drop the ball one too many times or at the exact wrong moment.  You missed that scholarship deadline by 2 days?  “Too bad” might be the response you get from the scholarship committee.  You forgot to work on your essay and are choosing to submit a sub-par response because you’ve run out of time?  That just might have an impact on your admission decision.  You never asked that English teacher if they would write a recommendation for you and the deadline is tomorrow?  YIKES.

In this profession, we live and die by deadlines.  Colleges set their own application deadlines.  There are registration deadlines for the SAT and ACT (and then there are late registration deadlines).  We set our own internal deadlines to finish rec letters.  There’s May 1, the National Candidates Reply Date.  True, not all of these deadlines are 100% firm, but this is our real world. If we don’t play by the rules, there are often major consequences.  I imagine students will begin to gain a better grasp on this as they mature and grow and make mistakes in college and later in life, but wouldn’t it be nice if they understood this concept just a little bit better now?

Now, I won’t pretend to have any solutions or ideas for how to combat the problem, but I would be interested to hear from my colleagues if they’ve had any success encouraging students to stay on top of things.

By Meredith Britt