October 2021

6 Tips for a Winning College Application

by Susan Tatsui-D’Arcy

College-bound seniors are off to a busy season as they juggle their 12th-grade classes and between 7-20 college applications. This year looks different because colleges are still reeling from COVID challenges with SATs and ACTS, campus tours, and interviews. Here are 6 tips to consider when organizing your college applications:

Choose colleges based on the majors offered
Most students make the mistake of choosing colleges based on their rankings or locations. Instead, research the majors you’re considering and choose the colleges that have programs that align with your interests. Check out their required courses and electives. You’ll be surprised to see the difference in courses offered at different colleges.

When to submit SAT/ACT scores if they’re “Test Optional”
Colleges know that students who are good test takers will find ways to take and submit the SAT or ACT. Some students travel hundreds of miles to take them. If your test scores are stronger than your GPA, submit them. If they’re weaker than your GPA, don’t submit them if test scores are optional. Some colleges are Test Blind, which means that they won’t consider test scores even if you submit them. The University of California (UCs) and California State University (CSUs) are test blind.

How to write intriguing essays and personal statements
When reading essays, admissions officers hope to learn something about you that isn’t included in the application. Tell stories that illustrate your personality and your passions. Don’t write about throwing that winning touchdown because thousands of other students will be writing similar stories. Instead tell them what makes you unique. Open with a hook that intrigues them so they’ll see what you’ll bring to their incoming class.

How to ask for strong letters of recommendation
Teachers write hundreds of letters of recommendation every fall and most use a few templates to streamline the process. By organizing a comprehensive resume with photos listing your projects, volunteer work, employment, and extracurricular activities, you’re giving them the insight and incentive to write a descriptive and positive recommendation. Include a cover letter to thank them for something valuable they’ve taught you, tell them something unique about yourself (project, business, extracurriculars), and give them a glimpse into what you hope to study in college. Make time to establish a positive relationship with them.

When to apply Early Decision, Early Action, and Regular Admission
While your odds of getting in are better if you apply Early Decision (ED) or Early Action (EA), only do so if your grades, SAT/ACT scores, and your projects are good. If you’re still trying to boost your GPA during the fall semester, apply regular decision so your extra weighted grade will be calculated in the overall GPA. If you’re hoping for better scores on a future SAT date, it’s better to wait for regular admission dates. However, if your GPA and test scores are solid, and your project is complete, then apply early and hear from the colleges by mid December. Remember ED decisions usually don’t include the best scholarships because colleges know you’re going to matriculate and they save their big scholarship offers to entice other students to enroll.

How to organize applications so you don’t miss deadlines
To reduce stress, enter each application’s deadline in a planner or digital calendar. Then starting with your first deadline, write first drafts of the essays and resumes, create portfolios for art and music applications, and collect other documentation. Enter each task into your planner by blocking off time to complete each item. Continue to add a new college every week. You’ll be juggling many colleges at various completion stages throughout the application season. Minimize extracurricular activities so you have time to manage all of your applications while maintaining good standing in your classes.

Colleges expect students to do their own work – so as tempting as it may be – parents, don’t write your kids’ essays, set up their interviews, or complete their applications. This is a good opportunity for your child to take responsibility for organizing each application and meeting all deadlines. Your child will mature and transform into a confident young adult during this senior year. Sit back, watch and marvel.

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