Huffpost College
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz Headshot

Seven Really Smart Things to Do When Filling Out College Applications

Posted: Updated:

Right about now, every college bound high school senior is doing (or should be doing) the same thing: filling out college applications. While each phase of the college admissions process is important, nothing is more important than completing the applications. When all is said and done, the best case for colleges admitting you is offering them a stellar application that articulates who you are as a student and person.

Here are seven things you can do to make sure your application stands out from the crowd.

1. As you begin completing a college application, keep in mind who your audience is: the admissions people at this college.

College admissions officers read hundreds, if not thousands, of applications each year. Because so much of what they read is the same, what you want to do is offer something that is "a little bit different and a little bit better" than the other applicants. How do you do that? Through your words, descriptions, personal stories and essays, simply be who you really are. Don't try to guess what the admissions reps want; "Dare to Be Yourself!"

2. Be yourself, but put forth your "best self" in what you write and say.
You need to make the most of each application, remembering that for each college this is your one and only shot. Many students go through applications with the attitude of getting this uncomfortable job done as quickly as they can. Bad move! To put your best self forward, before you write anything, ask yourself these questions:

  • What do I want admissions people to "get" about me?
  • How can I distinguish myself? Where do I "shine?"
  • Who am I as a person? (ask your parents to write out as many adjectives as they can that positively describe you) What have I been like since I was a little kid?
  • What or who is important to me?
  • What about me is interesting, unique, and different from other students?

3. Your application must be neat and accurate.

The appearance of an application is almost as important as what it says. It's extremely important that an application is perfect or near perfect in terms of neatness, spelling, grammar, punctuation and the absence of typos. How do you do that? First of all, do the best job you can. Second, it's critical that you have someone you trust proofread the application -- a parent, older sibling, grandparent, teacher, counselor, good friend, or mentor -- a person who is going to read every single word and give you positive, constructive feedback.

A sloppy, inaccurate application gives the message that:

  • You don't care and/or are immature
  • You don't respect the application readers
  • You don't take seriously the college admissions process
  • This poorly executed application has been put together for a "back-up" school

You know the difference between doing something the "right" or "wrong" way.

What you want admissions officers to get from your application is that you are responsible, energetic, interesting, attentive, competent and mature. In other words, someone who will really add to their campus.

4. Follow application directions to a "T," paying special attention to essay prompts.
Before you type in answers on an application, be sure to carefully read the application instructions. To make sure you understand what you are doing, download and print the application directions and then highlight or underline what you want to remember to do. Admissions people take note when students don't follow their directions and they don't like it one bit. So if you are asked to write a 1,000 character (usually with spaces) essay, do exactly that. I can't tell you how many students write a 1,000 WORD essay, when the directions say to write a 1,000 character essay. And, of course, they then have to wipe out a whole bunch of words. Need I say that this is a total waste of your time and energy!

5. As you answer the different application questions, describe and explain everything.

In the Honors and Awards and/or Extracurricular Activities sections, use all the space that is provided to describe what you have won or done. Use action verbs and detailed descriptions, even when they only give you 100 characters to do it. For example, you might say, "ASB Vice President, responsible for all fundraising at school" or "Member, Key Club, tutor disadvantaged, low achieving children."

6. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE make copies of your application before you send it off.
Photocopy or print each application in its entirety before you submit it. If you don't do this, you have no proof that you have completed an application. Just so you know, there are many ways in which an application and/or its pieces can get lost, so you need to have a copy of whatever you send (or think you send) to a college. Otherwise you might have to do an application all over again. Believe me, that's not fun.

7. Make sure that every piece of your application is turned in, and on time.

Colleges do not act on incomplete applications. It is your responsibility to make sure that every piece of an application is not only sent to a college, but also received. That includes the application itself and supplements, transcripts, test score reports, counselor, teacher and additional recommendations and other required materials. Once you turn in an application, check your personal application page for a college to make sure they have received everything. If something is missing, immediately follow-up with the admissions office.

Next week, I'll write about other smart things to do as you complete the different application sections. Stay tuned!