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College Resources

College Application Dos and Don'ts

The mere idea of college applications can send some students into a tailspin. And that’s understandable. After all, it’s easy to feel anxious about a process that greatly affects your future (or at least the course of the next few years). However, you should trust that you have the wherewithal to successfully tackle and complete them. To help you get started, here are a few pieces of advice we think you should heed:

Pay Attention to Deadlines

It’s such a simple rule and yet many applicants overlook important dates. Make sure you know when all parts are due (the regular application might be due at a different time than say financial aid forms). Colleges are typically sticklers for deadlines and rarely make exceptions for candidates who miss them.

Read Directions

You might take this “do” for granted. However, you’d be surprised at how many students breeze past the directions, automatically assuming they know what’s required. The admissions office expects that you’ll abide by what they ask. If they want a short answer that’s 150 words, don’t exceed the limit. You don’t want your application discounted simply because you didn’t pay attention.

Don’t Procrastinate

Hey – we get it. You’re smart. You’re a fast worker. You assume filling out these apps will be a cinch. Think again. You do not want to underestimate the amount of time it will take to compile a compelling application. An admissions committee can tell the difference between a candidate who took the time to craft a thoughtful application and a student who scrambled and threw together some clichéd responses.

Review Your Social Networking Profiles (and Email Address)

As much as it might irk you, some college admissions officers might decide to log on and surf your Facebook profile, Twitter account, etc. Though you view these accounts and sites as both fun and mere exchanges between friends, don’t forget that they might be accessible to the public. Moreover, they will be seen as reflections of your character and maturity. It’s best to remove anything that could be interpreted as crass or distasteful before you hit that “submit” button.

Don’t Rely on Your Parents

We know it sounds tempting to let your parents fill out your applications. After all, they know you pretty well, want the best for you and recognize that you’re a very busy person. However, you really must resist. This is your journey and the onus should be on you to complete the work. Additionally, admissions officers are a smart and sensitive lot. They are old pros at sizing up applications and maintain a sixth sense for when outside parties have given a little too much input. If you can’t be bothered to even finish an application, how will you expect to make it through college?

When it Comes to Extracurriculars, Be Judicious

It’s true that colleges seek candidates who are involved and show varied interests. However, more than the simple act of participation, admissions officers want to see the depth of your involvement. Don’t simply list fifteen different clubs because you attended a few meetings on a handful of occasions. That won’t mean much to the people reviewing your application. Instead, cull your list down to the activities that truly matter to you. You want to be able to highlight the active role you played, whether it was holding a leadership position, helping to raise funds, launching a new initiative, etc. This will underscore your character and your dedication and allow schools to gain a little more insight into who you really are.

Keep Track of All Elements

It’s common for students to send different portions of their applications at different times. For example, the main portion of the Common Application might arrive separately from your teacher recommendations. Make sure you stay on top of all pieces to ensure that you’ve submitted a complete application. You don’t want your hard work to be for naught.


Much like reading directions, we cannot overstate the importance of proofreading. While you might roll your eyes or shrug your shoulders at what you deem obvious, many students, to their detriment, don’t bother proofing their apps. Giving your completed applications the once-over just might save you a little heartbreak several months from now. Spelling and grammatical errors, questions ordered incorrectly, egregious typos – these are all evidence of sloppy work. It betrays a careless attitude to admissions counselors. And that’s probably not the type of student they are looking to admit.

Be Honest

There’s no skating around this issue and there are no exceptions. The bottom line is that there’s no reason to lie on your application. You have to trust in yourself and in what you’ve accomplished. It’s that simple. Colleges can tell when students are being disingenuous and stretching the truth. They don’t care if you haven’t published a novel or found a way to cure cancer. They just want to get a sense of who you are and whether or not you’d be a good fit for their school. And because this is so important, we feel the need to repeat this sentiment: You have to trust in yourself and in what you’ve accomplished. College applications can be tricky to navigate. You want to fill them out correctly and you also just want to be done with them. If you follow the rules listed above, we’re pretty confident that you’ll be able to successfully complete your applications. What’s more, you’ll likely receive some good news once decisions are mailed out.


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Don Munce