By Heather Fishel
From transcripts to recommendation letters to personal statements to supplemental essays, applying to college comes with a lot of worries. But don’t think you’re alone when it comes to application questions. Chances are, many of your fellow applicants share your concerns.
We asked high school seniors about their college application concerns and the following worries topped everyone’s list.
What if I make a mistake?
Making a mistake on a college application weighs heavy on many students’ minds. “I’ve heard horror stories about older students who made mistakes and were rejected from their dream school,” says current senior Brooke Michaels. “I’m worried that could be me.”
However, these types of mistakes are easy to avoid.
There are a few ways to make sure you’re doing everything correctly. Every application will ask for your high school classes and SAT/ACT scores. Rather than relying on your brain to remember which classes you’ve taken, simply get a copy of your transcript from your school counselor. Don’t forget to grab your SAT/ACT score reports too; you’ll need to know your test dates and exact scores. When you think you’re done with your application, give it a quick double-check before hitting that “submit” button. The simplest mistakes can be avoided by reading through your application before you submit it.
If you do make a mistake, don’t panic. Mistakes can be fixed. And as college preparatory tutor Matt Seltz points out, “Online applications often allow students to create a second version of their application. This means you can fix your mistakes.”
Most importantly, schools are used to finding mistakes. Ryan Leed, freshman at Chapman University, made an error on his application when he applied. “I totally forgot to write one of the supplemental essays,” says Leed. “Chapman emailed me after I submitted my application and let me know about the mistake. I panicked, but the school was great. They just asked me to send in the missing essay before the deadline.”
Admissions offices are willing to work with students to ensure their applications are complete – and correct.
When should I submit my application?
Application deadlines vary from school to school and student to student. Yet when it comes to Regular Decision, which is the standard method of applying that guarantees an admissions decision by April 1, students have until January to submit all the necessary materials. But is waiting until January best?
“I want schools to know I’ve spent time on my application, but I also want to get it in early,” says Katie Hulse, a current senior. Matt Seltz agrees. Although colleges give students months to complete their applications, Seltz advocates submitting them as soon as they are finished. “Students who submit their applications before January get a bit of a jump start on the admissions process,” he says. “The sooner your application is completed and submitted, the sooner schools will look at it.” In other words, an application submitted in November will be looked at in a smaller pool than those who wait until the deadline.
Also, submitting your applications before the deadline alleviates stress and helps you avoid any potential mishaps that might occur during the last days leading up to the deadline.
How do I make my application stand out?
Senior student Jackson Landon says his top concern is standing out among the flood of applicants. “I feel like my application is just… typical. How can I stand out?”
Making your application stand out is all about personality. While your GPA and test scores are the bulk of the application, your essays and Common Application supplements are where you can show your individuality. Schools want to know what you’re really like – honestly! “Students often assume every question is a trick question. If a school asks what your favorite food is, they genuinely want to know. It helps make you memorable,” says Seltz.
When writing your main essay, don't simply answer the prompt. Write about what makes you unique. Colleges and universities “assign” an essay because they want to hear your voice and the stories that define you. Schools want you to grab their interest. “The admissions office sifts through hundreds of essays about pets and parents”, Seltz says. “Make yours about you – you are the most interesting thing about yourself.”
Most importantly, trust in yourself and your accomplishments. Your application will shine as long as you spend the time to work through it, send it in before the deadline, and demonstrate what makes you unique.
College Application Quick Tips
- Wondering when you can get started on your applications? All applications officially go online starting October 1.
- Ask your teachers for letters of recommendation before the holidays hit so they have enough time to write great ones.
- Don’t forget to send each school an official, sealed transcript from your counselor; they’ll use that to check all the information on your applications.