College Application Tips

One of the first issues to consider as relates to applying is that the schools you are interested in may have different application deadlines.  Other than a regular deadline date, some may have an early decision deadline as well. Other schools have rolling admissions, which means there is not any specific deadline.

Even with a rolling admissions policy, I recommend applying early in the fall of your senior year or even during the summer before your senior year. It is wise to obtain application deadlines before your senior year begins. This may mean that you need to apply before visiting the campus in some cases. Bear in mind that schools act on applications at different times, so it’s a good idea to ask when you can expect a decision so that you aren’t waiting by the mail box for several weeks.

Some schools may offer an application fee waiver to students who apply by a certain date. If you are applying to a number of schools at $25 – $50 each, this can save a considerable amount of money. Call during the summer before your senior year to see if the school has an early application fee waiver program.

A final point to stress here is that you are a unique individual. While one college may be perfect for your best friend, it may be less than ideal for you. You and your family need to consider all factors involved – academic, social, financial, spiritual, etc.

Give yourself a chance to truly explore all your options, you will then feel more comfortable regardless of where your final decision may lead.


Once you know the colleges and/or universities to which you wish to apply, your attention must turn to the task of gaining acceptance. This process may seem simple, or it may push you to the edge of a nervous breakdown. There are some fundamental principles that must be followed as you work toward two separate and important goals.

The first goal in applying is straight forward – to gain acceptance. However, a second goal must be considered. The second goal is to demonstrate that you are the type of quality student and person the school wants to enroll. Accomplishing the first goal will get you in the door, but it’s the second goal that will help position you for financial aid consideration. It’s important to remember both goals in considering the application process.

While working in college admissions, the majority of applications that crossed my desk were adequate. A small number appeared to have been completed by the applicant’s third grade brother, and finally there were a small number that I actually enjoyed reading. Needless to say, if you are reading this, you want to be in this final group. So how do you get there?

Let’s begin by recognizing that nearly every school that does not have an open admissions policy represents a different level of challenge in gaining acceptance. A college or university with an average SAT of 1100 may not seem difficult to gain acceptance into if you have an SAT of 1250. Obviously, that same college or university may be very difficult to gain acceptance to for a student with an SAT of 900.

Both the 1250 and the 900 SAT student should realize that the application process should be viewed with both of the goals mentioned above in mind. One of the mistakes that an academically stronger student can make is in not realizing that the application could impact their financial aid. The point is, never treat the application process lightly, even if you have a 1300 SAT and are applying to a relatively non-competitive school. Regardless of your situation, the following principles should hold true.

  1. Type Everything – Does this seem obvious? While it may be obvious to you, believe me when I say that it must not be obvious to everyone. If the admissions office can’t read your application, it is impossible to make a favorable impression. Every piece of communication and correspondence you have with the admissions office has the potential to influence a decision – negatively or positively.The admissions application is your opportunity to “shine”. Don’t put yourself at a disadvantage because you didn’t want to take the time to make your application look professional. When I saw a typed application, I concluded that the student was serious about the school and the admissions process.
  2. The Extra Essay – Have you considered writing an extra essay? This will almost certainly set your application apart. If the application requires no essays, take the initiative to include one anyway. I recommend a 250 to 500 word essay. Remember, the goal is to stand out and be noticed! Schools want students that they believe will positively influence their campus.Write an essay explaining how you will make a positive impact at the school.Let me stress the importance of knowing the difference between confidence and arrogance. You do not want to give the impression that the college or university would be foolish to overlook your amazing intellect and potential contributions. I recommend one extra essay. Please do not make the mistake of “overkill”. The extra essay can backfire if you write a novel. You do not want to be remembered as the student whose application took an hour to read. Focus on your most unique characteristic or quality and strive for confidence rather than arrogance. One way to strike the proper balance is to also include how you believe the school will assist you in reaching your goals.
  3. Honors And Activities – You may find that the application gives you the opportunity to list your honors and activities. I suggest typing SEE ATTACHED HONORS AND ACTIVITY SHEET in this space. Make it easy for the admissions representatives to see your accomplishments. Remember you are marketing yourself! Include everything you can think of – a community clean-up project, girl/boy scouts, church youth group, academic competitions, music competitions, student government, athletic awards, volunteer positions, and any other awards you may have received in high school. You may be pleasantly surprised at the length of your list once you take the time to sit down and think about what you have done for the past four years (parents can be a great help with this). If you have a lengthy list, you may want to have different headings such as: COMMUNITY/VOLUNTEER POSITIONS, SCHOOL ACTIVITIES, CHURCH ACTIVITIES, HONORS, ACADEMIC AWARDS, ATHLETIC AWARDS. If the application does not request such a list, include it anyway.
  4. Fill Out The Application Completely – If a question is important enough to be included on the application, you need to answer it. Don’t give the impression that you only felt the “important” questions were worth your time. A school may have a good reason for including a question that seems irrelevant to you. Even the “optional” questions are wise to complete.
  5. Meet Deadlines – This point may be obvious, but sending in your application ahead of the deadline is even better. Demonstrating that you are organized and genuinely interested in the school by having your completed application in early can only help your cause.
  6. The Interview – The interview is one of the most feared parts of the application process. While some colleges and universities require interviews, many may not. I would encourage you to seek out an “interview” even if it is not required. The interview provides the opportunity for you to have your face literally in front of the admissions representative. What better way is there to make a positive impression? I believe it is human nature to be more sympathetic and positive toward someone you have met. Admissions representatives are people too, and it is more difficult to discount a person than it is to discount an application.You should dress to make a positive impression. Be prepared to have a clear answer to questions like:
    • Why do you want to come to “College of the Clouds”?
    • What can you contribute to the school?
    • What is important to you in choosing a school?
    • What opportunities were you involved with during high school?
    • Where do you see yourself in ten years?
    • Why are you interested in Biology? (insert your intended major)
    • Describe the type of person you are.

