In the mad dash to submit college applications before the deadlines, many students miss critical steps that could determine if their application gets put in the “review” or “toss" pile. There are a lot of steps to this process and a lot of documents and materials you need to have at the ready to have a complete and well-crafted application. To avoid sending off an application with spelling errors, incomplete questions, or wrong information, follow these 11 tips before you hit submit!
1. Print out application checklists and check for updates
Most schools have an application checklist you can follow. Keep this with you as you complete each step. When you’re almost done, print it out and cross-reference it with your application before submitting it—and while you’re there look for updates. Colleges have seen some admission changes in the past few years, leading some to change their application deadlines and other options. A quick look at your college’s website will let you know if you have more time to apply or if you need to submit additional information, so take a look.
2. Set yourself a deadline before the deadline
Getting your application in well ahead of the deadline is ideal, but sometimes things don’t go as planned. So give yourself your own personal deadline. Try to submit your application at least 48 hours before the real deadline. If it falls right after a weekend, you’ll want to send it even sooner. This gives you a cushion if something goes wrong and you need to contact the admission office. There have been enough college application glitches to last a lifetime this fall, and while we’d like to think there won’t be any more, no one really knows. If you really want to give yourself some breathing room, apply at least four days before the deadline.
3. Re-read all instructions and check for extra materials
One of the biggest mistakes a student can make on college applications is not properly reading the instructions. Before you start reviewing each application, reread each set of instructions. Then check if the answers you provided match what the prompts or directions ask. Some schools require answers to short supplemental essay questions in addition to or in lieu of a traditional admission essay—so do the extra research to find out if you’re missing anything.
4. Double-check your essay
Too many students get to the end of their essay and love it so much, they decide to submit their application right away—even though it’s 2:00 am and you might be a little tired. If the writing is really that good, it will still sound good two days later. Let it rest and then check it again. Check the word count requirements on your essay(s). If the recommended count is 800 words, don’t send 1,200. When listing activities or awards, don’t cram more than one item per line. Keep everything organized and intentional, because more is not necessarily better. Being concise but purposeful is key to a good essay!
5. Read your essay to others
When you read your essay aloud to other people, it allows you to hear the words rather than just see them in your head. Read it once all the way through to yourself and then read it to people you trust to give you the truth. Allow yourself to stop and take notes as you go so you can edit it before sending. College essays are very private, personal compositions, so it’s easy to understand why you wouldn’t want to share it with someone. But personal writing requires the same flow of ideas any other essay requires, and sometimes the author isn’t the best judge of that. Find a grammar-savvy adult who knows you well, show them the essay, then ask, “Does this sound like me?”
6. Proofread your application yourself
After you proofread your application for content and correct information, go back and reread it for spelling. The last thing you want to do is submit an application listing “callus” instead of “calculus” for your senior math class. It’s easy to think your computer will catch every mistake on your application, but that won’t happen if it doesn’t know the word or if you typed “saw” when you meant to type “was.” Check every word carefully, especially the section on awards and hobbies, since they can include unusual words. If you need to slow down when you check, read your application backward; that usually does the trick.
7. Ask a teacher and counselor to proofread
If there’s one step you should reserve time for, it’s this one. School counselors typically have experience with college admission, whereas your English teachers know essays. To be absolutely confident in your essay, have an English teacher review it for grammar and spelling and have your counselor read it over for content. There’s nothing like another pair of eyes to spot mistakes, so find the best speller you can trust to review the entire document—it’s that important.
8. Make sure you have all supplemental documents
If your application asks for a school report, letters of recommendation, a counselor report, or anything else that requires someone else to complete it, make sure to check the status on each of these before hitting submit. Some schools will require an official transcript with your application. Request an official transcript from your school counselor’s office, and they will either give it to you in a sealed envelope (do not open it) so you can mail it, or they will mail it for you. The last thing you want is to send your application on time but have documents missing from your file. Make sure your letter writers know about the deadline. Most colleges requiring letters won’t read an application without it, and if your letter writer is a teacher, this is a busy time of year, so they’ll need plenty of notice. Touch base with them now and be sure to thank them again for going the extra mile in supporting your college plans.
9. Send official test scores
Many colleges require copies of official test scores. If you haven’t sent your scores yet, visit the College Board or ACT websites and request to have your scores sent to all the colleges you’re applying to. If they haven’t been sent via the traditional requesting process on these websites, contact the ACT or the College Board to get them out right away. Just like letters of recommendation, colleges that require test scores won’t read an application without them.
10. Keep a copy for your records
Before you hit submit, print a copy of the application. If you can’t print each page or the entire application, print what you can, or take a picture of each page with your phone. Once you do submit, also print a copy of the confirmation page. This gives you a record of everything you’ve done in case there are any issues.
11. Only submit once
Few schools encourage paper applications, so you’ll likely be applying online. Once you hit submit, you should get an automated response that your application is processing. But sometimes systems time out or freeze, and it’s difficult to determine if your materials went through. If this happens, do not send your materials again. You should get a notice from the college two to three days after you’ve applied, letting you know they have your application. If you don’t get one, check your online application and your spam filter. If you really sent it and nothing is there, it’s time to call the college.
Many high school seniors are spending most of their nights and weekends creating the perfect college application, so you’re likely anxious to hit "Submit." Applying to college is exciting, but before you send your applications out, review these important steps—they could make the difference between sending in a good application and submitting a great one.
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