High School 2 College

November 9, 2010

More Advice about the College Application

Of course, you’ve read my previous blog post about applying to college.  I’ve read a lot of articles lately that echo my advice in that post.

One question I’m asked frequently is how many applications a student should submit.

The answer is 12 – 14.

I know you were expecting a long “it depends” answer, but the truth is that more and more kids are submitting more and more applications because it’s hard to figure out why a college might take someone when someone else’s credentials seem better.  (See this NY Times article about admissions numbers at certain schools.)  So you can submit fewer or more, but I think 12 – 14 will ensure you a good selection to choose from.  Pick 3 – 4 safety schools (if you’re still breathing when they get your application, you’re in).  Pick 3 – 4 reach schools (you don’t have a chance, but what if a miracle happens?).  Pick 6 – 8 schools you’ve got a pretty good shot at.  You don’t have to visit 14 schools.  Wait to see where you get in, and then visit — or revisit — your top 3 choices.

But some of you still have questions.

First of all, let me state unequivocally that I can’t stand the Common Ap.  Hear me loud and clear:

Don’t use the Common Ap if the college allows you another choice.

Yes, the Common Ap allows you to apply to several schools at once, and yes, your guidance counselor will encourage you to  use the Common Ap because it’s easier for him to deal with one type of application than many varieties of application, not all of which work with Naviance or allow him to submit your transcript and other information electronically.

Too bad. You have to complete the application that’s most likely to get you into the school of your choice, even if it’s inconvenient for your guidance counselor or your teacher or your parents.

I admit that my method is more work.  But this isn’t the time to be lazy.   Get a bunch of manila folders, take a deep breath, and do what I tell you.

Here’s what you should do:

1.  Go to the Common Ap and download and print out the application (go to “Download Forms on the top, then “Student Application,” the third one down).  Don’t do anything online yet!

2.  Fill out the Common Ap in pencil so you have all the information you need in front of you.

3. This is critical:  Go to each school’s website. Click on “Admissions.”  See which application each school will accept.  My preference, in order, is:

There are other applications as well, as this New York Times article explains.  It sets out the pros and cons of a variety of applications, but it agrees with me that the Common Ap is frequently just not the best choice.

When you’re at the school’s website, print out the school’s application AND any application instructions. This is where the manila folders come in handy. Make a folder for each school’s application information, including the user name and password you chose for that school. Some schools encourage you to send extra materials, like resumes, videos, and newspaper clippings.  Other school frown on anything extra.  Not every school wants two teacher recommendations.  On the Common Ap, every school gets the same information, even if the college prefers more, less, or different information.

Why annoy the people whom you’re trying to flatter?

Most importantly, you can’t customize or change anything on the Common Ap. Once you’ve submitted it to a school, you can’t change anything, even if you found a mistake.  (Yes, I know there are ways to get around that, but if you’re going to do an application twice, you’re not saving any time or effort, are you?)  You don’t really want to hear my Common Ap horror stories.

Once you decide on an application (I hope it’s the school’s own application or the Universal Application), you may have still have questions. This New York Times article reviews some common confusions kids have with applications.

Then there’s the essay.  As  you’ll find out as you wade through the applications, there’s really no such thing as THE essay.  It’s likely, in fact, that  you’ll write 3 – 6 essays or more before you finish. The Washington Post’s article about the variety of essay questions explores out some of the more “unusual” questions.

And I’m sure you’ll want to review my blog post about the essay.

Do you have even MORE questions?  Do you see the comment section right below this blog?  Feel free to ask!

Wendy Segal


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