Materials You Will Need
- Common Application/whatever application your school uses
- Common Application essay
- Recommendation letters
- Transcript request form
- Test scores (many schools do not require these now)
- Supplemental essays (if school has them)
- Application fee (you can avoid some of these with a fee waiver)
- Any art supplements/other supplements you may want to include
- Alumni interview (if school has them)
It is also helpful to have an organizer such as this one on hand as you select colleges and apply to them. You will also have to decide what schools you want to apply to regular decision and if you want to apply to schools through early action/early decision. Early action means that you stand out to the school as a more prepared candidate, and there is a smaller pool of applicants. Acceptance rates tend to be higher through early action, however this is generally because early action candidates are more qualified overall. Many schools have restrictive early action which means that you are only allowed to apply to their school early and no other private schools early (you can still apply early to public schools). Restrictive early action hence allows you to increase your demonstrated interest and show that you are more likely to go to that school if the school accepts you. Early Decision means that if the school accepts you, you are contracted to go. You also are only allowed to apply to one school with early decision. Early decision generally has higher acceptance rates because their yield rate(% of students that attend after being accepted) after acceptances is automatically 100%. If you are not ready to apply early, do not apply early.
Here is a page with great resources for all aspects of college apps and there's a guide as well: https://www.fairopportunityproject.org/
Letters of Recommendation:
Get letters of recommendation from a teacher that you know likes you, and make sure to ask if they can give you a "positive" recommendation letter. If you had a very high grade in their class, it is likely that the teacher will have positive feelings about you, however it is not a guarantee in either direction. You should ideally have a strong connection to your recommender and they should know you very well. If possible, you may want to choose recommenders who have had the option to get to know you in class and outside of class in an extracurricular. Always ask for a recommendation letter in person, and it is best to ask teachers as early as possible, even at the end of junior year. You should hand the teacher a folder with your senior fact sheet, resume, and if you would like, a list of the colleges you are thinking of applying to. A nice bonus is to add a handwritten note. Make sure you give your teachers as much information as possibly, and try to convey how you want your recommenders to portray you. Some schools will take additional recommendation letters, so be sure to check your school's website to see if this is the case. Additional recommendation letters from other teachers, club advisors, or other community members can help to showcase a different side of you and can give you an edge. If you're not sure, you can always email the admissions office to ask.
Here is a great resource for getting good recommendation letters from an ex-admissions officer: link
Another good site with lots of solid advice for getting recommendation letters: Step-by-Step Guide
Ah, college essays, the dreaded, horrible bane of every senior's existence. College essays can be a source of tears, frustration, and familial disputes; however, they don't have to be. If handled well, these essays can be thought provoking platforms for self-discovery, and can sometimes even be fun.
There will be two types of essays that you may have to write for college: the 400-650 word Common Application essay which will be sent to all of the colleges that you apply to on the Common Application, and supplemental essays--school specific essays that some schools require. Your senior year english teachers will help you develop your common app essay, however it is always good to start thinking about the essay earlier. In your junior year, and over the summer before your senior year, try and jot down some ideas that you might use for your essay. They can be almost anything and everything as long as you can write an essay about the idea that can showcase who you are as a person, how you view the world and/or how you think. For me, I had a lot of ideas but only a few of them turned out to be something that could really reflect me in 650 words. College essays can be funny, sad, scientific, artistic and everything in between. I knew someone who got into Yale with an essay about how much they loved Chipotle (an understandable sentiment). No matter what you choose, make sure you take your time to develop it. Pester your teacher or another trusted advisor to read and reread your essay. Trade essays with your friends and exchange advice. Edit, edit, and edit. Know that your essay is one of the most important if not the most important piece of your application. It is the piece that makes you a person and not just numbers on a page. It is the piece that will either make the admissions committee root for you or regard your application with apathy. Take your time and make it good. Also be able to let ideas go. Perhaps you really, really liked an idea but it's just not feeling right when you write it down. It's okay to let that idea go to pursue another idea. Also make sure to leave time to take a step back from your essay if you are getting really frustrated with it. Let it breathe and then go back to it.
For supplemental essays, most of the same advice applies. However, since these essays are school specific, make sure your interest in the school comes across. Furthermore, you can look up the mission and goals of the school to keep in the back of your mind as you write your supplemental essays. Do not sacrifice yourself to gear your responses directly to the school, but think about if you would make a good fit at that school judging from your supplemental essays. Supplemental essays word counts can be as short as 30 characters (these essays are harder than they look) and as long as your common app essay or even longer. Some of these essays actually can be really fun (just look at UChicago's supplemental prompts).
Whatever you do, try not to procrastinate on these essays even if it may be tempting.
A website full of tips: 35+ tips
Essay advice from an admissions counselor: Advice from the other side
List of example essays: Top 41 Essays
Essays about work, money and social class: New York Times
All supplemental essay prompts from every school 2019-2020: College Vine
Advice for answering the supplemental essays for the top 100 schools for 2019-2020: College Vine
*Remember to take all advice with a grain of salt. Everyone will have conflicting advice, so make sure that the essay is true to you. In the end, if you like your essay and are satisfied with it, then you should be good to go.
It may be confusing how to choose the most important activities to you to report on the Common Application, how to rank them, and how to write about them to show yourself in the best light. Explaining your extracurriculars well can provide a boost for you, but doing so is not extremely important. However, if you have extra time or are aiming for the perfect application, here are some resources on how to write compelling summaries of extracurricular experience. Also make sure you think carefully about all of the things that you have done over your four years in high school. If it took time outside of class to do, then it counts as an extracurricular. This includes working experience, clubs, volunteer experience and others. If you had to take care of a sibling or work to support your family, then you can list those too. Colleges just want to know that you are putting your time into meaningful activities.
How to Write ECs: Common App Activities List
More advice on writing activities: College Vine