Applying to Colleges: how to get started, what to keep in mind, and how to simplify the process

College applications – everyone’s worst nightmare! Applying to colleges is a stressful time without a doubt. There are so many different factors to keep in mind when deciding which colleges to apply to. Not only that, but the application process itself can be somewhat confusing. Here are several tips to help make your college application process a little easier!

  1. Start doing your research early! It’s never too early to start looking into schools. Go to the school’s website, talk to any former classmates you know that attend the school, perhaps even read blog posts online. If you have time, it may be worthwhile to visit the universities you are interested in attending and getting a tour to see if it is a good fit for you.
  2. Stay Organized. Make an excel sheet with all the schools you are interested in applying to and important information about each school. Some examples of information to add to your list include college website, application deadline, average ACT/SAT score, admissions phone number, and number of supplemental applications. It may be helpful to create your own checklist as well for completing the general Common Application for each school, supplemental applications, letter of recommendations, sending test scores, and completing the full application. Additionally, be sure you have a folder on your computer designated for College Applications, with separate folders for each college and all the documents required for that college.
  3. Make a list of 3 categories: “reach,” “target,” and “safety.” Try to divide your list into 20-50-30 percentages, respectively – thus 20% reach schools, 50% target schools, and 30% safety schools. It is important that the colleges you are applying to be a realistic goal, but it’s equally as important to have safety schools and if you’d like, reach schools.
  4. Make a pros and cons list. There’s a lot of external factors to consider such as the distance of the university from your home, whether that university offers sports or extracurricular activities you may be interested in, tuition costs, and whether the school has a professional school that you may want to attend in the future. These are all important factors to consider when making your decision.
  5. Be smart when choosing who to ask for your letters of recommendation. Choose teachers, coaches, or mentors you have worked with for a fair amount of time that you feel like can truly attest to your skills and qualities. It may even help to ask your evaluator if they believe they could write you a good recommendation letter (better to get an honest “no” than a bad recommendation letter!). Also, try to diversify the types of evaluators you ultimately choose. For instance, a coach may be able to talk about your perseverance, leadership, and teamwork whereas a teacher may be able to attest to your interest and engagement in learning. Both perspectives are important for admissions officers to know.
  6. Personal Statements are important. This is a way for you to tell the admissions committee what’s not on paper. Tell your story, show them your personality, and show them who you really are! A great resource that may help in getting your creative energy flowing is “50 Successful Harvard Application Essays.” In addition, a few things that may be helpful when writing your personal statement include 1) finding a quiet place where you are inspired and 2) trying to write the paper in one go. Now this latter tip may not be for everyone, but sometimes it helps to get all your thoughts on paper once you get your creative juices flowing and filtering and adding more information later. Your first personal statement is simply a draft – don’t worry, it’s just the start!
  7. Proofread everything multiple times. You definitely do not want a few silly grammatical errors to turn away admissions officers from your application. Proofread everything several times, have multiple edits, ask your literature teachers, friends, and family members to make suggestions. Anything helps! Your personal statement and supplemental essays should be PERFECT when you submit them.
  8. Request your transcripts early. Depending on your school, getting an official transcript may take up to several weeks and often your school needs to directly mail the transcripts to the universities you choose to apply to. It is best to request these early and send them early to assure there are no mistakes and that the transcripts are delivered before the deadline.
  9. Write a letter of intent if you REALLY want to go to a school.It may be helpful to write a letter to your top choice of university stating why you really want to attend their school. If it is a school that requires an interview, write a letter after the interview thanking the committee for their time and express your interest in attending the school. It may not make a difference, but it’s worth a shot and shows how dedicated you are to the university.
  10. Confirm that all your application materials have been submitted and received. After you submit your final application, remember that your work is not done until you confirm that 1) your letter of recommendations have been submitted online by all evaluators, 2) your transcripts have been received, and 3) your test scores have been received. Call the admissions office to verify that all documents have been received and that your application is complete.
  11. Talk to your guidance counselor. Your counselor may have some inside information that can help you make a more informed decision. Remember that they work with students every year as they go through the college application process – they are there to help you! Use your resources!
  12. Explore the idea of applying for scholarships. As if writing a bunch of essays for colleges weren’t enough… But honestly speaking, getting some extra money through scholarships may make your dream university more of a possibility. There are plenty of private scholarships available, and many universities have their own separate scholarship application/essay. This can easily make the financial burden, which was once a “con” on your list, a “pro.”

There you have it! Hope you found these tips helpful and may the odds be ever in your favor! Happy college hunting! 

Written by: Tulsi Shah – Novastar Prep Learning Coach


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