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6 Essential Starting Tips


Make a list of your target colleges, and check their websites for application details.

Note application and financial aid deadlines and fees, and whether or not they accept the Common Application.


Check in with your counselor to learn each school’s expectations for the application process.

This includes the procedure for sending transcripts and what's needed for the counselor recommendation letter. Don't wait until the last minute!


Understand the key factors in college admissions.

Including standardized test scores and Test Scores for Key Colleges . Here are some Key Factors in College Admissions to help you stay ahead of the curve.


Ask for teacher recommendation letters, and ask early!

Colleges typically ask for one to two teacher recommendations and one recommendation from your counselor. Build solid relationships early, and learn how to ask for recommendations.


Keep copies of everything.

If you apply electronically, make sure to print out every page of your application. If you submit a paper application, make photocopies.


Follow up with admissions several days after you submit to confirm each college received all your materials.

If sending your applications through the mail, make sure that you purchase certified mail or delivery confirmation. Keep all postal receipts stapled to your application copies to ensure proof of submission by the deadline.

Knowing "the tricks" can only get you so far. You’re always better off being yourself than trying to beat the system. For instance, applying to a program that's considered "easier to get into" rather than the one that you’re truly interested in can backfire.

Here are a few insider tips:

  • Be discreet about where you're applying. Having too many applicants from your high school lowers your chances of being accepted.
  • Let the colleges know you're really interested. Make personal connections with the college representative for your school and keep in touch. Many colleges consider "demonstrated interest" when making decisions.
  • Send thank-you notes after interviews, visits, or if an admissions officer has been extremely helpful. When they're reading your application they'll feel as if they know you.
  • Do your research. Go beyond the brochure, website and info sessions when answering a "Why this college?" message. Look for things that relate specifically to your goals. Show college why you're a great match.
  • Market yourself! If you do something special (art, music, photography) send a sample of your work.
  • Submit additional information, if necessary. If you had a special circumstance (e.g. disability, parent's divorce, death in the family, etc.) that affected your high school record, let the college know.
  • Proofread your application. Careless mistakes show lack of attention to detail, which is the last impression you want to give an admissions committee.
  • Practice for interviews. This will make you less nervous and better prepared.
  • Be honest. If you don't need financial aid—let the college know.

Common Application FAQs

  • What's the Common Application?

    The Common Application is a universal application for undergraduate college admissions submitted online and accepted by more than 500 colleges and universities. It compiles the following information into one source:

    • Personal Information
    • Educational data
    • Standardized test scores
    • Extracurricular activities
    • Teacher recommendations
    • Personal essay
  • Do all colleges accept the Common App?

    Most (but not all) colleges accept the Common App. The best way to find out is to check the college website's admissions section.

  • When is it released and available?

    The Common App is released in early August each year, so you'll have plenty of time to build a strong application before the application deadlines. Get started early; you'll be thankful you did.

  • What are Common App supplements?

    Some colleges require the Common App Supplements that include additional questions. Some are available on the Common Application site, while others must be submitted through the college's own website.

  • What makes an amazing essay?

    The key to writing an amazing essay is to make it as personal as possible. This is your chance to provide the admissions board a side of your personality beyond test scores, GPA, teacher recommendations, or activities.

    ***The Common App lists essay questions to choose from and has a pre-determined essay length. Don't list your accomplishments and activities as there is a place for that in another section of the application. Do tell a clear personal story to show you have something special to bring to the college community.