The college application process is a stressful time. With thousands of colleges in America and varying requirements for acceptance, choosing and applying to your favorite can seem like a full-time job.

To ease the stress, take notice of the details of each college’s admission requirements and try to stay organized. This will help you to stay focused and refrain from making avoidable mistakes that could cost you acceptance.

The Beginning

By now, you most likely have researched colleges and narrowed your selections. At this time, it’s important to gather the application process details for each school and organize your files. Attach the instruction for each application to each file and research the college online to ensure you haven’t missed any part of the application process. Organization is crucial when applying for colleges. Admissions will assess whether you followed directions which could help or hurt your chance of acceptance.

The Application

Don’t wait until right before the deadline! Give yourself plenty of time to fill out the application or you may be at risk of making unnecessary mistakes.

Enlist Help

The college application process generally requires at least one letter of recommendation from a teacher or school counselor. Use this person to review your application and essay for mistakes and also to offer suggestions.


This section baffles many potential students so it’s worth discussing. The Achievements section is where you want to distinguish yourself from other applicants. List any academic honors you received since your freshman year of high school. You will also want to list any extracurricular activities, volunteer programs, or any other summer or after-school programs you joined.

If you think you have not achieved anything since freshman year, think again. Colleges want to see experience. Anything that was not part of your daily school routine can be classified as “extracurricular”. Were you involved in any after-school activities? Did you ever work at a summer job? Do you collect vintage baseball cards? Anything that makes you interesting can be listed in the Achievements section.

Just be careful not to “overdo” it. While colleges may want to know about your vintage baseball card collection, they may not want to know that you play ball every day with your friends after school. Know your boundaries and you should do just fine.

The Essay

Colleges require an admissions essay because they want to gauge your ability to write as well as assess your personality. Though each college will weigh the essay portion of the application differently, most use it as a determining factor for acceptance.

Here are a few tips that will help you write a successful essay:

  • Be Yourself – Stay away from what you think your college will want. Write about what means something to you; in this way your essay will be unique.
  • Follow Instructions – Answer the exact question asked for the essay. It’s easy to lose focus and veer away from the topic. Notice your tendencies and stay on track.
  • Be Creative – If your essay describes your process for winning a trophy for a tennis competition, don’t start with a sentence like, “I trained 4 hours every day during the day and sometimes on weekends”. Rephrase it creatively like, “Every day of the week I invested time and energy to reaching my goal and bringing home the trophy.”
  • Great Introduction – The introduction is the first content an admissions officer will read. Make sure it is creative and grabs attention. Don’t summarize the entire essay, but leave a little mystery to make the reader want to read more.
  • Leave your Draft – After you write your first draft, leave it for a few days and then come back to it. You may see things you didn’t see before and find ways to enhance it.
  • Review and Edit – Ask people you know to read and critique it. If possible, consider a professional editor.
  • Don’t Stress – After all is said and done, go with your gut. If you over think the process, it could stifle your creative juices. When you feel the essay is complete and it is your best work, leave it and send it off with the application.

Additional Materials

If you desire to send additional material (i.e. portfolio, personal work, blog) it may help your application as long as the college allows it. It’s important to follow the instructions in the admissions packet. In some cases, excess material can actually hurt your chances for admission. Consult with your school counselor if you need help with this matter.

Sit Back and Wait

Once your application is complete, the next step is to sit back, relax and wait for an answer. If you put time and effort into your application and you know you did your best, you can be proud of your effort regardless of the outcome.

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