You might’ve heard about that mythical teacher who gave his students the “directions test,” and it might’ve looked something like this.
If you read the directions—really read them—you’ll get the joke. If you didn’t, well, this post if for you.
I was reminded of this joke and the importance of following directions recently, when we sponsored a fun little giveaway here on CollegeXpress. We had a few specific rules, and—I gotta tell you guys—it was killing us, because a bunch of responses were otherwise really great, but they neglected to follow the rules and were disqualified. And just like we can’t ignore the rules in our contests (in no small part because it’s not fair to those who did follow them), college admission counselors won’t accept incomplete applications or those that do not meet the set criteria.
We live in a world bombarded by long “user agreements,” pop-up ads, and marketing e-mails. We barely read the words in front of us (if at all), then click “okay” or “submit” or “I agree!” without thinking too much about it, because there’s just a lot to take in. But it is still important to read the directions given to you, and to read them well. In your college and scholarship applications especially, you will encounter plenty of directions, and it is essential that you follow them carefully, filling out your applications as directed and sending in all required materials.
Now, you might be thinking that admission officers skim all those applications—they have so many to look at anyway, what does it matter if you miss a question or two? Well, I assure you, they review each application thoroughly, and if you fail to answer a required question and/or send in your application packet without all the required forms (or fail to arrange to have them sent, like test scores), your application may not even be considered. (And did you also know that some scholarship opportunities are contingent upon answers for non-required questions? Or perhaps money- and/or time-saving credit opportunities? It’s crucial that you fill out the application in its entirety!)
There are many forms associated with your college applications, from transcripts to recommendations to test scores, all supplemental to the foundational application itself. Just imagine putting in hours of work into the application for a school you love, just to have it end up in the “no” pile because you neglected to cross your T’s and dot your I’s, so to speak. Ugh! Don’t let that happen to you!
Another area direction following can either hurt or help you is your application essay. Essay prompts can be tricky. Many students write beautiful personal statements—beautiful personal statements that completely ignore the prompt and subsequently contribute nothing to the overall application or the school’s ability to judge you as an applicant. Or you may think you can bend the rules about word counts, perhaps thinking you’re blowing the competition out of the water with your 10,000-word narrative of your life that takes readers through your birth until whatever you ate for breakfast that morning. But there are a few big problems with this plan: first, unless the prompt specifically asked for your life story (and it probably didn’t), you’ve shown an unfortunate disregard for the directions, not to mention potentially failing to give admission counselors the insights they’re looking for with the designated prompt. And, as most application essays call for no more than 500 words, admission counselors will likely be unimpressed, even annoyed, that you ignored that direction as well. (After all, they have a lot of essays to read!) So read and re-read the essay prompts available and make sure you understand what is being asked of you. You might even want to discuss the prompt with your family or a teacher during this stage too. (In addition to ensuring your grasp of the prompt, you could gain some helpful insights for writing the piece.)
Of course, the application process is quite complicated, and mistakes sometimes happen, whether it’s a miscommunication with a recommendation writer or a form getting lost in the mail (it happens!). This makes it doubly important to not only send in your application in advance of the deadline if you can but to follow up with the admission office to ensure they have everything they need from you. Luckily, many admission officers will alert you if your application is missing something important, but don’t just wait for someone to call. Be proactive! Your schools may even have online portals where you can check the status of your application and its materials, and that’s a great place to start.
Check and double-check your application before you send it. Then give it to someone you trust, like a family member or professor, to review it for you. Don’t rush this process. It’s long and difficult at times, but wholly worth your full attention and absolute best work.