No-Brainers for College Applications

By Flora Richards Gustafson on September 15, 2013
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In their haste to get their college applications submitted, high school students often neglect to remember the application is the first thing admissions counselors see. Many students fill out the most basic information on an application but miss some of the small, yet important, details. An incomplete or incorrectly completed application can make even the most stellar student’s efforts look sub-par. Make sure you get yours right by following these tips.

1) Read and follow the directions.
Before you even touch your college application with a pen or mouse cursor, read the entire document and take note of special instructions. Richard Haines, a 2009 high school graduate, noticed his applications directed him to use a pen that has blue or black ink: “I’m used to using a pencil all the time, so this is something I needed to make sure I got right. And there are places for my parents to sign, too, so I need to remember to have them do this, and give them a pen at the same time.”

2) Write neatly and clearly.

As sloppy handwriting is hard to read, using it is a sure way to get your application ignored. Harley Rockford, a college admissions intern at Oregon’s Linfield College, stated one of the biggest problems is applicants writing numbers that look like others. She explains, “We then have to wonder if they wrote a four or a nine. Sometimes sevens look like ones, or threes look like eights.” Rockford also stated admissions officers prefer to have essays typed.

If you have to mail you application to a college, see if they have applications you can download and complete electronically through their website. These are PDF files you can fill and save on your computer. Haines, who does not own a computer, said he did this for some of his applications to community colleges. “I filled out the regular application that came in the mail by hand and just went down to the [public] library when it was not busy. I can use the computers there for free, and the lady that works there let me print the application for free when I was done since this was for school.”

3) Complete the application by yourself.

College admissions officers can tell if your mom filled your application out for you, especially when there is different handwriting throughout the application. It is okay to need help on an application; when you do, you should ask your parents, teachers or another adult for help. Do not have such helpers write on the application itself, though, as it communicates that you’re not a very independent person. Simply write any their advised answers onto separate pieces of paper, then copy the information into the application in your own words. The same goes for electronic applications. Blankenship states admissions officers can tell if an adult or teen filled out parts or all of applications, based only on the language used.

4) Fill out every part of the application.

There is a good chance that not everything on a college application will apply to you. When this is the case, do not leave these sections blank. Instead, write “N/A” or “Not applicable” so admissions officers know you did not overlook these sections.

5) Remember to list the activities you do outside of school.

Admissions officers want to know more about you than just your grades. They want to know about your interests, the clubs you joined, volunteer work you have done, etc. Do not make up information in this area of the application to make yourself look good, though, as many colleges will verify the information you provide.

6) Sign and date the application.

This is something students leave for last and, as a result, many times forget. Place a reminder next to the signature lines, and make sure you add the current date.

7) Look for spelling and grammar errors.

When you spell a word incorrectly and/or use bad grammar, you can change the meaning of a sentence, or, plainly, communicate that you are not ready for college. Haines was nervous about this but received an excellent suggestion from a youth center staff person. “She told me to type my essays and any sentences I had to write on the computer first because that program will tell me if my spelling or writing is wrong.”

8) Do not forget to include the required extra pieces of paperwork.

Most college applications require you to mail in extra paperwork, such as school transcripts and/or essays. Some, however, will also want a photocopy of your official state or school ID card, a picture of you, and so on. A good time to make note of such extra pieces is when you’re reading all the application’s instructions (You did read it first, right? Remember step #1, above.). As you do so, make note of the additional items you need to include with it on a separate sheet of paper, then consult before sending.

9) Confirm the college received your application.

The way a college confirms they received your application depends on how you submitted it. If you applied online, you will see a confirmation page when you are done with the process. Some colleges will send you a confirmation via email. Print any online confirmations for your records. If you mailed your application, you may get a confirmation letter in the mail, or you may need to call the college’s admissions office to see if they received your application. No matter how confirmation is received, take the time to make sure it’s been received. You don’t want to lose out on your dream school by having your application lost in the mail, do you?

Some say you only have one chance to make a great first impression, and this is especially true for college applications. An application is the way to let a college know how great you are, and you have only one shot to get it right.

About the Author

Flora Richards Gustafson

Flora Richards Gustafson

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