THE BLOG

Applying to College: Test Scores, Letters and Resumes

10/14/2013 11:29 am ET | Updated Dec 14, 2013

Seniors are starting to put the final touches on some of their college applications, which means it's time to look at some of the small details that, taken together, can make a difference in the way your application will be reviewed once it arrives at the college of your choice.

Which test scores do I send? This shouldn't be complicated, but it is. Inhale, and we'll begin.

First and foremost, if you are using the Common Application, you'll come across a question asking if you want to self-report your test scores. Many students who click "Yes" read the directions on the next screen, and somehow get the impression they either have to self-report all of their test scores, or they should report none of them.

No matter what the directions say, that isn't the case. Whatever scores you self-report will be viewed by every college that receives your Common App -- so only list the scores you want every school to see. If you still think the directions need to be followed, and you have some scores you don't want to share, go back and click the "No" box, and move on.

Once you're done with Common App, it's time to hit the websites of your colleges and look up their standardized test requirements. Some colleges want you to send all of your scores. If that's the case, send everything.

Some colleges give you the choice of sending what you think are your best scores. If that's the case, send only your best scores.

If you have one set of scores that are strong except for one section (say, the Science portion of the ACT) and another set of ACT scores where the Science score is higher, you want to find out which of your colleges combines the best scores from different tests. This is called superscoring, and while this is designed to let you present your highest test scores to the college, it also means you'll be sending them some low scores in that mix, too.

So, will they use those low scores against you?

It's time to head back to the websites of your colleges. Most will tell you if they superscore, and the very few that take low scores into consideration are likely to tell you that, too. If they don't address low scores, give up on the website and -- yes, I'm afraid you must -- call the admissions office.

If this is just too much information to consider, send everything. Nearly every college only uses your best scores, and if a college is looking for a reason to deny you, well, that doesn't say very much about their approach to education, does it?

Should I send an extra letter of recommendation? A couple of colleges are very clear on their websites: we want one (two) letters of recommendation, and only one (two). If that's what they say, that's what they mean -- and since your job is to create a cordial relationship with the admissions office, making them grumpy goes against the achievement of that goal.

If the college doesn't give a limit, you can send just one extra letter -- and that's only if the letter says something very, very different than your other letters. Since you don't get to see the letters, this can be hard to know. If that's the case, leave it out.

Should I send a resume? A college application asks for honors, interests, awards, and goals. That's a resume, and admissions offices really don't like redundancy -- so unless the college asks for one, no.