Every college career starts out with an application, and applying to college can be both exciting and scary as the applicant competes with others for a limited number of spots. The applicant will want their application to stand out from among the rest, which means that a lot of thought and effort must go into crafting it. While each school will have its own criteria for assessing applicants, it is still possible to improve an application so as to maximize the applicant’s chances of being chosen; factors like correctly timing the application and researching the institution can greatly affect an individual’s prospects. Below are a few bits of advice for successfully applying to a college.

1. Write an Excellent Application Essay

In other words, applicants should avoid writing the safe and generic essays that admissions officers see on a daily basis. They will need to be creative and original; most importantly, the applicant will need to reveal something about themselves that sets them apart from their competition. The admissions staff will want to know how the applicant thinks as well as how they handle certain situations. The application essay should be expressive of the individual’s own thought process and ideas, and it is best to have it proofread by an English teacher or someone with strong English language skills to eliminate any errors. Applicants should remember that the admissions officers want to know about them, their thoughts and ideas; any editorial alterations to the essay should be minimal. Applicants should note that admissions staff are experienced at ferreting out work written by others.

2. Apply Early

Admissions departments at many schools report having to cope with a slew of applications on the deadline day, which makes it difficult for them to single any one student out from the rest. By sending in an application early, a student can separate themselves from the pack and signal that they are serious about attending the school.

3. Avoid Ignoring Clearly-Stated Instructions

Admissions staff may take this as a sign that an individual is unprepared for the complexities of college life. Students often fill out online forms incorrectly because they have failed to thoroughly read instructions; this makes the work of reading their application more difficult. Other signs that a student is unable or unwilling to heed instructions come in the form of asking questions when the answers have already been given or are readily available on the school’s website. College life requires a certain amount of independence and self-guided learning, so applicants should read materials carefully and strive to find answers themselves before needlessly spamming a school’s admissions department.

4. Use Letters of Recommendation Carefully

Applicants should ensure that the person referring them is capable of expressing their endorsement properly and has only positive things to say about them. Also, it is best to use a letter of recommendation only if its contents are different from those of the application essay. Applicants should note that the source of the letter is sometimes as important as its contents—a recommendation from a teacher in whose class the applicant has performed well is not quite as impressive as one from the teacher of a class that they struggled to pass. Just like the application essay, letters of recommendation should feel heartfelt and honest.

5. Avoid Being Disrespectful to Admissions Staff

While this may seem obvious, applying to colleges is more stressful for some than for others; not everyone is capable of managing that stress well. It is important that applicants avoid letting their emotions overcome common sense and derail their attempts to get into a school. They should always be well-mannered and courteous to admissions staff.

The most important thing to remember when applying to college is to always be honest and open. The goal is to find a college that is a good fit for the applicant, and this cannot be done if they are not candid and forthcoming.

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Featured photo credit: Amazing crimson/red sunrise over Benbrook Lake in Fort worth, TX via Shutterstock

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