Every year approximately 2 ½ million students apply to college. In some instances, students apply only to local state colleges and universities. However, more and more apply to a wide array of Free College Consulting, public and private, as well as close and far away from home. The process is demanding, complex, and stressful. However, there are some things you can do early on to make the job easier and also end up with unique, better-than-the competition’s applications.
1. Start Early – Procrastination is a deadly trap for students involved with the college application process. Dragging your feet about completing applications often results in a rush at the end and a less than credible job. Particularly if you plan to apply Early Action (a non-binding program where students apply by November 1 and receive their answers by the middle of December) or Early Decision (A binding contract application where you apply by the first of November and hear back by the middle of December. If you are accepted, you must say yes or no in a short amount of time. If you apply Early, you must start completing the application in September or at the latest early October in order to have a competitive application. Even if you apply Regular Decision, it’s useful to complete all of your applications before Christmas vacation, regardless of when their due dates are. It’s no fun to spend the end of December working on college applications. And as the saying goes, “the early bird gets the worm.” What’s most important is that your applications be a little different and a little better than the other students’ applications.
2. Complete Your College List – If you haven’t put together a college list, do it before school starts in the fall. You need to find colleges that fit you as a person and match your academic background. Your list should contain Reaches, Good Chances and Pretty Sure Things (Safety’s) based on how your grades and test scores compare to previously accepted students. The latter information is available in the U.S. News & World Report America’s Best Colleges, as well as in the admissions section of individual college websites.
3. Nail Down Your Recommenders – Lots of students ask your high school teachers and college counselor to write letters of recommendation. Keep in mind that the later you ask them to do this, the less likely they are to write powerful, focused letters that will make a difference in your admissions. If you didn’t ask them at the end of your junior year, then ask immediately the first week of school in the fall.
4. Make Sure your Testing is Done and Scores Are Sent – It’s better if you can get your standardized testing completed before the end of your junior year. If you don’t, don’t worry. You still have September, October, November and December of your senior year to take the ACT/SAT or Subject Tests unless you are apply Early Action or Decision (in which case you need to have the tests completed in October). After you complete the testing, make sure that your test scores are sent to each of the colleges to which you are applying. There are always mix-ups at the testing agencies, Internet glitches, Post Office mishaps and even lost materials at the colleges. So after you turn in your applications, contact the different admissions offices to make sure they have received your test scores (and while you’re at it, make sure they have everything else required of their application).
5. Complete the Common Application Earlier Rather Than Later – While there are lots of universities who still have their own applications such as USC, Georgetown, and most of the large public universities, over 400 four-year colleges and universities (and even a few public institutions) now accept The Common Application. In addition to the application itself, many schools also have supplemental applications that you must complete. My rule of thumb is to get at least one application completed during the summer before your senior year. You have no idea what a relief that is. And if you have schools on your list that are Common Application colleges, start with one of them. After you complete one, all of the other Common App school applications will be a piece of cake.