College Application Tips

Getting into the college of your choice takes a strong college application, which showcases your top grades, extracurricular activities and personal essay. Every college has different criteria; so remember to stay focused and pay attention to details. Let's get started!

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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, including 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 line up letters of recommendation .


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.

Here are even more application tips to help set you apart.

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.

Rolling Admissions
Some colleges have rolling admissions, which means that they accept applications on a continuous basis up to a certain deadline. One major advantage of rolling admissions is that your child is notified of the college's decision soon after he or she applies, rather than waiting until March or April, when other colleges send out notifications.

Even though the application deadline is more relaxed, your child should not wait until the last minute. Generally, financial aid and housing are still give out on a first-come, first-served basis. While federal aid (including loans) will be available (if you file the FAFSA), scholarships are limited.

Early Action vs. Early Decision
Many students apply “early action” and “early decision”, but it is very important to understand the difference.

Early Action
With early action, students apply early (usually around November 15th), are not tied to just one college, and can make their final decision as late as the spring deadline.

Early Decision
Early decision means you apply in the fall and hear the good news by winter break. Colleges tend to accept more early decision applicants because the students who apply under early decision are usually exceptional and certain to attend.

However, there are a few things to consider before applying early decision:

"Do I really want to go to this college?" If accepted, you are bound to attend, and you cannot change your mind.

"Do I want to apply to other colleges, too?" While you can only apply for one college on an early decision basis, you should certainly continue to put together standard application packages for other schools.

"Do I fit the academic profile of the college?" If not, then early decision probably will not help your chances of getting in.

"Should I apply to OTHER colleges if I am not accepted under early decision?" Applying early decision should not be taken lightly. If you are accepted, most schools require that you attend. If you are not accepted, you may not be able to reapply that academic year. Make sure to check each school's specific policy, and prepare to apply to other schools just in case.

The college interview offers you an opportunity to stand out beyond the application with the admissions officer. It allows the admissions officer to get to know the student beyond the personal and academic information on your application.

Remember, interviews are just as much for the student’s benefit. It is your chance to discuss your strengths and interests in that particular school, as well as gather any additional information you need to make the best choice.

It's also a great idea to interview alumni from your college(s) of choice, learning from their insight and first hand experiences at college.

Here are some tips to help you do your best:


Review the literature about the college before the interview. At the very least, you want to appear knowledgeable about the school and keenly interested to learn more.


Be prepared for common questions. Admissions officers might throw you a curve-ball to see how you'll react in the interview. Prepare and rehearse your answers to potential tricky questions:

  • What was the worst decision you've ever made?
  • How would your friends characterize you?
  • What is your biggest regret about high school, and if you could change it, what impact would it have on you and in your future as a college student?
  • If you were a world leader, what would you do to heal the violence and turbulence in the world?
  • How do you see yourself 20 years from now?
  • Who is the most influential person in your life and why?
  • What are you reading right now?


Have your own questions ready. Some students say that the hardest question you'll get from the interviewer is, in fact, "Do YOU have any questions?" Don't be caught off guard. Having your own questions makes you look prepared and interested. Write them down on a notepad, and take it to the interview. This College Fact Chart will also help you organize your findings and guide your decision.


Bring along your notepad, a copy of your school transcript, and brag file of all your experiences.The notepad should include your prepared interview questions with space for notes, which will demonstrate interest and help you remember details discussed. The transcript and your Brag File of activities will come in handy if you are given an information sheet to fill out prior to your meeting. You won't have to scramble to remember things. It'll all be right there!


Be yourself. The key to getting admitted, and also being happy at college, is matchmaking. You want to bring your best, most authentic self so that the admissions officer interviewing you can decide if this is the right fit.


Remember your manners. Don't forget to thank the interviewer when you're done! Send a follow-up thank you email, mentioning some of the things you discussed in your notebook to help them remember you.

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