In a 2008 photo, 16-year-old Eliana Goolcharan looks over college catalogues in her Oyster Bay, N.Y. home.
You shouldn’t delve into the college application alone. From SAT help to application deadlines, there’s a lot to learn. And why not learn from those actually making the decisions?
Below is the advice of three admission professionals from three of the top schools in the country.
Kate Lazo, assistant director of admission at Stanford University
Essays and samples: Beginning your essays before classes start will help immensely in the long run. Not only will you have more time to ponder topics and to edit your essays, but also your stress level will be reduced and you will be able to enjoy your senior year.
Don’t forget that colleges will consider your writing mechanics as well as the content when reviewing your essays. Make sure that your essays tell your story but don’t neglect spell checking and proofreading.
Deadlines and requirements: Once you’ve finalized your college list, create application checklists for each school. Many colleges have similar, but not identical, application requirements so make sure that you submit the required credentials to each school.
Most colleges close for the winter holidays and don’t re-open until after the application deadline. if you wait until the last minute to seek information, you might be out of luck.
Letters of recommendation: Give those doing the recommending ample time to compose their letters. Remember that your teachers and counselors are doing you a favor and be courteous to them. Place your requests for letters during the first few weeks of the school year.
Other: Remember that this is your application. While you should certainly feel comfortable requesting feedback from those who know you well, at the end of the day you are the one who is applying to college and your application should represent you as a person and a student.
Henry R. Broaddus, dean of admission at College of William & Mary
Essays and samples: Any topic can work, but the goal should be to treat that topic in a manner that reveals distinctive style and personal character. Admission officers are far more interested in essays that show personal voice than they are in reading something that’s persuasive.
Keep in mind that 500 words is a very short form. Especially in subsequent drafts, it’s often helpful to narrow the essay’s focus.
Deadlines and requirements: In college admissions and in life, there are only a handful of things completely within one’s control through careful planning. Meeting deadlines is one of those things.
Letters of recommendation: Choose recommenders who know you well and thank them effusively. Teachers who take the time to tell us the stories of their students are the unsung heroes of this process.
Other: Unfortunately, standardized tests present a dangerous illusion of empirical precision that’s at odds with the way we make admission decisions. Test scores matter to us as a limited measure of academic preparedness, but for the hardest choices between similarly qualified candidates, standardized tests play no greater role than the more qualitative information in the application.
Ann Fleming Brown, director of admissions at Union College
Essays and samples: When you write your college essay, use concrete details. Bring the reader into the story by describing location, tone, colors, smells. Try to keep to a topic that reflects well on you and one that is not so sad that it will make the reader cry. Plan to complete three drafts and find an outside reader (teacher, counselor) to offer feedback.
If a candidate wants to send additional writing, I recommend keeping it short — not longer than five pages. The typical admissions reader has 10, perhaps 15 minutes to read your application. Do not weigh that time down with your novel or your lengthy submission to a science competition.
Deadlines and requirements: Submitting any earlier than a month brings an application no special attention. Many students wait until the last minute to apply. The first applications received are the first reviewed. The last received may be evaluated nearer the end of the process. Like Goldilocks, try to time your application “just right.”
Letters of recommendation: Some students think that more recommendations are merrier. Not true. Additional recommendations can prove discouraging to the admissions reader.
Ask your teachers no later than the beginning of your senior year to write on your behalf.
Other: Prepare for your standardized tests in any one of the well-known ways: Get a book or a computer program with practice tests, look at the daily email with a sample question, take a preparation course, read challenging books.
Remember that tests scores are not an indication of the quality of your character.
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