College Application Spotlight: What You Need to Know

Applying for college is a big leap into adulthood that can feel scary and overwhelming at first. You may not know where to start, but you know you gotta start somewhere...STAT.

The good news is, you can start right here! Today, I’m breaking down exactly what to expect during your college application process so that it’s easier to tackle and send out ASAP. Believe me, the sooner you can send out your college applications, the less stressed you'll be and the smoother your Senior year will be, so let’s get started!

Meet the Common Application

Back before you were even born, you actually had to fill out college applications one by one. By hand! It was a painstaking process that took forever to complete. I remember my old applications to Brown and MIT and how I had to restart them multiple times because my handwriting was too big and I couldn't fit one of the essays in the allotted space!

You’re lucky to be alive in the 21st century, because now you don’t have to go through all of that. Hundreds of colleges all across the country have started accepting what’s known as the Common Application.

The Common Application, also called the Common App, is just that — common. You fill out one common application online and then you can submit that application to multiple colleges, as long as they accept the Common App. 

Now, keep in mind that some colleges may ask for additional statements and mini-essays. So, while the Common App definitely makes life easier, you’ll still need to pay close attention to each and every one of those application requirements.

Over 600 colleges nationwide accept the Common App, so fingers crossed that your top choices are included on the list. Go here to find out if the colleges that you're eyeing accept the Common App.


Be Yourself on Your Application

One of the worst things you can do on your college application is to lie and try to make yourself look like someone that you’re not. First of all, we all know lying and liars suck. Second of all, you’re already an awesome person, so you don’t need to embellish your application or skirt around the truth.

Colleges will appreciate your honesty. The college that accepts you for who you are is the right college for you  guaranteed.

Start with basic information

The first part of your college application is simple: it’s basic information that you already know about yourself, such as your name (duh), address, email address, and phone number. If you don’t already know your Social Security number, you’ll need that, too. 

Your application will also ask you about your parents, including basic information about who they are and what they do for a living. You will need them handy for this short section of the Common App.

Fill out your academic information

Next, you’ll need to fill out information about your high school, including the name of your counselor and his or her phone number and email address. So, be prepared with that information.

List all of the courses you’ve taken (and plan to take, if you’re submitting early), along with any honors and AP classes in the fields provided. You’ll also need to list all of your test scores for APs, the ACT, and the SAT.

List extracurricular activities

Next is one of the most important sections on your college application: the extracurricular section. College admission officers love to see a student who actively participates in his or her community. It’s a good sign that this student (you) will be engaged once enrolled at the school and have something to contribute to the campus.

Remember, they don’t just look at grades and test scores, they also take into consideration the type of person you are. 

List any hobbies you enjoy, organizations you volunteer for and any special distinctions you’ve earned in this section. "Extracurricular" is pretty much any activity that wasn’t required by your school for you to do to graduate.

But DO try to organize them (or "clump" them together) so that your list paints a picture of someone memorable who has a definite place on campus.  Like, are you the punk rock bassist who is obsessed with rescue dogs and wants to be a vet? Or the "language girl" who speaks Hebrew, English, French, Latin, and German? Colleges don't care so much about having "well-rounded" students as they care about having every type of person on their campus who's fantastic at what he or she does.

And don't forget: do you have a job? List any job you’ve had during high school on your college application—it shows a strong work ethic!

Reach Out for Recommendations Early

There are parts to your college application that you can’t fill out on your own, such as letters of recommendation. You’ll need to ask adults you respect and like (and hopefully, vice-versa!) to write up a letter of recommendation for you.

The Personal Essay

This is a part of the college application that many students dread, but you don’t have to. You don’t have to be the best writer to submit a winning and compelling personal statement. You just have to be yourself.

In the Common App, you’ll need to write one personal essay of 650 words. Although you can’t write about any topic that comes to mind, this is actually a good thing. Who wants to struggle to come up with a topic that may or may not show off why you’re the right pick?

Every year, the Common App creates essay prompts that can help you focus your thoughts and reveal the strength of your character. You’ll find the 2016-2017 essay prompts here.

Keep in mind that the college you’re applying to will probably ask for a supplemental essay (or several), even if you’ve already written one for the Common App. Don't think you're done just because your main essay is! Plan early!

Give yourself plenty of time to write these personal statements. Ideally, you should write them and then take a few days before you start to edit it. You’ll also want to ask your mom or dad or another adult you trust to look over the essay for any grammatical errors. (Just make sure they don't take YOUR voice out of your essay!)

Final Thoughts

It may seem scary at first, but the college application process is streamlined and student-friendly. Just give yourself a head start on the process so that you’re not stressed out and have plenty of time. Remember to submit well ahead of deadlines for your own sanity. Good luck!