The Top 10 College Application Do’s and Dont’s in 2023

College is a whole new world that many students always look forward to. However, the process of applying for college may seem intimidating, especially if you have no siblings or parents who have gone through it to help you and offer you advice. Those who wish to know when to apply for college must clearly understand the process. 

There are many steps in a college application process, such as getting letters of recommendation and writing an impressive and convincing essay.

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Experts say the first thing is to make your to-do list as early as your junior high year and begin to submit your applications while in junior or senior high school. 

According to a New York-based college admissions counselor Christine Chu, preparing early helps take away college admissions pressure and anxiety. Accordingly, preparing for college admission and setting a defined schedule can simplify a lot of things.

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So what do potential undergraduates have to know when it comes to completing their college applications?

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Understand the importance of college application deadlines.

When applying for college, seniors have several cutoff times to choose from. The early decision deadlines, for instance, are usually in November. Here, students who applied thru ED (early decision) can get an update from the college they are applying to earlier than the others.

Admission decisions thru ED normally come out in December. However, take note that ED acceptances are generally binding. Meaning, once your application is approved, you are compelled to enroll at that school. Thus, you need to be sure that if you go for an early decision application, your school of choice is something you know is the right pick for you. 

There are also colleges with a second early decision (ED II). Just like ED, this is also binding. The difference between ED and ED II, though, is only their timelines. Deadlines for ED II are in January, and decisions come out by February. 

Seniors can also opt to apply based on a school’s regular decision deadline, often as early as January. Regular applications filed during this month usually get a hear back from their chosen school between mid-March and early April.

You should also be aware of rolling admissions. Institutions with this kind of admission check college applications as they have them on hand and release decisions regularly. These schools have priority filings dates, although they do not implement a hard cutoff time for applications. They will still accept applications until all their spots are filled.

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Decide on the college application platform to use.

When it comes to finding out which college application platform to use, you have many options. However, the most popular choice is The Common Application, an app accepted by almost 800 schools.

You just fill out the Common App and simply submit to different colleges. But aside from the main application, this app comes with a supplemental section like additional essay questions. 

While the Common App is generally a one-stop-shop for college applications, some colleges do not accept this platform like Georgetown University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Know all there is to know about college application essays.

College essays are very common in any application process. Most colleges need students to have at least one writing sample, the college essay, most commonly referred to as your statement. While this may sound easy (as there is no right or wrong answer), students still feel challenged with this part of their college application. 

A college essay usually has a word limit of seven hundred words, although this will slightly differ based on the college application platform you’re using. Common App’s main essay requires your essay not to exceed 650 words. 

Application essays are open-ended and very broad., making it more challenging for the students. But these essays are open-ended for a reason: admission directors and officers can tell what a student is capable of just based on what they write.

According to experts, you can ace your college essay is to tell a story about yourself. It doesn’t have to be an impressive accomplishment. Instead, stick to writing about ordinary topics. This will help admissions officers to get to know you as a person and provide them insights about who you are. 

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Consider other important college application components.

Below are some other important college application components that you should know.

  • Personal Information: The first part of your college application will provide your basic information, your current school, and some important family details.
  • High school transcript: Colleges will require you to submit your official high school transcript. This is where the grades you earned are recorded. Most of the time, college admissions offices request the transcript to be directly sent to them instead of sending it yourself. You can check your school counseling office for transcript requests.
  • Standardized test scores. Most, but not all, colleges require their college applicants to submit their ACT or SAT subject test scores. SAT examinees are allowed up to four (free) score reports following an exam registration. You can choose which schools you want your SAT scores sent to up to 9 days following the test. On the other hand, students who go for the ACT can send their standing to 4 schools.
  • Letters of Recommendation. College applicants are usually asked to submit up to three recommendations (some schools only require two). When seeking out recommendations, it’s best to ask those who know you well, someone who can vouch not only for your academic achievements but your personal qualities as well. Your favorite teacher or your guidance counselors are your best choices.

    Make sure to provide your recommenders with a copy of your resume, as this can also help them cover all the necessary bases. Also, ask for your letter of recommendation way ahead of your college application deadline. That way, your recommenders will have more time to think about creating their recommendations thoroughly.
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Should you submit a resume?

