- Know your deadlines
This might be the most important point on the list, especially if you’re applying to multiple colleges. Few schools will even look at your application if it comes in after their deadline. Create an excel spreadsheet and list each college you’re pursuing with their different application deadlines. Whether you plan on submitting your application early, or your school accepts applications on a rolling admissions timeline, here are some options and types of deadlines you should become familiar with:
Early decision. With early decision, you are telling the school you are 100% committed to going there if you’re accepted. Students submit their applications around November and schools will send their decisions by December, well before a schools’ regular decision timeline. If you’re accepted to the school you applied for with early decision, you must contact any other colleges you applied to and withdraw your application.
Early action. Similar to early decision, students submit their applications around November, and schools’ decisions are sent out by December. However, if accepted, you are not required to attend the school. Students get their college decisions early, but still can wait until “Decision Day” (typically May 1, but June 1 or later this year in light of COVID-19) to make their final choice.
Regular decision. If you’re applying for the upcoming fall semester, regular decision deadlines for colleges usually extend into January or February. After the application deadline closes, schools will sort through their applications and send their decisions out in the springtime, typically around April. Similar to early action, you are not required to attend any of the schools that accept you on the regular decision timeline. If you still haven’t chosen your top school before the early decision and early action deadlines, regular decision in the option for you.
Rolling admission. Rolling admission isn’t a deadline you necessarily “choose,” it’s a way some schools receive and evaluate the applications that come into their doors. Instead of specific deadlines, schools will weave through applications until they have filled all the slots for their incoming class. Similar to early action and regular decision deadlines, rolling admission gives you the freedom to choose from the schools you’re accepted into.
Remember, each college you’re considering will potentially receive thousands of applications. If you’re laser-focused on one particular school and want to get ahead of the application rush, apply early.
- Leverage your letters of recommendation
Whether you’re applying for a college, a competitive scholarship, or a particular program of study, a good letter of recommendation can help you unlock your full potential. While you’re thinking about choosing the perfect person to write your letter of recommendation, here are a few tips:
Find someone who has witnessed your growth. Most students think that the person who should write their letter of recommendation is the teacher of their most successful class, or the coach of the team they were a captain on. That’s not necessarily true. When choosing the author of your letter, find the person that has seen you grow and overcome obstacles. Someone who has seen you persevere through hard times and achieve greatness. This person can be a teacher or a coach, but it also could be a principal, a school counselor, or a community member. Choose someone who you’ve built a relationship with and you’ve known for more than a marking period, if possible.
Ask them in person. In this day and age where everything is communicated via a text message, phone call, or email, go beyond the norm and ask your recommender in person. Once you determine if they’re comfortable with writing a letter of recommendation for you, make sure you provide them with the necessary resources, whether it’s a link or your school’s mailing address, and give them plenty of time to complete it before the deadline.
Say thank you! No matter who you end up asking, your recommender is giving up some of their time to further your success. Send them a handwritten thank you card, thank them in person, or send a small gift to show your gratitude.
- Evaluate your social media accounts
Ever heard the saying, “Check yourself before you wreck yourself?” I can’t think of anything more fitting when it comes to college admissions and your social media accounts. You want to make sure that your accounts are portraying the same person you are describing on your college application. The power of social media is real, and colleges will check your social media accounts to see your true colors. Do yourself a favor and go through each one of your accounts and delete anything that could come across as offensive or inappropriate.
I’m sure you’re thinking, “What if my accounts are private?” It doesn’t matter. While you may think all your followers are your friends, screenshots are forever.
- Confirm that your materials have arrived
A few days after you submit your application, contact the school’s admissions office to see if they have received your materials. Make sure they have your high school transcript, your SAT/ACT test scores, and letter(s) of recommendation.
Pro tip #1: Save everything! This includes your applications, your transcripts and test scores, and any other materials that are part of the application process. If you find out that a school is missing any parts of your application, you’ll be able to send it their way immediately.