The college application season can, without a doubt, be stressful and confusing at times. Having to juggle between getting that last SAT attempt in and writing essays, students may feel overwhelmed by the process.
As a current senior exploring the college admissions process right now, I have done a lot of research on how to manage deadlines and make your application the best it can be.
Although I am certainly not a professional when it comes to crafting the perfect application, here are some tips and general information that I learned that may be useful to you.
Where do I even begin?
When applying to colleges, there are a few application platforms you can choose. The one that I use, and the one that is a fairly popular choice, is the Common Application. Another very popular platform is the Coalition App. For this article, however, we will be focusing on the Common App.
The Common Application, simply put, organizes all of the parts of your application into one giant profile. You are able to select all the colleges you want to apply to and use the Common Application to write the essays for them and use the same profile for each college. However, it is important to note that not all colleges accept this application, and some have their own. Georgetown, the University of California schools, and MIT are some examples of colleges that use a specific platform. The fees for each common application can vary depending on the college, but they are often $50 to $90.
For more information on the specific sections of the application, visit the official website.
Since the Common App just updated on August 1, it is time that you start investing your effort into your applications. There are multiple deadlines that you can select for each college, but it is important to consider the conditions of each one.
First, Early Decision is the earliest deadline for colleges. Some colleges may require that applications be submitted around November for this option, and students will receive their decision around December. However, it is important to note that although you get your decision earlier, getting accepted is a binding decision, meaning that if you get accepted, you have to attend (unless you have a really good reason for not attending).
Early Decision II is similar to Early Decision 1 in the sense that if you get accepted, you have to go. However, most students use this option if they feel they need more time to visit campus and work on their application.
Another deadline is Early Action. Similar to Early Decision, applicants will submit their application earlier and get their decision earlier. For some colleges, submitting at this point is beneficial as it shows to colleges that you are eager to attend due to your flexibility with submitting the application early. Unlike Early Decision (ED), you are not obligated to attend if you get accepted.
One other option that isn't as widespread is the Restrive Early Action (REA) option. This deadline is more "restrictive" than early action but less committing than Early Decision. Under this option, you can apply to other schools through Early Action but not Early Decision.
Finally, the other option that students can pursue is Regular Decision. This is a good option for students who believe their application would not be as complete as they would like until later on. In addition, some colleges only allow this option, which gives students the opportunity to add more to their application if needed. Most of the Regular Decision deadlines are in January or later.
To keep it brief and short, this section is for your demographics and more personal information. In addition, you will include your GPA, coursework, and standardized test scores. This will give admissions officers more of an insight into your accomplishments within school and within your testing, as well as more information about your general background.
As far as standardized testing goes, some colleges will allow you to self-report your scores, while others may ask you to directly submit them through specific codes that can be found on their website.
Now that we have gone over the various options for deadlines, it is time to talk about the application itself. To start off, the extracurriculars section is one of the most important parts of your application. This is where you showcase everything that you do outside of the classroom. Whether it is participating in a school club or working with a non-profit organization, this is the part that shows admissions officers who you are as a person.
It is important to note that on the Common App, there are ten spots for extracurricular activities. This does not mean that you need to fill out all ten, and many applicants fill out less. There is also an option to show any leadership positions that you have held (or hold) in the activity to further exemplify your involvement.
In this section, you will also be asked to estimate the number of hours you spend on this activity, and it is important that you are honest when doing so. It is okay if you do not spend too much time on a certain activity, because what matters more is how you spend that time.
When filling out the description of the activity, you have 150 characters to describe what you do. Many students find this lack of space daunting because they feel that there is so much to talk about in so little space, but there are many ways that you can maximize the character count you are given. For starters, you should not talk about what the organization is more than you talk about what you specifically do.
For example, if you are a part of National Honor Society, don't write something like "National Honor Society is a nationwide program for high school students..." Instead, you should write about your impact using action words: "Organized a toy drive, led highway cleanups, directed member meetings..." This way, you are talking about what you did specifically.
In terms of the order you list your activities, it is often advised by many consultants to put your strongest activities at the beginning as those are the activities that the admissions officers will see first.
The awards section is the part of the application where you can showcase any formal recognition of your work. The Common App has five slots for this section, but some students may feel that they do not have much to put in this section, and that is okay. If you have extra space, some students put down honor societies or AP awards. When it comes to "ranking" these awards, you can choose to put your strongest ones at the top, and you can also categorize the awards based on levels: school, regional/state, national, or international.
Some activities that you can include in this section are, as mentioned before, honor societies and AP awards, publications, athletic awards, STEM/art awards, and more.
The essay section of the application can be one of the most time-consuming parts of the whole application. In this section, you will have to write a Common App essay (commonly referred to as the Personal Statement), which is a universal essay for your whole application, and you can choose which prompt you would like to write about. In addition to the Common App essay, you might have to write a few more essays depending on the colleges you are applying to; these are called "supplemental essays," and the prompts are geared more towards the college you are applying to.
The Common App essay has multiple prompts which can be found on the website or on the application platform itself. The main thing to remember is that these essays are not for you to brag about your accomplishments; rather, they are meant for you to tell your story in 650 words or less. Whether you use an anecdote to reflect on a time when you were younger or talk about one of your passions, you need to remember that this is a chance for you to tell the readers who you are as a person.
Some of the supplemental essays revolve around why you would like to attend the college. This is where you need to do in-depth research about the college and truly find out why you believe you will be a great fit there. This can include talking about clubs or organizations, different programs and classes, and how you can contribute to the community as a whole.
Letters of Recommendation
The letters of recommendation section is one of the ways that you can get someone to tell the admissions officers more about you. Whether it is a professor that you worked closely with or a teacher that has observed your dedication and hard work upclose, these letters can illustrate your commitment within the classroom.
One tip that I have learned from other people is that sometimes it may be useful to submit a BRAG sheet. This sheet, which can be found with a quick Google search, will allow you to tell the recommenders more about your accomplishments, such as other activities, GPA, test scores, and your personality. By doing this, you will give your recommenders more information to work off of to help build a strong letter.
Some people to consider asking for a recommendation are the ones who know you and your talents the best. Some students often reach out to the teacher whose class they volunteered and did their best in or their school counselor. If you feel like you have more than enough people to ask for a recommendation, it is sometimes advised not to submit more than required unless doing so adds another dimension to your application that you would feel incomplete without. It is important to acknowledge that the admissions officers have thousands of applications to look over.
If you have not asked anyone for a recommendation yet, do not worry. As some students ask for recommendations before the summer after their junior year, you can always ask your teachers in the fall when you see them again.
As the college application process can be overwhelming, it is important that you take the time to carefully plan out your schedule and create a strategy to tackle each part of the application. You definitely do not want to wait until the week before your first deadline to start the Personal Statement, and you most definitely do not want to put off the application until later.
This article hopefully gives you more of an idea on how to go about the application, and although I am also applying to colleges right now, I thought that it might help to share some of the knowledge I have garnered over time. So good luck, and I'm sure you will do well!