With college application deadlines right around the corner, now’s the time for high school seniors to get serious about getting acceptance letters.
In order to make a good impression, it’s essential that students take advantage of each portion of the application and submit honest, thoughtful and thorough information, says Mary Docken, director of Market Development at Hobsons.
“Colleges are not mind readers--your application is your opportunity to tell your story and let them know what you will bring to their campus academically and as a member of a community,” she says.
To avoid panic and last-minute scrambling, students should give themselves ample time to give applications the necessary attention, says Suzanne Luse, certified educational consultant. She also advises parents to limit their involvement and only provide second-hand assistance like proof-reading or double checking information.
“I can tell when a parent has gotten involved--the essay will start with something like ‘as a leader in my school, I have accomplished many things,’ kind of repeating what’s already on the application and it doesn’t sound at all like a 17 year old,” she says.
Here are expert tips on how students can best navigate the college application process and put their best foot forward to increase their chances of finding an acceptance letter in the spring.
Write Down Deadlines
Students should keep in mind that early-decision applications are usually due Nov. 1 and regular decision applications tend to have a deadline of Jan. 1, but these are general deadlines—many schools set their own deadlines.
Once students have decided where they will apply, they should create a deadline calendar for what needs to be submitted to each school by a certain date.
“We give our students what we call a college deadline planner and parents can create a spreadsheet that will list every college, what the deadline is and what the requirements are,” says Luse.
Docken suggests mapping out dates on a calendar of some kind (electronic, paper, bulletin board) and students should make sure they request that college entrance exams results, transcripts and recommendations be sent to the colleges to which they are applying to well in advance of deadlines.
Use Your Essay to Your Advantage
Students tend to dread the essay portion of applications the most, but this where they can shine and really distinguish themselves to the admissions committee.
“The biggest liability in application essays is to come across boring or just like everyone else,” says Jon Small, vice president of College Prep at Veritas Prep. “In order to really stand out, students will want to brainstorm several different angles of their personality and then flesh each one out in essay form for review by friends, family, and academic contacts.”
Because it takes time to determine essay topics, work on a draft, and revise their writing so that they are confident to submit them, students should place their essays as a high priority but don’t over think it, says Docken.
“Students can get tripped up in thinking ‘if I just knew what they want me to write about, this would be easy,’” she says. “A college is really interested in getting to know the student through their essays--writing about what is important to you is the best way to accomplish this.”
Get Your Online Life in Order
With the prevalence of online application submissions and email correspondence from universities, students need to make sure they have a professional email address (get rid of the middle school/joke email account) and check it regularly for any news on an application status or scholarship information.
“An email address with conventional naming standards such as first name.last name@email provider is very appropriate,” says Docken. “Having one email address that you use for all of your college correspondence can be very helpful in keeping a student organized.”
Although colleges don’t have the time to check out every applicant’s social media profile, Luse still recommends students clean up their online presence.
“If somebody is marginal or they have concerns, maybe their recommendations weren’t that great, they may check the Facebook page,” she says. “We do caution students to keep it professional knowing that that might be happening.”
Double, Triple Check
One spelling or grammatical error on an application can potentially disqualify students, and the experts recommend having all applications checked by a parent, teacher or college counselor.
A common mistake when submitting standard essay questions and information is forgetting to change the name of the college being applied to, according to Docken.
“Often when a student has worked so closely with their application, it can be hard to spot their own mistakes and another pair of eyes to look things over can be a great help,” she says.
Luse explains that the common application has a print preview where applicants can see what the application will look like from the perspective of the college admissions officer.
“That’s something that’s really good to really pore over to catch any typos or misstated information,” she says. “It can be really confusing when kids have multiple colleges, multiple essays and a lot to take care of.”