High School 2 College

September 26, 2009

How to Avoid a College Application Meltdown

It’s not as easy as you might think.

You’ve filled out your share of forms over the years.  You finished your essay and you’re ready to start filling out college applications.  Should be a snap, right?

Not so fast! Here are a few suggestions to make the whole process a little more orderly.

I’ve got to give you this most important piece of advice right now up front before I forget and before you lose interest.  It’s not obvious but you need to know:  Don’t send in the application for your favorite school first. Even if you are applying to only one school early action or early decision, don’t send it in first.

After you send in your first application, you’ll notice an error.  I promise.  You’ll find a typo, or you’ll realize you should have put your afterschool activities in a different order.  You’ll decide to use your other email address or you’ll hear from a friend that colleges really don’t like when you go over 500 words and yours is 525.  It has been my experience over the past 22 years that you’ll want to change or fix or adjust SOMETHING on your application as soon as you hit “send.”

So don’t send your first application to your favorite school! (Don’t make me say it again.) Send your first application to a safety school, even if the deadline isn’t for several months.  Send your next application to another school you don’t have your heart set on.

Now, you have my permission to send your third application to the school of your dreams.

Now that I got that out of the way, here are some step-by-step instructions:

Go to https://www.commonapp.org/CommonApp/default.aspx and click on “download forms.”  Print out the application (student form).

  1. Complete the entire common ap in pencil first. The website has a timeout feature, and while you’re looking up your guidance counselor’s fax number, the website will time out on you.  It’s much easier to manage if you  have all the answers (where and when did your parents get their college degrees?  what’s your school’s CEEB number?  what’s your social security number?  what’s your father’s email address?) right in front of you when you sit down to type in the application.  Whether you use the common ap or a college’s own application, you’ll need the answers to those same questions.
  2. Print out blank copies of any applications you might be completing. What are those essays?  Can you use your common ap essay for all of them or do you have to write another essay?
  3. Write supplemental essays. If you don’t have any, you’re unusually lucky, but most kids have to write supplemental essays.  If you’re submitting the common ap for a school, don’t forget to check if that school has a supplement.  They’ll want to know why you want to go there (save their brochures and praise what they’re already proud of), or what you can bring to the school (thirst for learning and sharing experiences with others who aren’t like you) or why you consider their school a good choice (gee, if they need a 17-year old to tell them why their school is good…).
  4. Write your activities essay. The common ap requires an essay of no more than 150 words (a medium-sized paragraph) about an activity you do after school.  They’re really asking which of the activities, sports, jobs, or clubs is most meaningful to you – and why.  Don’t tell them you love baseball (or football or hockey or lacrosse) because you get to show your stuff while learning teamwork.  They know that already.  Think of a different angle if you can.  Or pick a different activity.  Community service activities are great to highlight here.
  5. Fill out the activities section carefully. Include everything you can think of and put them in the order that matters to you most.  Actually, although that’s what the application says, you should put them in the order that will most interest the admissions people.  They love activities that you’ve participated in for years.  If you’re a black belt at a martial art, say that early!  If you are an eagle or gold star scout, say that early!  If you’ve been dancing since you were four, say that early!  And where they ask if you’d like to continue that activity in college, the answer should almost always be “yes,” even if you’re not sure.  Warning: if you list an activity you never really did, they will find out.  And if they find out after you’ve been accepted, they will pull your admission.  Don’t lie or even exaggerate.
  6. Complete the application on line. Save after every page you complete.  Print after every page.  I know, it’s a waste of paper.  Too bad.  You can reuse those papers once you get into college, but right now you need a copy of everything you submit. Print every page and have someone (moms and dads are good for this job) look it over before you click “send.” If they say they didn’t get it, you can fax in your copy.  And then print out the entire completed application in the end.  Save each application at least until you get online confirmation that they got it all.
  7. Don’t forget to print out blank teacher recommendation forms. Find out from your guidance department if they want you to deal with them yourself or they can manage that part for you.  If you’re on your own, make sure you give the teachers who are doing your applications a stamped envelope addressed to each school and the form with a sticky note on it with the deadline.
  8. If you don’t need financial aid, your application will be looked on more favorably.  Even if the school says it’s need blind, they need to take kids who can pay their own way.  If you need financial aid, don’t be afraid to say so, but if you won’t be applying for financial aid (merit aid is different), that’s a plus.  Read this:http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/31/education/31college.html?_r=2&hp

These are just the basics. If you have specific questions, feel free to post a comment to this blog and I’ll try to answer as clearly as I can.

Sometimes I think they make the applications so difficult so they can make sure you’re really ready for all the forms and procedures you’ll be responsible for in college.

Good luck!

Wendy Segal

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