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College Application Tips

The college application is the primary vehicle through which students are judged for admission.  The importance of the application cannot be underestimated.  The application for admission will receive much more favorable consideration if students take the following tips seriously.
1. Apply Early: Applications rushed through immediately preceding the deadline will reflect lack of care and completeness.  Deadlines are set up to eliminate people.
2. Neatness: Applications that are difficult to read will not receive equal consideration.  
3. Completeness: An incomplete application tells a great deal about the applicant. (Rather than leave a question blank, indicate not applicable or N/A).  Honesty: Don't pretend to be someone you aren't.  Dishonesty can easily be recognized.   
4. Prepare Your Application Yourself: only the student can prepare it in the best and most authentic way; a "TOO PERFECT" application may raise questions of how much help was received.  
5. Recommendations: Recommendations should come from those who know the student best. Colleges require no more than two, plus a school recommendation (usually written by the high school counselor). Additional recommendations are seldom helpful.  They may lead to the "thicker the file, the thinner the case" syndrome.  Teacher recommendations should be obtained from junior year teachers if possible.  
6. Teacher Recommendations: Ask for your recommendation letters early.  Don't force teachers to resent you, the student, by asking them to write a recommendation at the last moment.  
7. The College Essay: The essay gives the student the opportunity to directly influence the admissions committee's perception of the applicant. More essay tips are listed at the bottom of this page.  
8. Supplementary materials: Do not submit additional materials unless they are relevant to the student’s application. Do not try to be too cute!  Art and music projects may be acceptable, especially if they apply to the student's intended major.  
9. Extracurricular Activities: These should be presented openly and honestly. Do not minimize or exaggerate.  
DO ·         
  • Do find a "handle" or something that sets you apart. ·         
  • Do find out all you can about the college to which you are applying. ·         
  • Do show interest in the college and emphasize reasons for applying. ·         
  • Do provide your counselor information about your reasons for applying. ·         
  • Do establish a personal relationship with an admissions officer. ·         
  • Do schedule interviews. ·         
  • Do write your essays early. ·         
  • Do show your essay to a teacher and/or counselor before submitting it. ·         
  • Do ask admissions people about specific programs and requirements. ·         
  • Do keep a copy of everything you send.  
DO NOT ·         
  • Don't ever get "boring". Don't repeat information already in your application. ·         
  • Don't exaggerate or take credit for things that are not yours. ·         
  • Don't be arrogant or pushy. Be assertive but not aggressive. ·         
  • Don't overload your application. ·         
  • Don't ask to have access to your recommendations.
  • Comments that stress both your strengths and weaknesses are better than colorless, guarded references. ·         
  • Don't memorize or reel from a list during the interview. Spontaneity is important. ·         
  • Don't call the admissions office unless you have a critical problem or concern. ·         
  • Don't forget to write thank you notes. It helps keep your name before the committee. ·         
  • Don't forget to visit the college representative when they visit your high school. ·         
  • Don't pretend to be superhuman; you have individual feelings, fears, strengths, and weaknesses. ·         
  • Don't assume all the colleges are alike in their approach and admissions standards; they are different.Research them as best you can.    
Read the directions. ·         
  • What is the assignment? ·         
  • Is it an open-ended question? ·         
  • What should be the length of the essay? Is it permissible to attach additional pages?
Brainstorm. Write. Edit. Rewrite. Leave it alone. Edit. Rewrite. ·         
  • Grab the reader's interest early. ·         
  • Essay should have focus, central idea, or story. ·         
  • Paragraphs should be clearly and logically organized to support the central idea. ·         
  • There should be NO errors in grammar, spelling, or punctuation.  
Use the essay as a way of making yourself stand out from pool of applicants. ·         
  • What makes you unique? ·         
  • What are your special skills/talents/hobbies? ·         
  • What area of study are you interested in and why? ·         
  • What jobs/responsibilities/volunteer experiences or travel experiences have you had...more importantly, what have you learned from them? ·          Have you overcome any handicaps? Obstacles? Challenges? ·         
  • How has something you studied, read, or did in school influenced you? ·         
  • Has a special person influenced your life? ·         
  • What can you contribute to campus?  
Is there something in your application that needs further explanation? The essay can be a good place to explain discrepancies in your academic history (one poor semester, low test scores, etc.). This explanation, however, should not be a rationalization. Rather, use it as a way of helping the admissions committee better understand your academic history.  
Don't repeat information found elsewhere in the application. Expound on it, explain it, or draw lessons from it.
Be honest. ·         
  • Establish your own voice. ·         
  • Write about who you are, not who you think you should be. ·         
  • Don't sound stiff and pretentious. ·         
  • Don't use language, words, or a style that is not natural to you. ·         
  • Don't be shy, but don't be too arrogant!  
Be specific, concrete, and analytical. ·         
  • Keep sentences short and clear. ·         
  • Don't just provide a laundry list of activities, pick one and describe what it meant to you, what you learned, how you changed. ·         
  • Go for depth, not breadth. Quality, not quantity.  
Be creative and imaginative. Dare to be different. ·         
  • Use a "vehicle" to describe yourself. ·         
  • Humor is okay – but keep your audience in mind.  
Have someone whose judgment you trust look over your essay
Ask a counselor, teacher, parent, friend, sibling, "Does this give an accurate picture of me?" Never have someone else write the essay for you! The writing of a high school senior, no matter how gifted, is easily distinguishable from that of an older person.  
Save a copy of your essay before you submit it (on your computer).   
Ask admissions what weight is given to the essay in the application process.
Tips on Getting Started on your Essay:  
The best way to start writing is to write! ·         
  • Free associate. ·         
  • Set an alarm clock for an hour and write. ·         
  • Write a letter to a friend/relative. ·         
  • Later, you can edit your writing into essay form.

Stuck on what to write about? ·         
  • Look through old albums, yearbooks, journals to recall different events and people in your life. ·         
  • Read magazines/newspapers and find an article that interests you. Write your reactions.
It is hard to write about YOU?
Write your name vertically down the page, one letter at a time. For each letter, pick
an adjective that starts with that letter that describes you. Which one(s) most suit you and why. Can you think of specific instances, events, stories that demonstrate that trait? Write your story.
Totally intimidated by the blank page?
Talk into a recording device and then transcribe. This strategy will get you to write something down on paper. Find a central idea, story, or focus to what you said, and edit it into essay form.
Make sure to follow application guidelines.