Although the situation varies, most colleges today no longer need student applicants to submit their resumes. However, there are also applications where it’s optional to upload a resume. 

There are important details in a resume that is asked in a college application: work experience, awards, or extracurricular activities. Without a resume, you can put these details in some other parts of the application, usually in the activities section.

Provide all the necessary information about what you do outside of class. This often includes school clubs, sports, or even family obligations.

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The Cost of a College Application

Typically, the cost for a college application ranges from $50 to $90 every application. So if you are applying to several universities and colleges, simply add up. Also, some application fees are waived, especially for students coming from low-income families. Those whose ACT or SAT fees were waived are qualified for waived application fees from testing companies.

According to the College Board, they automatically send four waivers to eligible students, although not all colleges accept such waivers. Additionally, qualified students can apply for the waiver while filing their applications using various platforms like the Common App.

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The Dos and Don’ts When Applying for College

As you make your way into the tedious process of a college application, here is a guide to help you through this overwhelming process: 

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1. DO start early.

Ideally, you can start working on your applications in the summer before the senior year. Try to set aside your plans for some summer fun with your friends. By the time you begin the senior year, you might be surprised at how difficult it is to find the luxury of time applying for college or writing college essays.

Even during your junior year, it’s best to start listing down your chosen colleges along with their application deadlines so you will create a timeline on how you can set aside ample time for your preparation. 

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2. DO research each university and college.

If you are dead serious about receiving college acceptance letters, then you must have the right knowledge about each university/college you are applying to. Check their professors, classes, or opportunities that interest you. Researching these basic but helpful details will reflect your application and essay, a perfect way to show your knowledge of and interest in your chosen school.

This will also make you stand out among other applicants who are simply filing their applications, sans doing thorough research. Check the average admitted student’s GPA and ACT/SAT scores to estimate your possibilities of getting accepted. 

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3. DO plan and brainstorm before you start your essays.

Planning and brainstorming are the secrets of writing the best college application essays. Start checking your topic options. Are you writing something college-specific? Or do you feel safe with having general topics? 

Regardless, list down related ideas for each topic you have in mind. Do you think you can connect a meaningful story concerning the topic? Once done, go over your list and read through the whole idea of the essay. From there, you can choose which one topic makes a perfect application essay. 

Your college essay should be meaningful and must give the reader an insight into who you are. After finally deciding which idea you think will work, plan out the essay. Keep in mind that college essays have a strict word count. Planning and outlining your whole essay will give you enough room for the most useful details you wish to include in your article. 

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4. DO be specific.

Stay away from general statements like “college offers a handful of opportunities.” Instead, write concrete examples of these opportunities that fire your interest, and thoroughly explain why. Or try not to write, “I am a great leader.” Focus instead of telling a story about that time when your leadership skills stood out.

Rather than saying, “I love to learn,” talk about that moment when you had to spend half of your waking time in the library, going over books on forensic science. 

Yes, you get the whole idea. Avoid writing generic statements. Your application must be filled with specific and concrete details. The more specific you are, the clearer and interesting your application become. 

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5. DO send an application to your dream school.

Even if you feel like getting accepted to your dream school is next to impossible, send it a college application. If you still have time, try to boost your GPA. Or take the ACT/SAT over again until you get your highest score. Whether you get accepted or not, at least you know you tried. Ideally, try applying to at least two of your dream schools.

But be sure you also have applied for more practical alternatives. That way, even if you failed to get accepted to your dream school, you still have other amazing choices to choose from. 

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6. DON’T try impressing admissions officers.

College admissions officers can tell if you are trying too hard to impress them. And if you try too hard, your college application may come across as overly formal, disingenuous, and stiff. The main reason why college applications are there is for admissions officers to know you better.

As you go through with the application process, avoid asking if the admissions will like what you are telling them. Instead, ask yourself if what you are putting in your application can help admissions officers to get to know you more.

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7. DON’T lie, exaggerate or create misleading information.

Maybe you won’t get caught making false claims in your application, but it is still a possibility. Once you’re caught lying, say goodbye to your dreams of getting accepted. And if a school already admitted you before finding out about your lies, your acceptance can easily be rescinded.

