The application itself appears at first to be one of the most daunting parts of the college application process, but with a little hard work and a great deal of planning, it can be very easy. First of all, it's important to compile a list of the various requirements colleges have, including:
- Does the school use the Common Application (commonapp.org)? If not, where can you access the school's application?
- If a school is on the CommonApp, does it have a supplement, and what is the prompt? If it's not on the CommonApp, what are its essay questions? Are there any other writing requirements (e.g. short answers or complete-the-sentence)?
- How many Letters of Recommendation does the school require? Do they require scores from Standardized tests (SAT / ACT) or SAT-II subject tests?
- When is the school's application deadline? Be sure to write down the deadlines for Regular Decision, Early Decision (I and II if the school has two E.D. periods), and/or Early Action if applicable. If the school has Rolling Admission, look into when they prefer to receive applications.
You should get all of this information ready at least 1.5 months ahead of any deadline.
Next it's time to start a Common Application account and fill in all personal information. If necessary, create an account for a school-specific application website (the school may have already given you an account if you've been in contact with them; check your email). The CommonApp and almost all college accounts are free, so it should be a simple process. When it's time to get started, you should have all of the following things ready:
- An active email address.
- Somewhere to record any account passwords.
- Your Social Security Number and any other materials you need to identify yourself, your address, and your parents (and their addresses, employers, marital statuses, and education histories).
- Your school's CEEB code and that of any colleges you're thinking about.
- Records of any awards or recognitions you've received.
- Report cards with all of your classes for the past three years of high school and their levels, your semester grades, and your cumulative G.P.A., as well as any classes you will take Senior year and their levels.
- Records of your scores on standardized tests, including the SAT, ACT, SAT-II, and AP tests.
- A list of your past extracurricular activities, jobs, and volunteer experiences, as well as any summer programs you have participated in.
Now that the basic information of your application put into the computer, it's time to work on the more difficult (or at least involved) processes, including the essay, letters of recommendation, transcript and school profile, and standardized test scores. It is here where the 1.5 month rule comes into its own.
1.5 Month Rule
First of all, it's time to contact the ACT and/or College Board about sending colleges your standardized test scores. For this process, you will need the schools' CEEB codes, access to your ACT/CollegeBoard account, and a credit card to pay for sending the scores (unless, due to timing, they are still free).
This is an easy process and I completed it in just a few simple steps. Just be sure to follow the ACT/Collge Board websites' instructions.
As soon as possible, set up a meeting with your school guidance or college counselor. If your school does not have this type of position, contact the registrar. They will be responsible for sending in your official transcript, a school profile (to explain their specific grading system to colleges), and letters of recommendation from teachers, counselors, or coaches if applicable. (Keep in mind that all schools are different, as is their documentation.)
This counselor will tell you how to proceed with regards to requesting letters of recommendation and having materials sent by the school. My school uses Naviance, a program that pairs data with my CommonApp account and sends materials electronically. If your school does not use this type of program, the CommonApp and other colleges' accounts have similar features for Letters of Recommendation. If you have any questions, ask your counselor; that's what I did, and it was enormously helpful.
Letter of Recommendation
When thinking about who to request a Letter of Recommendation from, think about which teachers at your school have seen your strengths in class, and who you have a good relationship with. For example, I chose an English teacher whose class I greatly enjoyed and an adviser of my school newspaper who I was close to. You should pick teachers based on how well they know you from class, either because you participate often or do good writing, or whatever. Don't pick a teacher based solely on prestige or grades (i.e. don't rule out a teacher who thought highly of you just because you didn't have stellar grades in his or her class).
When it comes time to ask for a 'rec', BE POLITE! This is an honor for you on their part, and a part of their opinion of you (especially if you haven't been in their class recently) is based on how you handle this process. A good order for asking is:
- IN PERSON: Ask if the teacher would be willing to write you a recommendation. If yes, explain how you will get in touch with them through Naviance, the CommonApp, or some such system. If no, thank them kindly and find a different teacher. This should be done even before the 1.5 month mark, as teachers are very busy.
- THROUGH NAVIANCE/COMMONAPP/ETC.: Send an electronic recommendation request. If the program allows you to attach a note, write one reminding them about the recommendation, thanking them for doing so, and mentioning a deadline. If it does not allow you to attach a note, please do so in a follow-up email sent shortly after the electronic request.
- IF THEY REQUEST: Consider meeting with a teacher (especially if they don't know you very well outside of class) to briefly talk about your college plans, any highlights of school you remember, and possibly a brief moment about what you do outside of the school. Remember: This is only if they ask! DO NOT TRY TO INFLUENCE THEIR LETTER. It should be confidential.
- AFTER ALL IS SAID IN DONE, IN WRITING: After everything has been sent, write a nice thank-you note for your teacher. They have taken time and energy to help you, and thanks is important and shows maturity.
Now that your Letters of Recommendation and transcript are done, it's time to write your essay...but that's for another blog post coming up next.