Illustration bt Arnel Reynon
Think of applying to college as being on a boat. Depending on how prepared you are entering senior year, you can either end up on a cruise or a life raft. As a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School traversing my own college application waters, I started researching this article because I was frustrated â€" frustrated by the oftentimes daunting bureaucracy, frustrated about not knowing with whom to speak and what to ask, and frustrated by the lack of readily available information about the process. So I went to the pros to get the real facts. Eight experts, from college admissions officers to high-school guidance counselors, set the record straight, giving their best tips for rising seniors on navigating these challenging waters.
Director of admissions and enrollment research, Randolph-Macon College • Donâ€™t submit an application with careless mistakes. The little things really do count, because when they add up, they become a big thing. Misspellings and grammar issues are common but avoidable if you proofread and have someone else proofread as well. But â€" and this is a big but â€" if you are using the same essay for more than one college, make sure that you have the correct collegeâ€™s name on the essay. • Tell something in your essay that they canâ€™t read in the rest of your application. • Rising seniors, start now. If you havenâ€™t started the admissions process, start now. Researching colleges, finding your dream school and applying can be a long process, and the longer you put it off, the more stressed out you will be. Â
What s the Difference Between Early Decision and Early Action?
As the name implies, with early action you are simply acting early. You are showing an interest in a college before the regular application period. Any admission offer you receive is nonbinding.
However, if you are accepted through early decision (ED), you must withdraw all applications from other institutions, and you are legally obligated to attend that school. A drawback of early decision is that you cannot compare financial aid offers from multiple schools; you must accept what your ED school offers. Also, if you are not accepted through ED, you will only have about two weeks to prepare applications for other schoolsâ€™ regular admission deadlines .
Senior regional assistant director, Office of Admissions, James Madison University • When choosing a collegeâ€¦ â€œIt really comes down to where a student can see themselves growing, being happy and making the most impact and difference to society over the course of four to five years, while also securing successful employment, graduate studies or service.â€ • Have a college-appropriate email address. Sounds silly, right? But first impressions are made before you even walk into your interview. Most colleges want mature, well-rounded young adults, and â€œdancingqueen1993@email.comâ€ will not give the best impression. • Beware of social media postings and language. Once itâ€™s on the Internet, itâ€™s out there forever. Being aware of what you say and how you say it (and to whom) can help you avoid unnecessary drama. Also, if your preferred social media network has privacy features, turn them on. Itâ€™s better to know exactly who will be reading/viewing what you are posting.
Director of school counseling, Highland Springs High School • Itâ€™s all in the details. Listing all of the activities in which you participated through your four years of high school can really make a difference, especially if you held a leadership position in the activity. Donâ€™t forget to mention activities outside of school, too. • Plan ahead. Time management can really save you when you have a million things on your plate already for senior year, from scholarship and application deadlines to standardized tests. Most counselors recommend buying a calendar and scheduling time to work on each element of your applications. • Early decisions must be made. Apply for early decision only if you are absolutely positive that you want to go to the school if you get in. If you do get in, it is a legally binding contract. If you want to apply early without the pressures of early decision, early action may be for you.
Admission counselor, Hampton University • Stay away from â€œhot-buttonâ€ essay topics. Your essay should focus on you, not the news. Regardless of your personal beliefs, keep your essay focused on a topic that reflects your personality. While you hold certain beliefs, you donâ€™t know how the person reading your essay will feel about the topic. Donâ€™t let them judge you before they know you. • Write what you would want to read. Simple rule: If you wouldnâ€™t read it, why would you write it? Your essay should convey your passion and enthusiasm. If it sounds boring to you, chances are it will sound boring to whoever reads it. And boring essays are less likely to be remembered in the long run. • Use it or lose it. â€œMy best advice to rising seniors is to take a math class. Math is one of those skills [that] if you donâ€™t use it, you lose it.â€ The same applies to science classes. Robert Lange Dean of admission, Christopher Newport University • â€œGet one foot in the door.â€ The essays that left a memorable impression on Lange were â€œthose that included unusually heartwarming or humorous essays, as well as those that articulated their passion for [Christopher Newport University] in a unique way. One student mailed his sneaker in school colors in an effort to [literally] get one foot in the door.â€ â€¢ Donâ€™t repeat information. • Be sure about the message you are trying to convey in your essay. Stick to your topic and donâ€™t stray too far from the message that you are trying to send.
Gil J. Villanueva
Dean of admission, University of Richmond • Take high-quality courses. Good grades in harder classes are considered better than excellent grades in easy or midlevel classes. Colleges donâ€™t just want to see that you are doing well in a class; they want to see you doing well in an advanced class or an honors class. Going above and beyond the required course load can put you above and beyond others who are only taking standard courses. • Have someone proofread your essay. At 3 oâ€™clock in the morning, any essay can sound like a masterpiece. But having someone else look over what youâ€™ve done can help you make sense of ideas that may not be fully developed. It also helps to have someone who knows you well read it over to make sure that your essay sounds like you. Multiple readers can find multiple things wrong that you never even considered. • No profanity! It should go without saying that profanity has no place in any academic paper that you write that will be read by others. You should also avoid colloquialisms and slang in your writing. It isnâ€™t proper grammar or proper English, and the reader may not understand it Meredith Holder School counseling director, Varina High School • Dream, reach, 50/50, safety. Most guidance counselors now recommend applying to at least four colleges: your â€œdreamâ€ school, a â€œreachâ€ school, a â€œ50/50â€ school and a â€œsafetyâ€ school. Your dream school is the one that you dream about going to, your top choice. A reach school is one that may be a stretch for you to get into, but not completely impossible. A 50/50 school is the school that you have a 50 percent chance of getting into. Finally, a safety school is the school that youâ€™re the most certain you can get into. â€¢ Avoid â€œsenioritis.â€ â€¢ Organization is the key to success.
Vice president for enrollment management, Lynchburg College â€¢ Share unique experiences. • Use your true voice. You shouldnâ€™t try to sound like a thesaurus. Donâ€™t try to use words that are unfamiliar to you in your essay. If you are uncomfortable with the language, it shows. Using bigger words doesnâ€™t make you sound smarter, and using smaller words doesnâ€™t make you seem stupid. • â€œWhatâ€™s important in the end is that [the student] is successful.â€ Just because you didnâ€™t get into your first-choice school doesnâ€™t mean that you should completely give up on going to that school. If you are seriously interested, there are transfer programs from one college to another, or if you want to go to a university, you can apply for that universityâ€™s brother or sister community college and go straight to the university from there