Also, you are missing the big picture when you lie and exaggerate your application. Admissions officers want to find out about the real you. So what’s the point of starting your college years surrounded enveloped with lies? 

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8. DON’T miss deadlines.

Without batting an eyelash, missed deadlines are equivalent to not getting accepted to the college you’re applying for. Thus, it’s prudent to be attentive with deadlines for transcripts, test scores, portfolios, and more. And even if you have been accepted, some schools will ask you to send them your mid-year report and final transcripts. You have to be vigilant of these deadlines too. 

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9. DON’T overdo.

You don’t have to stress yourself into applying to up to 20 schools or more. Spreading yourself too thin won’t do you any good. According to admissions experts, the most that you can apply is anywhere between 4 and 10 colleges. The secret is to have at least three safety schools, 2-4 target schools, and 2-3 reach schools.

While this is not a guideline to follow, applying to more than a dozen schools can just stress and overwhelm you even more. Another thing is to avoid waiting until the last minute. Planning early can give you ample time to submit error-free and quality application, minus the stress of having to rush things. 

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10. DON’T submit general essays or the same information to all the colleges.

Your college applications have to be specific for each college. Your knowledge of your chosen college has to be clear and genuine and must exude in your essay. Using the same generic essays and information for every school won’t cut it. It’s good to research each school ahead o time. Your application should be tailored according to each school. 

Another thing is to avoid waiting for too long for your letters of recommendation. Your counselors and teachers already have too much on their plates than they can handle in a short time. Give them at least three weeks.

However, consider also that many students may also be asking for letters from the same instructors. Be earlier if you possibly can. Many teachers value the courtesy, and this may result in a more positive recommendation. 

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Standing Out in Your College Application

When it comes to college applications, you don’t want to be just another ‘ordinary’ applicant, do you? While writing a good college essay that tells an amazing story can do the trick, have you ever wondered how you can make the rest of your college application stand out too?

If you do not have a knack for writing, how can you highlight your other qualities to show admissions officers that you are worth checking out?

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There are several ways to take your college application to a whole new level other than working on a Pulitzer-prize worthy college essay. Here are some. 

Top-Notch Portfolio

If you’re majoring in Graphic Design, Art, Creative Writing, or Film/Photography, you’ll likely be required to have a portfolio showing your work for reviews. This is the time to put your best foot forward. But avoid overdoing it. If they ask you for four pieces, don’t provide them 8!

Make sure that those four you submit are the best that you have. Your portfolio should reflect you. Meaning, if you love drawing flowers, don’t send them subjects on rocks or mountains because you believe these are what admission officers want to see. 

Remember, you choose this major because this is what your passionate about. Avoid cheating your passions and dreams simply because you are scared they are unusual. Who knows, the council reviewing your file also loves flowers too! 

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As you prepare your portfolio, ask some of your trusted friends or teachers to help you pick the best ones for submission. Ask for their thoughts on how you can improve these choices. 

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Include your awards on your college application too. In the Common Application app, there are two sections there where you can mention your awards: the activities section and the honors section under the “education” subsection. List your awards according to their categories.

For example, during your junior years, your national writing contest award should go under education; winning on that inter-school dance competition would fall under activities. 

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College Confidential warns about some “honor societies” that offer selectivity but come with hefty price tags just to join these clubs. These societies and clubs are not selective at all, provided that you pay them the right price. This is just not worth it. Colleges and universities are already aware that clubs are highly selective and aren’t, so do thorough research before signing up. 

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Odd Jobs

You can easily stand out in your college application if you have unique work experiences. You can find several interesting jobs everywhere, and what’s good about it is that you don’t need to have a college degree to have these jobs.

These jobs may not even be related to your chosen major. And the best part? Not only will your working on a unique job helps boost your application, but you can even earn money too. 

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From being a tour guide to a carnival hawker, an ice cream scooper, or a party planner, you can find many interesting part-time jobs everywhere. If you think this will interfere with your grades, go for seasonal jobs to keep you busy enough during your vacant hours.

Some jobs offer certifications, so make sure you mention these under your ‘other awards’ section in the Activities portion. Although these may not sound like they are hard work, having that piece of paper can serve you well in your application. 

