Prepping for the College Application Process

The college application process has only just begun for high school juniors. While applying to college via the Common App has gotten easier there remain things that require serious thought in order to achieve maximum positive results. These include the creation of a well-balanced and realistic college list, identifying the best strategy for when and how to apply, and thinking of how to finance a college education without incurring a massive amount of student debt.

The foundation of every student’s college application process is their academic profile, which is made up of the transcript, GPA/class rank and SAT/ACT scores. Together these three pieces of information will dictate which schools will be on the college list. All too many college lists are either top heavy with reach schools or bottom heavy with safeties. The objective should be well-balanced list of reach, target and safety schools.

The admission rate of a school is crucial in determining whether it will be a reach, target or safety and it is not necessarily the same for each applicant. Some of the factors that can come into play include grades, class rank, rigor of the transcript, legacy, ethnicity, gender, and sadly - ability to pay. Even the reputation of the high school can influence admission. So yes, a student should have a few reach schools on their list, but the focus should be on schools where being admitted is realistic. This also holds true for those students at the top of their class because even with a stellar academic profile the Ivies should never be considered a safety school.

One’s ability to pay for college should always be part of the creation of a college list as well. A school could be a target or safety yet be among the most expensive to attend. As a rule state schools will be less expensive for in-state students, but don’t not apply to those out-of-state colleges either if they fit your criteria. Experience has shown that with the right qualifications these private out-of-state schools have offered financial aid packages that bring the final cost of tuition even with the state school. Therefore a good college list will include several financially safe schools.

Once the college list has been finalized then it’s time to decide how and when to apply. Today’s students can select from Early Decision (ED), Early Action (EA), Single Choice Early Action (SCEA), Priority, or Regular Decision (RD). Based on the college list, academic profile and determination, which makes the most sense? Several realities exist with each option: the first is that many colleges fill their incoming freshman classes with candidates from the Early Decision (ED) and Early Action (EA) pools; secondly, qualified students are encouraged to apply Priority to state schools while there are more funds available for financial aid packages; and third, highly selective schools only offer Early Decision (ED), Single Choice Early Action (SCEA) or Regular Decision (RD) forcing students to choose. These early application options all have application due dates beginning as early as Oct 15th through to early December so work on those applications must start over the summer.

Note: Early Decision (ED) is not a good idea if you aren’t totally in love with the school. It’s binding and students aren’t able to compare financial aid packages. Single Choice Early Action (SCEA) in very similar to Early Decision as it does not allow an applicant to submit any other early applications, yet isn’t binding. It does, however, offer well qualified students a slight edge over applying RD. Think twice before being tempted to use your SCEA on a reach school as it might not be the best strategy.

Regular Decision has January or February due dates giving students more time to put together a strong competitive application, and if applying to a very selective school might be the only valid option. Ideally, it’s really nice to already have a few acceptances by December which is one of the reasons Early Action is so popular.

Regardless of which schools a student is applying to having a strategy in place will improve the odds of being admitted into their first choice schools. Once an application is submitted to a college the fate of the student is in the hands of the admissions officers, so why not take the time to select colleges and universities where the student’s academic profile, and personality, are a good fit ? This will increase the chances of admission and reduce the disappointments.

College Application Timeline - November 2019

During this first week of November many high school students are preparing their applications for the Early Decision (ED)Early Action (EA) and Priority applications due dates. November 1st was the first of these deadlines with others as late as November 10th. In order to be prepared to submit their applications on time, students need to have begun their college application process fairly early to have the following points ready to submit a strong application:

• Complete the Common App - Complete and proof the entire application carefully, and do the FERPA section. If your high school is using Naviance, make sure that you have linked it to your Common App. Note: Am noticing this year that students are leaving off information, especially extra curriculars, in the Activities Section of their Common App because they don’t think they count. Check here to see which activities do count. You’d be pleasantly surprised.

• Complete the college essayDo not underestimate its importance. The primary objective of the personal statement is to provide insight on the student's character through a story, something that cannot be seen elsewhere in the application, so make sure to write an essay that does just that. A strong essay resembles more a journal entry or letter home vs the in-class English essay.

•  Supplemental essays, short answer and optional questions. Always double check if the schools on your list require these. Often much shorter, they are not necessarily easier to write and there might be several that must respond to very specific prompts. Do not trivialize their importance and give yourself ample time to write them well because they are taken seriously. 

•  Finalize the remaining applications and be prepared to submit them. Proof all your applications carefully, looking for misspelled names, incorrect phone numbers or an essay that didn't upload correctly: unnecessary errors are a poor reflection on the student. Note: Yes, it's good to apply before your due date.

•  Send your SAT/ACT score reports - Unless the schools you are applying to will accept your scores as they appear on the official transcript, you must send your score reports. Don't forget that you get four FREE score reports each time you register to take the SAT or ACT, so make sur to take advantage of that. Fee waiversto either take the SAT/ACT or to pay for an application fee, are available to students that are eligible. Check with the guidance department for eligibility requirements. 

• AP Score Reports - Check your colleges' requirements, but if you scored 3-5 on an AP exam consider also sending those along for consideration. A high score could act as a tie breaker in the evaluation process and/or allow the student to be excused from an introductory class.  

• Letters of recommendation. Colleges vary in the number of recommendations they want, but always make sure that your recommendors are listed on your Naviance/Common App accounts allowing them to upload their letters. The number of recommendations needed for each college can be found under the Recommendors and FERPA sections on the Common App.

 Keep your guidance counselor updated. Always keep your guidance counselor aware of any small change in your college applications. If you've decided to apply Early Decision instead of Early Action, or have decided to not apply to a particular school altogether, please show them the courtesy of keeping them informed.  

•  The 2018-2019 FAFSA can now be filled out and submitted earlier so learn when these deadlines are. As often is the case, the sooner the better when it comes to submitting your FAFSA.

•  Check the status of your applications regularly for confirmation that the colleges have received your application and all supporting documentations. An application that is missing any key document will not be evaluated. It is the student's responsibility to keep track of the status of all of his/her applications and follow through on what hasn't yet arrived.

• Keep up those grades. Whether applying early or not, now is not the time to let those grades slip! This applies to all high school seniors applying to college, even if your applications are submitted. Colleges reserve the right to rescind an offer if there has been a serious drop in grades or if inappropriate behavior is found on social media.  

One of the top application mistakes is missing deadlines!!