Working with college-bound high school students since 1991 I know it’s not the flawless applications that standout; instead, it’s the scatterbrained mistakes that students didn’t realize they were making until after pressing “submit.”
To ensure that your application won’t become another what-to-avoid story, follow these tips learned from others’ mistakes.
1. Beat deadlines.
Make a spreadsheet of all deadlines. Don’t plan to meet your application deadlines, but prepare to submit it early. Give yourself a comfort zone in case something happens to slow you down. Not all pieces of the application puzzle are under your control, so allow for even unlikely scenarios.
2. Document requirements.
Note all requirements along with the deadlines. Schools vary widely in what they want you to submit: test scores, essays, and statements (some with varying word limits), and letters of recommendation are just a few common requirements. If you are considering submitting non-required supplemental information, check with the school to see how it will be received. Those reviewing applications are reading thousands of pages and often don’t want a single extra page to read. If they’ll accept it, how should you submit the extra information?
3. Plan requests.
You’ll need to ask your counselor to submit your transcript, request the testing center to send your ACT or SAT scores, and you’ll mostly solicit letters of recommendation from teachers. Ask for these things well in advance—as soon as you know where you are applying. It doesn’t matter if your letters or test scores are received prior to your actual application. Submit all requests electronically or in writing—no verbal requests! Follow-up to be sure your requests have been fulfilled, and be sure to thank those who took time out to help you.
4. Confirm upload.
With most online applications, you may need to upload a word document to your application. This is something easy to overlook, so check and double-check that your document uploaded correctly.
5. Proofread everything.
A second and even third set of eyes can catch mistakes the previous person didn’t notice. Enlist friends, parents, or your independent college counselor to proofread for you. Proofreading should not be limited to the essays and statements—looking for grammar, spelling, and other errors—but also verify that each box is checked and that the information supplied is correct.
Note: Don’t forget to hit “Submit.” With online applications, you’ll log in and out, making changes and saving those changes many times before you hit submit. Don’t overlook that final once over, entering payment information and actually hitting the submit button. You’ve been at it for so long; you don’t want to forget that final step.