    You should practice answering these types of questions before your interview. You should also have questions ready to ask when given the chance. This will help demonstrate your interest in the school and will show that you are well prepared. If the school does not require an interview, it is likely that the admissions “interview” may simply be a time for the admissions representative to answer your questions and tell you more about the school.

  7. Recommendations – Recommendations can be one of the most powerful and positive tools in the application process. Having said this, I also believe that this is one of the most overlooked parts of the application process. I was amazed at what some people sent in as “recommendations.” This is not always the student’s fault, but it still reflects negatively on him/her. Consider this – you have the opportunity to have any teacher, clergy member, employer, coach, etc. complete a recommendation. What does it say to the admissions office to have a recommendation sent in on your behalf that is poorly written, incomplete, or not very positive? You should consider it your responsibility to ensure this doesn’t happen.First, make certain you are asking someone who already thinks highly of you.Ask the individual if they feel comfortable and confident in writing a favorable recommendation. Let the person know that they can say “no”. You should be ready to ask someone else do a recommendation if this person seems to be at all reluctant.Second, after the person agrees to write the recommendation, make sure they understand how important this recommendation is to you. Don’t just say “thanks” and leave it at that.Third, make sure you ask that they complete the recommendation by a specific date. I would recommend within one to two weeks. If they are “too busy” or can’t promise to do so, find someone else. Communicate the importance of their recommendation in your acceptance and possibly your financial aid. If the school does not require a recommendation, send one anyway. If they require one, send two. If they require two or more, I’d suggest just sending the number requested.The recommendation provides an opportunity for a third party to brag about you to the admissions office. Do not overlook the weight a recommendation could carry!
  8. The SAT/ACT – Plan to take both the ACT and the SAT. Compare your scores to determine which is stronger. You can then take at least the stronger test a second time. This means additional time and expense, but I believe it is time and money well spent. Students with a weak score on one test may score significantly higher on the other. You could also experience dramatic improvement on the second try of the same test.There are countless reasons why you may do poorly, so give yourself at least a couple of chances to put forth your best effort. Your high school may provide you with the opportunity to take the ACT and/or SAT practice test. If not, find another way to take one of these by contacting a school in your area. This will help prepare you for the real thing.I recommend taking both the ACT and the SAT toward the end of your junior year and then at least the stronger again in the fall of your senior year. This should give you time to take either test again, if necessary. Before losing too much sleep over these tests, remember that although important, they are only one part of the application process.
  9. Ask For Help – If you get stuck at any point, be sure to ask a parent or guidance counselor for help. Make certain the lines of communication with your guidance counselor are open. You will need their help in sending out your transcripts. Some high schools may require that you submit your application to the guidance office for review prior to sending it on to the college. The important point is that there are likely well-qualified people around to assist you – please take advantage of this opportunity. If you are home schooled, give the college a call and ask about the school’s policies relating to home schooled students.
  10. Take Your Time – By planning ahead you should not feel rushed as you work through the application process. Whether filling out the application, preparing for an interview, writing your essays, or getting a recommendation, put forth your best effort. Do not put yourself in a position of saying, “If only I would have…” If you do not gain acceptance to a particular college or university, be prepared to move on. Your school is out there, stick with it until you find it.

About the Author

Thom Seagren is president of The Christian Connector a Christian college information resource. The Christian Connector lets you select from over 100 Christian colleges that will send you free information, and awards a $2,500 Christian college scholarship each year.

Image Credit: Mr. Nittle

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