Surviving college applications

Amanda Weston

     For seniors, one task dominates the first semester. It consumes our time, energy and mental prowess for weeks. Later, it tests our patience until that crucial letter arrives in the spring. For many students, this monster of an assignment will determine the next four years of their life. Luckily there are ways to overcome the goliath of a challenge that is college applications.


1. Don’t procrastinate.

     Most colleges have a deadline in December or January, but that doesn’t mean you can wait until the night before your application is due to start. Most college authorities recommend submitting applications by Halloween or Thanksgiving at the latest as college applications take time and effort. Starting promptly will save you the stress of attempting to finish at the last minute. Furthermore, it’s not only you that’s involved in the process; colleges require that official transcripts and test scores be sent directly from the school or testing administrators. This means that you need to request these forms and allow enough time for them to arrive. Many universities also require letters of recommendation. Common courtesy requires allowing about three weeks for your chosen mentor to write your letter, and asking them to write it the day before your deadline probably won’t make a good impression. Letters of recommendation are one of the only ways that colleges can get to know you from an outside source, and they don’t want to hear that you put everything off until the last minute.


2. Know application terminology.

     To the uninformed applicant, the different types of admission can be confusing. What’s the difference between early decision and early action? Regular admission and rolling admission? Knowing exactly what you’re applying for can save a lot of trouble and keep you from making a monumental mistake. For example, early decision is a binding agreement. Students apply on an earlier deadline and are notified of their acceptance sooner in the year. However, by applying early decision, you make a commitment to enroll at that university if admitted. For most colleges you are also required to withdraw all other pending applications. Thus, this is only advised for students who are absolutely sure that this is the school they want to attend. For those who still want to have options and the ability to compare all of their offers, early action is the better route. Early action works the same as early decision, but you’re not required to enroll. Think of it as the normal admission process, but earlier in the year. Another thing to be aware of is rolling admission: colleges that employ this process accept applicants on a first-come first-served basis, unlike regular admission in which all applications are reviewed all together. Rolling admission means spots fill up as the year progresses, putting procrastinators at a disadvantage.

3. Don’t advertise falsely.

     College admissions officers will know that you weren’t the first student to orbit the earth or that you discovered the lost city of Atlantis. When they ask for your extra-curricular activities, service and work experience, don’t exaggerate; apply truthfully. If an admissions officer discovers that you’ve lied on an application, you can kiss admission goodbye. Don’t worry too much if you don’t have a five-page résumé; there’s more to you than that. Test scores, curriculum rigor, grades and essays are also extremely important and can earn you that acceptance letter.


4. Read your essays – again.

     Essays are seen by many as the most important factor in terms of letting a college actually get to know you. Reread the prompt several times to fully understand what they want. If they ask “Why do you want to attend _____?” don’t just fill up your whole essay with statistics that you pulled off of their website. Write honestly about what really attracts you to the school and – as cheesy as it sounds – what speaks to you. If you do decide to go the find-and-replace route (which is not recommended), make sure you change the name of the college before you submit your essay. While on a college tour, my guide told me about one applicant who applied to Yale, but failed to change the last line of his essay – “And that’s why I want to go to Harvard.” His application was quickly dismissed.

     While maneuvering the application process, don’t forget that this is still your senior year. Take the time to enjoy this last step before moving on to the next phase of your life. Also, keep in mind that once you’ve been accepted you’ll never have to endure the application process again; at least not until job applications.