Applying to college used to be easy. You submitted an application, sent in your test scores and official transcript and a decision was made.
But things have changed. These days, application requirements vary, but most schools require that you submit more than just a form. The supporting documents help the admissions committee decide if you and the school are a good fit.
Most schools have at least two ways to complete the application form: paper or online. Some schools allow you to submit the Common Application. The Common Application is an application you complete once and submit to several schools. Information about this form is available at www.commonapp.org. The information on your form will help the committee match materials to the correct person, so make sure the information is correct.
The forms for 2011-2012 are available August 1, 2011. You can see a preview of the new form on the website and after July 1, 2011 an updated list of all the colleges that accept the Common Application.
High School Transcript
You must request copies of your high school transcript to be sent directly to the colleges to which you apply. If you earned college credit in high school or are applying as a transfer student, you must request transcripts from any college or university attended. The transcripts should show classes taken and grades earned. Committees will look at your overall grades and the progress you have made.
Standardized Test Score
Most colleges and universities require that you submit SAT or ACT test scores. Test scores help admissions committees measure your probable success in college. Some schools take your highest composite score, while others take the best combination of scores from different sections. Contact each school to which you are applying to see how they consider scores. It may determine whether or not you take the SAT or ACT and how many times you take the standardized test.
Letters of Recommendation
Depending on a school’s requirements, a guidance counselor, a teacher, or another adult may write a letter or complete a form about you. Give your recommender the form or instructions well in advance of the application deadline. The letter should include your full name, in what capacity they know you, and the length of time they have known you. The person should attest to your capabilities and character.
A personal essay may be the toughest and most time-consuming document to put together. It is important to find your voice because this is the chance for the committee to get to know you beyond the numbers. Read the questions carefully and follow directions. You will want to brainstorm ideas, create rough drafts, and have others read your essay. Certain characteristics are true for a number of students, so talk about what makes you special. It is not enough to just say you have lived in an interesting place or had a unique experience. You need to elaborate on what you learned or how you have changed because of this experience. Most importantly, proofread! proofread! proofread!
If you are using the Common Application and sending the same essay to several colleges, make certain the essay is written so that it does not matter which school receives it. The admission committee frowns upon finding a reference to wanting to attend a different school in the body of the essay (this happens a lot according to admission committee members).
While not required by all schools, an interview can be another way for the committee to get to know you. Contact schools to find out if they offer interviews. Most interviews are done with an admission representative, and it is that person’s job to get to know you. Be prepared to answer questions about yourself. “Yes/no” answers will make the interview quite boring, so be ready to elaborate on answers and to have a real conversation with the other person. The representative may ask you if you have any questions. It is best to have a few questions prepared.
Make sure you meet all application deadlines. In most cases, you need to have a completed application file by the deadline, which means that all documents must be turned in by that date. Applications postmarked by the deadline may be OK, but you will want to contact a school to find out what their policy is.