By: Susanna Cerasuolo, M.Ed.
Organizing college apps can be confusing, and often students just want to know what a college application consists of. Here is a clear breakdown of what goes into one college app:
This might be a Common Application (which 488 colleges use) or the college’s own app. Check each of your colleges to see which app they use. When a school offers its own app and the Common App, this always make me wonder if they prefer their own, so heads up.
2. Due date
This is a part of the application that you need to know about right away. Know what app dates the school offers, like Early Decision, Early Action, Priority, Rolling, or just Regular. Track your due dates on the CollegeMapper Applications page. Prioritize your apps and work on them in the order they are due. Always submit an app at least two weeks before the due date because it may take two weeks for each piece to show up and be cataloged by the college. Without each piece submitted, your app is NOT considered on time. Only complete and logged apps are considered on time. If any piece of your app is missing by the due date, you may be rolled into the regular pool or denied altogether, before you even get a chance. Plan ahead!
Most colleges will want a “main essay” from you. You can use the same main essay at nearly all of your colleges. The Common App also requires a small paragraph on your most meaningful extra curricular activity, so make sure this “little” essay compliments the subject matter of your “main” essay. Don’t repeat yourself and overlap info. Present a full picture of yourself. Also, each college may ask you for approximately 0-8 pieces of writing on their supplement page.
Typically the more competitive a college, the more supplemental essays they require (for ferocious examples, see Brown, U Chicago, and Occidental). And beware, when a college has no supplements it is often to encourage students to apply; the more applications the receive, for the same number of available spots, the lower their percentage of accepted students goes, so just because the app looks “easy” does not mean you will get in.
You will need to request that your high school send your official transcript to each of your colleges. Do this early. There may be a small charge. You also need to request any colleges you have attended to send those transcripts to all of your colleges as well. College course transcripts are very attractive because they show that you wanted to be challenged beyond what your high school offered. Again, order these early–like September.
5. Test Scores
You will need to go on the ACT or SAT website and have your best test scores sent to each of your colleges. It can be tricky to send only your best scores from the SAT, so take your time and click slowly. Some of your colleges will want all of your test scores from the SAT or the ACT, but you never need to send all of your test scores from both tests to anybody.
Most applications have a fee required to submit the app. The app is not considered complete without this fee. If the fee is a problem, colleges will waive it for you if you ask.
This is not a required part of the application, but it really helps you. You can use your Resume to fill out the info on the app, too, so it is helpful to have. Always fill out the required info on the app, even if you will be attaching your resume, in case they become separated.
The following pieces are not part of your actual application, but they are often included in your application file at the college, so they are good things for you to think of as a sort of “part” of your application:
Not all colleges offer interviews, but when they do, the interview can be a huge asset to you. It gives you a chance to connect with the actual person who will be reading your app and deciding if you get accepted or not. College admissions is a human process run by actual human beings, so any time you can make a personal connection that usually strengthens your app (my one warning is that if you are shy, I do not think interviews are always a help for you). State schools typically do not interview because they have too many applicants.
Private schools will often interview, and even if they don’t “interview” they may meet with you informally. Every time you have contact with a college, treat it with respect. Everything counts, and your parents should not be doing any of this for you. You need to be an adult now, scheduling things and speaking for yourself. Colleges do not want to talk to your parents. Prep for your interview (or coffee meeting) and just have fun! The people in admissions like working with teenagers, so you do not need to be frightened.
9. Official Campus Visit
These do not technically count as part of the application, but an official, registered campus visit will be noted in your file and can help swing things in your favor because it shows demonstrated interest. You don’t need to visit every college on your list; just do what you can. And if you cannot afford to visit on your own, see if the college offers any kind of fly-in programs for students. If you are considered a minority student by a college, often they hold special recruitment events on campus in the Fall and many of them will even pay for you to come.
10. Visit at your high school
When a college rep flies all the way across the country, rents a car, gets a GPS, finds your high school, locates the library and makes a presentation for 20 minutes, you had *better* be there. How can you expect him or her to believe that they are your top choice college if you couldn’t even be bothered to walk down the hallway for a 20 minute meeting? 🙂 Read the CollegeMapper handout on how to prepare for and handle these visits. Often the person holding this meeting is the very person who will decide if you are accepted or not, so make an excellent impression and cancel your own birthday party if you have to, to be there. And do not leave early. Truly, what is more important?
11. Meet the rep at the College Fair
Your colleges may be attending your local NACAC college fair in the Fall, so check the NACAC website and see which colleges are coming. You can register online to go and this is a great way for you to meet reps from your college–again, the very people who may be deciding if you get in or not. If you take a parent, be sure to ask them nicely in the car not to talk more than you, or much at all. Check the CollegeMapper handout for the College Fair and have fun!!
12. Meet the rep in your city
Often college reps make presentations in your city in the Fall (Sept.-Nov.). These are typically held at local hotels or community centers. Check the college websites to see if they have their travel schedules posted and plan to attend these events if at all possible. Register online if available.
The most compelling piece of your entire application is that you clearly research the college and demonstrate in your application and interview that you know for a fact that you and the college are an ideal match for one another. When you love a place, let them know. The colleges are not mind-readers. Yay college! 🙂