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Look for volunteering opportunities that can support your line of study. Say, for instance, when you plan to become a teacher, why not be a peer tutor to middle graders or elementary school students? It’s easy to look for summer bridge programs where you can do volunteer works.

Check your local YMCA or community center if there are possible opportunities that you can help to improve your community.

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Nursing homes, hospitals, or group homes usually look for young volunteers for different purposes. You can also speak with your family’s church leader and ask how you can volunteer. Maybe they need you for their kids’ camps, or even you may come in handy for setting up for their events. 

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Non-school activities

Never underestimate the importance of non-school activities and clubs. Apart from the usual Eagle Scout merits or Gold Award, why not include your five years in piano lessons or a decade of non-stop dance lessons?

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It may sound unimportant, but you can make your application stand out if you highlight non-school activities. 

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A Video Essay

These past years, we have seen how video essays made an impact on a college application. More and more colleges and universities today give you the option of submitting a video essay instead of a traditional written essay.

Some schools even accept these videos as supplemental materials for your conventional college application essay. When making a video essay, follow the school’s direction. If they require a 3-5 minute video, doing an 8-minute video is overkill.

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Your opening statement has to be original and strong. Your tone has to be casual but professional. Focus your content on targeting a particular college, especially if this video is only a supplemental piece. Be concise, but be clear.

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Creating the Best College Application Essay

Now that you have taken all the required tests and completed the necessary application forms, it’s time to impress your college admissions officers with the best college application essay

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A college application essay normally has 500 words or more, depending on the school’s protocol.  A five-hundred-word essay is very short. But you need to focus and put your heart into it because the essay can either make or break your application.

You spend days and weeks drafting your essay, but the college admissions council can only spare a few minutes to go over it. The challenge now is how to get their attention. Here are some helpful tips. 

Careful with the instructions. You’ve heard it before, and you will always hear it again: carefully read the instructions always. With all the stress and excitement that go with writing your college essay, it’s easy to shun even the most basic instructions. 

If you fail to follow the essay guidelines properly, this is a red flag for admissions officers. How will they know that you can abide by their university’s programs when you can’t even follow basic and simple instructions? Word count and page limits are there for a reason.

Once you have gone over the instructions carefully, you can begin outlining. Decide on the message you would wish to convey and organize your essay. From here, you are now prepared to write your draft. 

Always begin with a powerful introduction. Writing an essay is tough, but you can achieve it if you are smart about it. Professional journalists say that to catch the reader’s attention. You need to deliver a powerful introduction. Admissions officers have very limited time reading and reviewing an essay.

Thus, your introductory statement must be vivid enough for them to keep engaged. Your introduction should tell what your essay is all about as a whole. Start with an interesting story or even an anecdote that exudes your character and personality. That way, you are providing your readers with an insight into what it is that you want to impart to them. 

Be authentic. Colleges look for the quality of thinking and authenticity of an essay. Thus, do not create an essay that revolves around ideas or phrases used one too many times. Instead, focus on your own beliefs. An application essay is your chance to impress your admissions officer.

They should tell how determined you are to enroll in their school and that you have enough knowledge of the program you’re applying for. The essay has to reflect your ambitions, skills, and that it must give them an idea of how your program of choice can help you reach your future goals.

Stay away from cliché. As you do some research for your write up, it’s normal to be encouraged by the many great samples of essays you can find. While it may be tempting to allow yourself to get easily swayed by these examples, and use too much cliché, stay away from it. Admission officers won’t be impressed. Keep in mind that college applications come in hundreds or even thousands.

How can you stand out and distinguish yourself if you’re stuck at writing basic and general essays based on what you read online? Go over your article, and if needed, delete statements that sound like clichés.

The best way to catch admissions officers’ attention is to write an original essay that brings out a unique personality in you. They should discover that thru your essay.

Provide samples to boost your ideas. College application essays are practically simple but powerful articles that give the admissions officers a glimpse into how students’ minds work and how they view the world. For your essay to be credible, the content has to support your standpoint.

Figure out how the essay questions relate to your qualities. From there, you will be able to write from a particular angle easily. 

Simply put, state your ideas not only based on facts. You need to provide examples and details to back up your thoughts. Try offering samples based on your personal experience. Talk about what motivates you or how you come up with certain beliefs. 

