How to Apply to College
The most crucial aspect of getting into college is, obviously, the application—so start working on it as soon as possible. Your application should accomplish all of the following: display your academic and extracurricular achievements, convey your distinguishing characteristics, and be cleanly written. Remember: those who are reading your application are reading hundreds or thousands of ones just like it. So be unique, grab attention, and always spell check.
Here’s what to include and what to avoid:
Keep it basic. Your name, email, phone number, address, and the name of your high school—or whatever else is asked for on the application. Don’t leave spaces blank unless they aren’t required. But ensure your information is conveyed in a professional manner. The email address, for example, should not be firstname.lastname@example.org. And your voicemail message should not be clever or sarcastic. Not: “Hello? What? I can’t hear you. Just kidding! This is a message. Leave me one.” As far as information is concerned, boring is better. Just provide exactly what’s asked for.
Include any required information, like GPA. But know that here is where it pays to brag a bit. List any awards you have won in school, on the field, from a volunteer organization, any religious organizations, etc. Mention both what the award is called and who honored you by giving it. Also note what distinction the award is meant to recognize. This is especially important if the title of the award isn’t self-explanatory. For example, if you were Most Valuable Player on your high school baseball team, that explains itself. But other awards might not be so crystal clear.
Extracurricular activities are more important than they sound. They tell admissions staff who you are and how you’ve changed over time. Mention all clubs, societies, and community service you’ve been involved in. Emphasize any and all leadership positions you’ve held and what you accomplished at the helm. But don’t leave it as a few lines on a resume. Include bullet points that convey your activities in a little more detail.
Work experience, even if it was just a part-time job flipping burgers, conveys an important fact to admissions staff: that you’re willing to work hard. If it’s relevant, you can even include under what circumstances you worked (after school or on weekends, which adds a new level of dedication) and how you used the money (to save for college, to travel abroad, to develop your skill as a photographer, or whatever else). Be sure to mention any talents you learned on the job and, again, whether you held any leadership positions. Lastly, if your work experience at all relates to your intended major (if you have one), be sure to mention that.
Unique interests that don’t fall under other categories
Often in personal statements you’re asked, at least in part, to describe yourself. Skip run-of-the-mill descriptions. Write only what’s “definitively you”—that is, what makes you different from every other applicant. Find something. Talk about it, especially if it requires talent or has improved your academic abilities.
- Buzzwords or clichés. If you describe yourself as “smart”, “organized”, or “hard-working” you should know that so did everyone else. Instead of listing adjectives discuss examples of how you exemplify those traits. In other words, don’t write what you are. Write what you do.
- Neglecting the details. Terrible grammar, incorrect spellings, or using a semicolon when you should have used a dash—that conveys to admissions staff that you’re lazy, rushed, or didn’t pay attention. And those aren’t good things.
The point here: pay attention, do what’s asked of you, discover what makes you unique, and convey it clearly. Take your time, start your applications early, and don’t miss deadlines. And if you have terrible handwriting either complete your application online or dust off a typewriter.