It's that time of year. You may have already submitted your college apps, or you may be planning to get started on them at the start of spring semester. No matter where you are in the process there's a lot to do and remember.
Here's how you can help yourself stand out from the pack, from someone who currently works in college admissions.
1. Use your real information.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but I've seen so many apps with incomplete addresses or nicknames instead of legal names.
Make sure you're entering complete and accurate information on all steps of the application process, just like you would if you were filling out paperwork for a job or driver's license.
It can help prevent things like transcripts and financial aid information from getting lost or stuck in a filing cabinet.
2. Inform yourself on all the deadlines and create a way to keep track of them that works for you.
Many universities will have specific deadlines for application submission and financial aid/scholarships. The earlier you apply, the more likely you are to be eligible for scholarships and honors programs, if applicable. Additionally, while smaller or private colleges generally can be a little more flexible, large universities won't wait for you.
3. Proofread your essay, especially if you typed it up on your phone.
If you have to submit an essay, you better make sure it's proofread before it ends up being read by an admissions team. I've seen far too many applications with notes from the readers that mention the grammatical errors in an essay. And please, please capitalize proper nouns, such as I.
4. Always read the prompt.
For essays and short-answer responses, be sure to address the prompt. Admissions readers will take note if your essay doesn't address the question or topic, and it makes it seem like you aren't paying attention or aren't invested.
5. If allowed, be creative with your essay or short-answer responses.
If the prompt is open-ended, or if you're asked to submit a personal essay or statement, be creative.
Admissions readers are reviewing hundreds of applications and sometimes essays can run together. If you want to stand out, get creative! I've seen some beautifully written personal stories, poems, or essays that just have an thought-provoking or memorable message.
6. It's not just your grades that matter, but also your course load.
Grades are important, but admissions will also take into account the rigor of the school you attend and the classes you've chosen to take.
7. Choose your recommendations wisely.
For letters of recommendation, think long and hard about who you're choosing to ask. It's also important to speak with the teacher or person you're asking to write on your behalf. Make sure you have their consent and that they're willing to speak well of you. The last thing you want is your recommendation letter to reflect poorly on you.
I've seen letters of recommendation that start with, "I was honestly surprised this student asked me to write a letter for her," and one where a counselor talked about how unruly and petulant a student was and that she recommended the student "with reservations".
8. Get your transcripts and test scores sent in early.
Make a list of the colleges you're applying to and go ahead and send your SAT/ACT scores and official transcripts. The last thing you want is your application sitting around in incomplete status just because you still haven't ordered your transcript.
9. If you have an admissions counselor, be responsive and stay in touch.
Many schools provide you with an admissions counselor you can help answer your questions. Use this resource, that's their job!!
However, don't pester them for decisions. Most colleges have to keep this information secret until a specific "release" date and constantly calling and badgering them about the status of your application isn't going to make you look good.
10. Visit campus.
When you can, tour campus or attend events designed for incoming freshmen and applicants. You'll get to know staff and can leave a good impression. Additionally, it shows you're invested and interested.