Submitting Impressive College Applications

Seniors in high school will soon begin completing college applications, if they haven’t already started. At Academic Futures, we have been busy working on these with our students since most applications became available on August 1st. The biggest news is that the Common Application, an organization that provides one “common” application for over 500 colleges, presented a total overhaul with many new changes for the CA4. Students are fortunate if several of the colleges on their list use what is best known as the Common App.

Students need to be very organized in order to present impressive applications. They should know where they intend to apply, and why. This helps to ensure that their list makes sense to them versus haphazardly applying to schools. Randomly applying to colleges can result in students applying to too many “reach” schools, so they end up with few options, or to too many “likely” schools, while they could have reached higher. We work hard with our students to develop a balanced list in their junior year so this piece of the process is already determined well before August 1st.

Next, students should pay very close attention to the portions of the application which require a written response. The essay often takes the place of the interview, which many colleges no longer offer due to the rising number of applications received each year. (UGA received over 21,000 and Georgia Tech received over 17,600 in the 2013 application year). Students need to carefully read the essay prompts to ensure they answer each portion of the question. Some may ask for three or more points to be addressed, such as one of the 2014 essay prompts for the University of Pennsylvania, “The Admissions Committee would like to learn why you are a good fit for your undergraduate school choice (College of Arts and Sciences, School of Nursing, The Wharton School, or Penn Engineering). Please tell us about specific academic, service, and/or research opportunities at the University of Pennsylvania that resonate with your background, interests, and goals.” 400-650 words

Students should next strategically think of the most important or most impressive topic to discuss. It can be a small “slice of life” story that tells more about who they are: their passion, their personality, or their hobbies or interests. They may want to stay away from topics that many others will write about such as sports or mission trips. Colleges repeatedly say each year that these two topics, which are important and valued experiences, are the most overdone essay responses.

Students should have a resume prepared which includes high school activities because they will have to list these on most applications. Usually, applications allot 10 slots for these, and students are asked to provide a brief description of each activity, as well as how many hours per week and weeks per year were spent in each activity.
It is a good idea to prepare the written responses in a Word document so spelling and the word count can be checked. It is also a good idea to have a parent check all personal information so the birth date, social security number, address, etc., all are recorded correctly so the application isn’t delayed because information does not match.

Finally, students should look at the deadlines for each college on their list and make a timeline to be sure enough time is set aside to meet them. Every year colleges talk about the midnight crash of their system or about the large number of students who submit right before the deadline. This often can lead to mistakes, to missing information, or to quickly written responses that don’t really demonstrate the best qualities of students.

Impressive applications require time, planning and thought. Students should clearly be able to state why they are a good fit for each school on their list. They should check their information carefully, but most importantly, they should toot their horns as much as they honestly can, which can sometimes be uncomfortable at this age. Taking the time to think about how to demonstrate the strongest points of who you are ultimately leads to submitting the strongest applications.

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