On Your Mark
tips for reaching success as you begin the application process
In the course of the next few months, you will be working hard to prepare for a successful college application process. In doing so, there are a variety of things that you can do to minimize your anxiety throughout the process and strengthen your chance of admission to your colleges and universities next spring.
In order to assist you in your preparation, our staff has brainstormed a few tips that should aid you in the technical aspects of applying to college. While these are only a few suggestions we are offering, it is our hope that you find them helpful in streamlining the application process.
Maintain only one email account throughout the year.
One of the most frustrating things for anyone sending email, including college admission officers, is spending valuable time crafting an email to someone, only to have it returned as "undeliverable." When corresponding with applicants, this is often due to the frequency with which high school students change their email addresses.
Different colleges and universities will use your email account in different ways. Some may use it to send periodic updates about the programs or events being offered at a particular point in time. Others may actually send information about their decision to you via email. Most use it to respond to general questions that you have initiated. When applicants change their email accounts over the course of the year and don't notify the colleges to which they have applied, they run the risk of missing important information that is critical to their success in the college process. Colleges are not responsible for messages sent to an inactive account, or one with insufficient space to receive messages. Notify us immediately if you change your address at any point in time.
Finally, we suggest that you create an email account to be used specifically for the college process. We also realize that high school students often compete with one another to create the most original or comical email address. We encourage you consider the seriousness of the college application process when selecting your domain name. You never know who will review your application and who may find a particular name offensive. And once again, when you've finally selected your address, please resist the temptation to change it!
Create a calendar.
One of the most helpful things that you can do for yourself to minimize any unnecessary stress in the college process is create a calendar specific to the colleges and universities to which you will apply. This calendar should include all admission and financial aid deadlines, as well as any miscellaneous deadlines that you will want to consider (at Boston College, for example, the supplemental application is due before the Common Application deadline).
When creating this calendar, it is critical that you obtain the dates directly from the college or university. These could be found on the college's web site or in their print publications. Do not use independent college guidebooks to obtain this critical information. Third-party sources are good for providing basic information about a college, but are not as invested as colleges are in ensuring that the information in their books is completely accurate. At Boston College, for example, the admission deadline changed from January 15th to January 2nd five years ago. To our dismay, some college guidebooks still list our deadline as January 15th. Imagine your disappointment when you send in your application in mid-January, only to learn that the deadline has passed. Going to the original source for these deadlines will eliminate any unnecessary confusion.
Remember, the deadlines are deadlines, not due dates.
In other words, the "deadline" is the last possible date a college will accept your credentials. Every year, most applicants wait until the day before the deadline to submit an application. Consider the challenges of an admission office that receives 10,000 applications or more on one day. Sending in your application earlier will allow schools more time to file your credentials and more time to give you advanced notice if you are missing credentials. The more time you give to an admission office, the more time the committee will have to give personal attention to your application.
Submitting all portions of the application is your responsibility.
Too frequently, students submit their portion of their application but fail to double-check that recommendations, transcripts, and test scores have also been sent to the college. Remember that it is your responsibility to ensure that all your colleges receive all your required credentials — it is not the responsibility of the colleges to which you apply.
We suggest that you ask your teachers and guidance counselors for recommendations early in your senior year. These people are providing an invaluable service to you, and it is important to respect their time. Do not approach them a week before the application deadline to request a recommendation. Perhaps you should add a "Recommendation Request" date to your calendar (see #2). It is also important for you to provide your teachers and counselors with addressed envelopes and adequate postage to ensure that your letters and transcripts are mailed to the appropriate college.
Don't rely on third-party sources or hearsay for your college information.
In advising you on putting together your college deadlines calendar, we informed you that going to the source was the best approach to find good information. The same can be said for the rest of your college process. Applying to colleges can be confusing, because many different schools have different requirements. Make sure that you investigate these on your own. Remember that the college application is your responsibility.
If, for example, it is unclear what the University's policy is on the new SAT examination, don't ask your friend. Go to the source. If you take the new SAT but do not also take two SAT Subject Tests of your choice, you might find yourself in a predicament once the review process begins. (As an alternative, applicants may take the ACT with optional Writing exam.) Then take it one step further by finding the deadline by which these tests need to be taken, and add it to your calendar. (All standardized tests must be taken by December of your senior year in order to apply to Boston College.)
If you can't find the answer to your questions after reviewing a Viewbook or the college's web site, pick up the phone and call the college or university. Most have toll-free numbers. That's one of the reasons we're here.
Always print a copy of your application.
Whether you apply electronically or with a paper application, it is critical that you make a copy of your application. While it rarely happens, there is always the chance that a college might not receive your application. One year, for example, anthrax hoaxes caused mail services to be significantly delayed in several major cities. Because it delayed the delivery of applications for our Early Action deadline, these students were asked to fax a copy of their application to the admission office for processing.
Another common situation involves students who submit electronic applications. When thousands of students around the country are using an electronic web site to submit their applications on the eve of their deadlines (see # 3), it can take several minutes for the submission to be received. Last year, some applicants logged off of their computers before receiving a confirmation that their application was received by their college. If they did not print a copy of their application, they were in dire straits when the college informed them that they hadn't received their application. Whether it's your college application this year or your federal income taxes one day, the same rule applies. Always make a copy!
Challenge yourself as much as possible during your senior year.
Many people in the media, and even in education, put a slanted emphasis on the importance of the academic rigor of your studies in your junior year. Most college admission committees, however, feel that the work in your senior year is just as important. As you look at selective colleges and universities, you will find that their applicant pools will be filled with students who went the extra mile to take honors and AP level courses. If you can handle them you should, too.
To make yourself as competitive as possible, as you select your senior schedule, make sure you consider taking courses in each of the five major subject areas: English, math, natural science, social science, and foreign language. As an example, if it is offered, this means delving into Spanish AP, even though you reached Spanish IV in your junior year. By taking Spanish I in the eighth grade, you were putting yourself in a position to challenge yourself academically. If you stop in your junior year when you could have gone farther, you are in no better position than are your classmates who began Spanish I in the ninth grade and completed Spanish IV in senior year.
This does not mean that you should take AP courses in every subject if your performance will significantly suffer. In the areas where you excel, however, selective colleges and universities would expect you to challenge yourself as much as possible. If your school doesn't offer honors or AP courses in a particular area, then explore the subject area as far as your school's curriculum will allow you. Colleges can't expect you to do more than that.
We realize that this Feature contains a lot of information. None of these tips was long enough to be an entire Feature of its own, but together they should give you some valuable advice in the college process. Good luck as you embark on this next stage in your life. If you follow these tips, we feel that you will be that much closer to reaching your goals.