5 Ways to Get Ahead on College Applications

Ready or not, college application season is here! You’ve spent months touring campuses, researching schools and narrowing down your list, which means it’s finally time to put your preparation to the test. Lucky for you, countless collegiettes have survived the process and are here to share their advice. We’ve put together a list of the most important tips you need to know before you start applying to schools.

1. Remember to request your transcripts

Your high school transcript is one of the most important elements of your college application. However, most high schools put the responsibility on you to ensure that your transcript ends up in the hands of each college you apply to.

Because every high school is different, it’s important to talk to your guidance counselors and teachers now about the process your school uses to request and deliver transcripts. If your school requests transcripts electronically, they should refer you to a website like Parchment, which allows you to create an account and the site breaks down the steps from there. It's important to request a transcript for each school and scholarship you're applying to as early as you can, rather than waiting and requesting one at a time, as this can slow down the application process.

"When it came to requesting transcripts, I realized having more of them than I needed was better than not having enough and having to go through the process of ordering more when there were deadlines to meet," says Summer Ford, a senior at Boston University. "I realized [later on] that it would have been better if I just had my transcript on hand and ready to use as soon as I completed an application, rather than finishing the application and having to wait for a new transcript to be processed."

Remember, a college won’t even look at your application until they’ve received every part of it—including your transcript. Don’t wait!

2. Familiarize yourself with each application

Whether you’re using the Common Application or individual applications for each school, be sure to familiarize yourself with the format before you dive in and start filling information out. “Plan out your schedule and when you’re going to complete each application,” says Emily Settle, a freshman at the University of Southern Illinois. “Many applications are a lot more tedious than they initially look, and you don’t want to find yourself rushing through it because you didn’t save yourself enough time.”

Which applications require long essays? Which require resumes? These are all important questions to ask yourself ahead of time so that you’re prepared when it comes time to start filling them out.

3. Know the “letters of rec” etiquette

While asking a teacher for a letter of recommendation may not seem like a big deal, it’s important to remember that you are only one out of the 10, 20 or even 50 students who are requesting a letter of recommendation from them this year. Not to mention, scholarship applications are often awarded last-minute and usually require a letter as well. 

"I remember my teachers telling us that they wouldn't be writing any letters of recommendation over winter break, and that we should ask them well before then," says Summer. "Of course, I applied for a scholarship over winter break at the last minute with a deadline that came right before our break ended. I was nervous about asking my teachers for more letters, considering what they had told students, but I asked anyway. They ended up falling back on their word and writing my letter of recommendation on their vacation. They told me that since I was such a hard worker in their classes, there was no way they could say no. It pays off to be a diligent student and have a good relationship with your teachers, because they'll likely be there during crunch time when you need it!"

Be courteous of their time and ask now to avoid the rush that comes right before the November 1 application deadline. Talk to them in person before submitting your application, and be sure to follow up with a thank you card or something sweet. After all, they’ll be much more inclined to write you a killer letter if you make the effort to ask for it face-to-face (rather than just letting the Common App send an email for you!)

4. Make sure your essays are proofread

With the start of a new school year comes new classes and a never-ending pile of homework, which means it can be hard to find time to dedicate solely to your college essays. However, recruiting an older friend, guidance counselor or trusted teacher to proofread your essays can help you ensure you’re submitting your best possible work.

"Having two or three sets of eyes [look over your essays] is certainly better than one," says Emily. "Not to mention, having someone who has been through the application process is even better because they have an idea of what colleges are looking for. It's really easy to skip over your own mistakes." 

Before completing your applications, make it a goal to have at least two or three people look over each of them. Whether you receive positive feedback or constructive criticism, you’ll feel more prepared and less stressed when it comes time to submit your final drafts.

5. Own the process

Amidst the stress of the college application process, it can be easy to lose sight of yourself and what you really care about. “Everyone says this, but at the end of the day the college process really is yours,” says Diana Muha, a freshman at Denison University. “It’s not your parents or your friends so you have to do what you want.”

While many people will offer input and their own advice, stay true to yourself and remember what you’re truly looking for out of your college experience! If you let your passion and personality show through your applications, completing them will be a lot less tedious.

When it comes to the college application process, the sooner the better! Manage your time, organize the necessary information and start working on your apps as soon as you can. Leaving yourself time to research, seek help and ask questions is the most important thing you can do for yourself throughout the entire application season. Take it from us—you’ll thank yourself later. Take a deep breath, collegiettes! You’ve got this!

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About The Author

Brianna Susnak is a sophomore at Indiana University Bloomington where she studies journalism and Spanish. Her passions include social media, music, traveling, culture and the arts. Outside of class, she hosts her own weekly radio show and writes for the campus newspaper. In her free time, you can find her running, eating Nutella out of the jar and annoying her neighbors with loud music. Follow her on Twitter @briannasus.