As deadlines for college applications approach, it is important to be both organized and purposeful in your preparations. The following 10 tips will help you avoid common mistakes as you put the finishing touches on your applications.
1. Focus on a short list of no more than eight colleges.
The greater the number of applications you submit, the more likely it is you appear (to the colleges) to be applying whimsically—and the greater the likelihood that “application fatigue” will begin to affect your ability to do a good job with each application. Stay focused on the core group of schools that represent good fits for you. In most cases, eight is more than enough.
2. “Connect the dots”—tell your story!
Be purposeful in your presentation to eliminate the randomness of your submissions. Establish a theme and use every part of the application to connect the dots (various data points) of your life experience to create a clear picture of who you are and what the college gets by admitting you.
3. Answer the “why” question thoughtfully.
Colleges that ask you to write about why you want to attend are really trying to discern the synergy that exists between your goals, needs, and learning style and their respective learning environments. Don’t tell them things they already know about themselves. Admission officers don’t want to hear about their highly ranked programs, great faculty, or beautiful facilities—at least, not in this essay! Instead, reveal to them how, where, and why you have found meaningful connections. Prove to the reader that you “get it”—that you understand how the learning environment in question makes the most sense for you.
4. Take pride in your presentation.
Your application is like a personal statement that needs to state the case for your admission. Proofread it carefully. Read it out loud. Resist the temptation to repurpose information from one application to another—to do what is “good enough.” Make sure each application you submit is a positive reflection of who you are and what you have to offer.
5. Know your high school’s rules/procedures for supporting the college application process.
Give the appropriate personnel time to prepare and complete your supporting documentation. Quite often, schools want information at least a week in advance of the actual application deadlines. Don’t put your college advisor in a bind by waiting until the last minute.
6. Make sure your recommenders are “on the same page” with regard to key messages you need to convey on your application.
Your college advisor and the teachers who are supporting you are important partners in the presentation of your credentials.
7. Be organized.
The application process involves the management of many moving parts (score reports, letters of recommendations, essays, supplemental forms, etc.). Make sure your part of the application is submitted with the application fee by the posted deadline. At that point, the colleges to which you have applied will create unique data files for you into which any other outstanding credentials will be added as they arrive.
To make sure everything gets to where it needs to be in a timely fashion, create a spreadsheet on which you can list and track all the information you need to submit to each college. If you can, submit your part of the application two weeks in advance of the college’s deadline in order to beat the rush.
8. Don’t assume—anything!
At a time when deadlines and requirements are critical, it would be a mistake to assume that someone else has taken care of something for you! It is your job to make sure your application is complete and that it carries the key messages that help to define your life experience—and distinguish your candidacy.
Give yourself extra time to work with the formatting of your essays (no need for panicked meltdowns the night before deadlines!) and get in touch with the regional representatives from the colleges in question for guidance if you run into difficulty interpreting the requirements for their respective institutions.
9. Save copies.
It might seem like a hassle, but take the time to make and save copies (hard copy or electronic) of the application materials you submit. You never know when you might need to refer to them.
Make arrangements to have test scores submitted directly to the colleges. It you have not already authorized the submission of test results (SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests) to the colleges that require them, now is the time to do so.
10. Stay on their radar screens!
One of the biggest mistakes students make at this point in the process is failing to stay engaged with the schools to which they are applying! The assumption seems to be, “They have my application, so they know I’m interested.” Guess again! One of the biggest reasons bright and talented students do not get into target schools has to do with questions about the sincerity of a candidate’s interest. Answer emails that might come your way from those schools. Visit the campus. Direct important questions to the staff person at the university who recruits in your area. Don’t allow the decision-makers to regard you as a “ghost applicant.”