How to Survive College App Season

dog applies to college
College applications can feel like a real killer, but we’re here to help you navigate this beast of a task with a clear plan. You can make it, and you will! Follow these quick steps and you’ll be done with your apps in no time!

Decide college list
The first step to organizing your apps is to know your colleges, for sure. Pick them and move on, or this step can keep you in limbo for ages. Pick at least 6 schools, 6-8 is a good number, and make sure that at least 2 of those colleges are clear safety schools. Also, throw in one or two reaches, because you just never know!

Decide ED/EA
Applying Early Decision and Early Action almost doubles your chances of admission, so be sure to do this wherever possible. ED you do to one school and it is binding. EA you can do to as many schools as offer it–and you should!

Schedule all interviews asap
Interviews are an awesome way for you to get face-time with the person or people who will very likely be reading your application, so you should definitely sign up for all possible interviews. Call your colleges early and ask if they will interview, and if they don’t do so, ask if they are coming into your town in the Fall and if you can meet them for coffee while they’re there. It’s really worth it! Read the interview prep handouts on CollegeMapper HERE, and watch the video clip on prepping for interviews HERE.

Know when reps are coming to HS and don’t miss ANY
The college representatives will visit local high schools in the Fall to make brief presentations on their colleges. You want to attend these, especially if they come to your school! Even if they don’t come to your school, you can attend a nearby high school if you ask the counselor there. Great info, and more face-time!

Create a master list of prompts and plan your recycling
Once you know your colleges, copy/paste every essay prompt and short answer question you have to write onto one master word doc. Then, BEFORE you start writing, scan the list and look for overlaps and repeats–and even near overlaps. Your goal is to recycle essays wherever possible. You can easily write just one “Why this college” essay and then get it final and amazing, and THEN change all the proper nouns for any college that asks for it. HUGE time-saver!

Know the number of essays you need to write
Once you have your Master List of Prompts (key step!) and you have planned your recycling (huge plus), THEN count the number of unique essays you need to write. This number is your count-down goal. Arrange the essays in order of earliest due date to the latest, and then attack and start writing!

Write main essay
Writing your main essay is a really important piece of the process because you will send it to all of your colleges. Read the full page of my handy Tips HERE. Be sure to edit each essay at least 5 times, and write it yourself! The colleges can tell when adults have touched your essay and it backfires for sure!

Start Common App
Start your Common App only to get the essay prompts. Don’t procrastinate and fill in data because that’s easy and can be done later. Writing essays is tough and needs to be started first.

Don’t start Cal state, UW, UC apps, etc, because these apps don’t open until 10/1
Be sure when you start any app that it’s the current year’s app and not last year’s, or you’ll lose all of your work when they launch the new one.

Ask teachers for rec letters
Go back to two junior year core teachers and ask if they will write your letters and if they need anything to do so. Then two weeks later go back and thank them because they are not paid to write for you!

Verify transcript and ask counselor to send to colleges
Approximately 15% of the transcripts I see have errors on them, and this is by far the single most important document in your entire application, so before you ask your counselor to send it to the colleges, be sure to scan yours with an eagle eye! If you find an error, be polite but persistent, and it can take weeks to fix.

Class rank
If you are in the top 10% of your class, this really helps you in college admissions, so be sure to list it on your applications. If you are not, like 90% of kids, don’t worry about it at all and move on. 🙂

Make sure the GPA you report on your apps matches the GPA the counselor submits to your colleges, or you will look dishonest. Pull up middle school A’s if you need to raise your GPA (like Algebra, Bio, or French/Spanish–but ONLY A’s). Also, consider reporting your weighted GPA, at least on the Common App and any other application that lets you list weighted GPA. The colleges can choose which they like to use.

Test scores
Send your strongest test score to all of your colleges in October if at all possible, so that your ED and EA apps are complete by the deadline. You can send ACT or SAT–no need to send both, just your best one. If testing is not your strength–and that’s ok!–look at the Fairtest schools: These colleges don’t require test scores for admission. Schedule any last test dates now for sure.

Additional info
On the app if there’s something you need to explain – like a health issue, parent’s divorce, difficulty taking tests, changed schools etc.– then this is the place to let your full story be told. Be sure to be positive and focus on what you’ve learned, but fill in any gaps and don’t leave it to the admissions reps to wonder why this or that happened. Tell your whole story, honestly and politely. Admissions reps really care about kids!
Well, following these tips should keep you more than organized. Remember to try to submit all apps by Thanksgiving, for best results and least stress. Apps submitted after Thanksgiving are never as good, in my humble opinion. Best of luck to you as you navigate this teenage rite of passage. You will make it, just as all seniors make it every year! You got this!

Yay, college!


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