Be clear and consistent with your essay plan. In writing, creativity is very crucial. But just because your essay is creative doesn’t mean it is always organized. It’s a challenge to be consistent with your flow of thoughts as you write. Do not write nonsense words. Discuss and write one topic at a time.

As you draft your essay, the secret to making a plan is to go over the maximum number of words first so you can get the whole idea as to the article length you need to work on. Before you start, gather your thought first, then organize your essay into three major parts: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. 

Have someone proofread and double-check your essay. Your goal is to create an amazing college application. The perfectionist in you will probably read and go over your essay countless times to guarantee no spelling, grammar, or typographical errors.

Even then, it’s also wise to seek the thoughts of others for a fresh perspective. Ask somebody who has not yet read your essay. Chances are, they are likely to notice mistakes that you failed to catch. 

Asking for your parents or your teacher to check your article not only helps you double-check for possible mistakes. Having the opinion of others can sometimes verify if your essay sounds like you.

After a while, reading so many samples and burying yourself in creating the best essay can sway your thoughts. It may end up conveying something you are not. To guarantee that your college essay is perfect, seek the help of others. 

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After Submitting Your College Application: What Next?

In a college application process, many universities and colleges favor students who take the time to reach out to them to express their genuine intent to enroll in the campus. After all, just because you have submitted all the necessary documents in your college application doesn’t mean it’s done. You should at least try to demonstrate interest. 

But do colleges care about demonstrated interest? In some highly selective colleges, this is less of a factor. But most large public universities with thousands of applicants appreciate students who go out of their way to visit their school. Why? Because it tells these schools that their campus is not just a back-up option but a contender.

To check if demonstrated interest will matter to your college of choice, check College Match, enter the college profile of your choice, tap the admissions tab, and read through their “selection of students” tab. 

So how do you show demonstrated interest following the submission of your application?

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Visit the school (virtually, sure).

When you visit a school, this gives you the chance to connect with their admissions officers and possibly ask them questions. You also get to tour the whole campus to help you get that ‘college feel’.

A lot of applicants usually visit their chosen school after they are accepted. However, visiting them while you wait for your application results demonstrates your curiosity and enthusiasm for that school. 

If this is not an option, contact the college you’re applying for and check if they provide alumni interviews in your area. Or you can connect with their recruiters from during a college fair and ask questions. Explain to them why you chose their college.

After all, send a note to the admissions officer about your interview/site visit and tell them about the positive things you love about their school. 

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Join a campus event.

Campus events not necessarily tied to admissions are also good ways to demonstrate your interest. Whether it’s a sporting event, a lecture, or just a musical play, this will show the school how eager and interested you are to become a part of their college community. And again, it won’t hurt to inform the admissions officers that you attended the event. 

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Follow the school’s social media accounts.

Follow the official social media accounts of the college. Once in a while, ask helpful questions that will show your interest in that college. Getting connected with a school’s social media can effectively help you integrate with other campus groups. 

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How to Fight Senioritis

The Urban Dictionary defines senioritis as a “disease” that affects most high school seniors. Symptoms include lack of motivation, laziness, too many class absences, stress, feelings of hopelessness, irritability, and constant tiredness. 

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Every year, seniors have the daunting task of balancing school and college applications. When you are caught in the middle of it, you just lose perspective. This is very common among high school seniors. So how do you fight senioritis?

Embrace the feeling. Senioritis manifests in different shapes.

You might feel lazy waking up, or you just drag yourself to school. Worse, you can even feel a massive loss of purpose. All these are normal. Just learn to accept it by the day.

Set academic goals for the rest of your senior year.

If you have goals, these will help you get engaged socially and academically. For instance, set a target score on your AP exam. Or aim for straight As throughout your last year in high school.

Think as if your senior year is your college boot camp.

College is demanding and more challenging than high school. During your senior year, make this the best time to hone your skills in studying. Find time to read more. Go for an independent study project. 

Earn money. Get a part-time job.

Not only will this divert your attention from senioritis, but this also a good way to save money for the many college expenses to come.

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College application is indeed overwhelming. It is time-consuming, and it is stressful at times. But for as long as you know how to go about with your college application, and you understand the many dos and don’ts, then you’re all good.