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Helpful Tips

To help the application process go smoother, take a look at the helpful tips below:
  • Each college will have its own deadline for returning applications so make sure you read each application carefully.
  • Create a separate file for each college application – it will help you stay organized throughout the process.
  • It is generally recommended to begin the college application process in the summer before your senior year, since most students have more free time over the summer.
  • Select five to eight colleges to apply to.  Make sure you include schools you will definitely be accepted at (safety schools), schools you will probably be accepted at and schools that are less likely to accept you (reach schools).  Make sure that all of the schools you select are schools you would actually like to attend.
  • Online applications are quickly becoming a standard at most colleges across the U.S.  They are easier for colleges to process and many colleges waive the application fee for students who apply online.  Some colleges still accept paper applications so if you prefer this method, be sure to check with the college first.
  • Many colleges are also accepting the Common Application – a standardized first-year application form that students can use to apply to many colleges.  Currently, more than 4,000 colleges accept the Common Application.  There are both online and paper versions available.  Be sure to read the criteria for each college very carefully – some colleges may request additional materials when you apply.
  • Generally, students should not include extra, unsolicited material with their application.  Stick with the list of requested materials provided by a college.  Including extra items with your application can make you seem as if you cannot follow directions – a negative in college admissions.
  • Make sure you don’t catch senioritis!  Many schools can withdraw your acceptance if your grades drop drastically in the second half of your senior year.
  • It is recommended that you take the SAT twice – once in the spring of your junior year and once in the fall of your senior year.  Practicing for the test is recommended.  There are a variety of free and pay-for programs to help you prepare for the SAT.
  • Even if a school seems to be out of the price range your family can afford, you’re still encouraged to apply!  You won’t know which colleges your family can afford until you get an estimate based on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  This can be submitted in January during your senior year.  The FAFSA will determine what your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is and what types of aid you’ll qualify for at a college.

The Essay

When the college essay is required as a part of the admissions process, it is important to give serious effort to its composition. No other piece of admissions criteria probably receives as much attention or generates as much discussion. The college essay is the perfect opportunity to reveal your intelligence, sense of humor, maturity, sincerity, enthusiasm and writing ability.
Areas of Evaluation
In general, colleges look for the following:
  1. Skill in using standard written English
  2. Depth of insight as reflected in content and substance and ability to reflect true feelings or opinions about a subject
  3. Creativity and uniqueness evidencing fresh and original viewpoints
Essay Directions
Be careful to address what the directions request:
  1. Discuss something that has significantly contributed to your growth as a person.
  2. Assess your uniqueness as an individual; tell something about yourself not learned from other application information.
  3. Address your particular opinions or feelings on a specific topic.
  4. Reflect on your goals and aspirations by explaining how your education at that college will help you meet them.
Tips for Composing the Essay
Using these tips will help develop an essay that conveys your personal qualifications:
  2. Make lists of your qualities as you know them (particularly any you know the college seeks), aspirations and goals, activities, honors and awards, personal or academic shortcomings you are trying to overcome, persons or courses which have influenced you and any specific strengths of the college (if you know them) and how you wish to avail yourself of them.
  3. Do a little research about yourself by asking others. Interview your parents, friends and teachers about what they feel your strengths and weaknesses are.
  4. Write a draft, making sure to address the particular directions for discussion.
  5. Put your draft aside for 24 hours and read again.
  6. Make corrections in sentence construction, grammar, punctuation and spelling.  Read aloud what you’ve written to help you locate any rough spots you’ll wish to rework.
  7. If possible, let someone else, whose opinion you respect, read and evaluate your paper.
  8. Rewrite the essay, revising it with your evaluation in mind.  Put it aside again and repeat the process until you’re satisfied.
  9. Type your essay unless a handwritten version is requested.  Proofread again for any errors.  Make it look as perfect as you can.
  10. Make sure you save a copy for your own files.
  11. Follow the instructions for mailing your essay and do so on time!

Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are an integral part of your college application packet.  Typically, most colleges ask for two to three letters of recommendation.  You can request letters of recommendation from people who know you both in and out of the classroom, such as a teacher, counselor, administrator, employer and/or clergy member.  Make sure you select people who know you well and can recommend you positively.  Be sure to read the application thoroughly – it will stipulate which letters are required (such as one letter from a teacher, one letter from a counselor, etc.) and which ones you can choose (such as a letter from a coach, clergy member, employer, etc.)
To ensure you obtain the best letters of recommendation possible, here are a few helpful hints to assist you along the way:
  • Personally ask the person who will write your recommendation and be sure to have a resume handy.  Ask this person to personalize your recommendation as much as possible.
  • Be sure to plan ahead and allow three to four weeks for the completion of your letter.  Refrain from requesting last minute recommendations.
  • If it applies, ask for your letter to be printed on letterhead stationery.
  • If the letter must include special requests – such as leadership, community service, fine arts, etc. – be sure to mention this to the person writing your recommendation.
  • Follow up with your recommendation contacts who are writing your letters about one week prior to your deadline to see if they need any additional information from you.
  • Most recommendation letters should be returned to either you or the scholarship counselor.  If instructions call for the letter to be sent directly to the sponsor, be sure to supply an addressed, stamped envelope.  Do not include a return address.
  • Do not send photocopies of a letter of recommendation.  Letters should include a current date, your most recent academic data and an original signature.
Be sure to thank these individuals formally, in writing for their time and effort.


Although it is not required for admission at most colleges, the college interview can be your chance to shine.  The interview is only one of many factors in an admissions decision process, but if you give an impressive interview, your interviewer could be able to write a letter supporting your admission to a school.
The type of interview you’ll have varies from school to school.  Some schools have their admissions officers conduct interviews.  Other schools rely on alumni and current students to interview potential students.  A typical interview will last between 30 to 60 minutes.
  • Research the college before the interview.  Visit their web site and request information from the college’s public relations department.  Information that can prove useful is the college’s size, its history, the main products and services they provide, and current news stories.
  • Prepare what you want to say in the interview.  Think about your greatest strengths and weaknesses, your most significant work or school experiences, your future plans and why you are interested in that particular school.
  • Be sure to rehearse with a mock interview.  Ask a friend or a family member help you prepare for your interview by asking questions.
  • Double-check the time and location of the interview.  If it is an area that is new to you, consult a map or take a drive there before so you know how to get there.
 Interview Day
  • Dress appropriately.  Don’t wear t-shirts and other casual clothing.  Look neat and presentable – and keep jewelry and accessories to a minimum.
  • Be punctual.  Arrive a little early to allow yourself time to relax and focus.
  • Be sure to listen carefully throughout the interview.  It is easy to spend all your time planning your answers, but keep in mind that this is a conversation.  Listening carefully helps you to respond appropriately.  Make eye contact with the interviewer.
  • Avoid generalities. Give concrete examples when describing your work/school experience and always be positive.
  • Demonstrate that you have thought seriously about this college by asking intelligent questions about the campus.  Draw upon your research about the college to ask relevant questions.
  • Be your own best advocate.  If there are special circumstances to discuss – such as a drop in grades – now is the time to explain.  Sometimes it is easier to explain these to a sympathetic counselor.
But most of all, be yourself – sense of humor and all!