If you’re a high school junior or senior, or the parent of one, chances are you are in the midst of the college application process. That’s both exciting, and a little bit scary at the same time. Plenty of other students are also applying to schools, and sometimes the competition is fierce. Parents and students alike have plenty of questions:
- How do I stand out when so many other people are applying?
- What do colleges really care about?
- Did I take enough extracurriculars?
- How do I know I’m doing everything ‘right’?
- When should I start applying?
It’s stressful for sure, but remember that you can navigate this process successfully. To get started, keep the following seven tips in mind.
- Read and Follow Application Instructions
Every school has its own set of rules and expectations when it comes to the application process. It’s your responsibility to know these and to follow them. Never assume that every school has the same rules in place, and definitely don’t assume that they will make an exception for you. If you aren’t sure of the steps to follow, contact somebody and get the answers you need.
- Proofread All of Your Application Materials
Don’t let an incomplete or inaccurate application stand between you and acceptance. Double check all of your application materials before you submit them. Everything should be filled in, and all of your answers should be verifiably correct. Check for misspellings and grammatical mistakes too. A carelessly completed application packet leaves the impression that you don’t care all that much.
- Work Hard to Earn Good Recommendations
These are more important than many students realize. Sure, you can find a teacher or counselor to write out a quick recommendation, but is that really going to improve your chances? Probably not. Instead, build meaningful relationships with teachers, scout leaders, coaches, and other respectable people in your community. You’ll be much more likely to receive a recommendation that is thoughtful, sincere, and personalized.
The best way to earn recommendations is to simply be the kind of person people feel comfortable endorsing as a student, and as a person. Volunteer your time. Work hard. Show integrity in your actions, and act as a positive influence on your peers.
- Review Your Transcripts with Your Guidance Counselor
Your guidance counselor is there to help you with this process, and now is the perfect time to set up a meeting. Of course, you should talk about your goals, and whether or not you feel confident about the application. That’s not all though. You should also ask to review your transcripts. While it’s pretty rare, mistakes can be made. A missing credit, a grade that was reported incorrectly, or even a mistake in calculating your absences can make a big difference as you apply to school. Be proactive in finding and fixing any mistakes. Remember that nobody else is going to find or fix these mistakes on your behalf.
Here’s another good reason to meet with your counselor. You might uncover something important that isn’t a mistake. Maybe you really are missing an important elective, or you’re short on your community service hours. The sooner you know the sooner you can make a plan to fix things.
- Send Follow-ups to Colleges
If you’re really interested in attending a particular school, let them know that. Sending in an application is only one part of this process. Follow up with an email that restates your interest. This helps admissions staff to really solidify who is truly interested in moving forward.
If you’ve made personal connections at your schools of choice, reach out to those folks as well. Remember that nobody will know to put in a good word for you if they don’t know whether or not you’ve applied. Your persistence may not change a hard no, but it can improve your chances if you’re on the bubble.
- Make Sure Your Essay Represents You
What happens when a school has two students with nearly identical academic records applying for the same spot? What if both students were also equally involved in extracurricular activities? Well, they certainly don’t flip a coin. Most look at other factors.
One of the most common of these is the application essay. Yours should honestly represent the best version of yourself. The essay you submit should reflect your values, character, experiences, and growth as a person.
If you have difficulty expressing yourself like this, there’s no harm in getting some help. The most important part is that it’s your story being told. If you go that route, don’t rush into things. Take a moment to read a review of essay writing services, the pick one that meets your needs.
- Back Everything Up
You’re going to end up with a surprising amount of valuable stuff on your computer. You might have letters of recommendations, spreadsheets of the schools you’ve applied to, college applications, etc. All it takes is a power surge, virus, or other catastrophes to wreak havoc. Don’t lose value, application information. Back up your data to the cloud, or a stick drive. Then, check your backups on occasion to be sure they have all of the data you need. Finally, keep your antivirus software updated. This helps to ensure you don’t lose anything important.
Don’t let the application process intimidate you. Remember that this isn’t about rejection. Instead, think of it as the process that schools go through to help you find the perfect educational fit. Then, follow these tips to get the best possible results.