The Most Important Advice for College Applications

Tips You Need to Know for Applying to College📢

Are you applying to college or planning on applying to college soon? If so, you've come to the right place! Applying to colleges can be stressful, but it doesn't have to be scary with some organization and a plan. Going to college is exciting, so remember that even though applications are tedious, all of your work is going towards a new experience. Here are five tips to help you get through the work of your college applications!

Big Tip #1: Decide Where You Want to Apply 💡

Needs and Wants List ✅

There are many different strategies you can use to figure out which colleges you should apply to. One way to

narrow down potential colleges is to list your needs and wants for a college.

For needs, make a list of things like what majors you are interested in, how expensive the college should be (remember to consider any scholarships you can get through the college), location, accessibility, resources, and other things you need to have. If you're considering applying to college undecided, check out if the college has flexibility in declaring a major!

For wants, list things that you think would be nice to be a part of your college experience. Maybe you want to go to a school in a city instead of a smaller town, maybe you want to go to a school with good sports teams, or maybe you want to go to a school with sororities/fraternities.

Which criteria go on your needs or wants list depends on you; what might be a want for one person could be a need for someone else, so take time to decide what factors are most important to you.

College Tours 🗺️

Image Courtesy of PrepScholar

Another way to figure out where you should apply is by going on college tours. This is not helpful for everyone, but being on a college campus can help decide whether or not you should attend that college. Now that things are reopening a bit in the US, more colleges are doing in-person tours. College tours can also help you show demonstrated interest.

If you really want to see what it's like to live on campus, some colleges also have programs where you can stay overnight or stay for a full day at their college. However, many colleges have virtual tours on their websites, so you do not have to travel to a college to see what its campus looks like.

During a college tour, pay attention to what the classrooms and study spaces for students are like. Some things you could ask questions about during a college tour are;

  • What kind of student tutoring is available?
  • What on-campus jobs exist?
  • How many years are students required to or typically live in dorms?
  • What is the college town like?
  • What do the labs look like or, do underclassmen typically get to spend time in labs?

Before going on college tours, you can also make a list of questions you are curious about to help you learn about the campus.

Another thing you can try with college tours is going by yourself. Sometimes it can be helpful to go on college tours with family or friends (especially if family or friends have gone to college and know what to look for), but sometimes, going on a tour yourself can help you get a better feel of what it's like to be on campus. It can also help you to take responsibility for your college application and decision process--after all, at the end of the day where you go to college is your decision to make.

Overall, don't overthink college tours! There are many colleges that you could attend and have a great experience at, so don't get caught up finding the one "perfect" college. Take time to think of what you want in a college and ask questions while you're on a college tour. Apply to the colleges you like and don't apply to the ones you're less sure about.

In addition to college tours, you can check out these top Twitter threads to find out what college is like and get some great advice.

Big Tip #2: Working Efficiently On Your College Applications 📜

Don't Apply to A Million Colleges! 😫

When deciding which colleges to apply to, the last thing to consider is that you won't want to waste your time and money applying to every college under the sun. Still, it's a good idea to apply to a variety of colleges to ensure that you have choices from the ones that accept your application.

There isn't a perfect number of colleges to apply to, and if you are trying to get into very competitive colleges, you will probably apply to more colleges than if you weren't. Personally, I was not trying to get into very competitive colleges and was focused on getting as much scholarship money as possible, and I ended up applying to 6 or 7 colleges. Everyone’s focus is different and you have to ask yourself what your goal is.  Do you want to be close to home, graduate with little to no debt, or attend the most prestigious school possible! Everyone’s goal is different but remember, at the end of the day, the most important thing is attaining the degree that will allow you to pursue a career that makes you happy.

If you have one school you're set on going to and know that you'll get in, just apply to that one and maybe another as a backup. If you are trying to find a school you can get the most scholarship money from, you'll probably want to apply to 5-10 schools. If you're trying to get into very competitive schools, you could apply to more, but I wouldn't recommend applying to more than 15-20 colleges because that will cost you a good amount of money and time. If you're feeling overwhelmed by all the applications and aren't sure where to start, or maybe just need some help on the college essay section, check out these top 10 Tiktoks to hear the best advice on college applications and learn what college is like.

While it's not a bad idea to apply to a bunch of schools with cheap or no application fees to try to get the most scholarship money possible, don't waste your time applying to colleges you can't go to. If you know that you can neither get into a college nor realistically pay for it, don't spend hours applying there. With that said, you can apply to schools that are a little out of your budget or are difficult to get into because you never know where you can get in and get scholarships unless you apply.

Ultimately deciding to apply to a college comes down to if you really want to go to that school or not. Don't feel like you need to apply to schools just to say you got in. There is a lot of emphasis in the college application process to get into "elite" or "competitive" colleges. If you do want to go to a highly competitive college, that's great, but if you don't, do not feel pressure to apply to them. You do not need to get into an elite college. College is hard wherever you go, and a degree is a degree. There are definitely some cool opportunities at elite colleges, but you do not need to go to an elite college to have an amazing college experience.
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Big Tip #3: Make a Spreadsheet 🗂️

Now that you know where you want to apply, you'll want to figure out what you need to do to apply to each of those colleges. A helpful way to organize this is to make a spreadsheet with application due dates, fees, requirements.

First, put those colleges into a table or spreadsheet. Here's a sample of what that can look like:

The most important thing you should add to your spreadsheet is DUE DATES! Make sure you know when your application is due and know if there is an earlier deadline to apply if you want to get scholarships through the college. This also applies to early action and early decision deadlines.

Once you know what you need for your applications and their deadlines, you'll want to organize the materials you'll need. Make a folder or a google doc that contains a list of all the activities and jobs you've had during high school.

Pro Tip: If you are an underclassman, start this list now!

If you're working on applying to colleges, take time to think through and make a list of everything you've accomplished during high school. You'll also want to get a copy of your high school transcript. You may be able to log in to your school's grade portal and print an unofficial transcript for yourself, or you will need to talk to a guidance counselor at your school to print for you. The transcript should list every class you've taken during high school and what your grades were for each of them.

Many college applications require you to list the courses you've taken during high school, so it's helpful to have a copy of your transcript. A lot of colleges will also want your transcript sent to them from your high school, so you may need to talk to a guidance counselor or administrative assistant to do that as well.

Now that you have your accomplishments list and transcript, check each of your college applications to see any other materials you should gather right away. For example, some colleges require letters of recommendation, and if you need one of those, you should ask for it as soon as possible. A lot of colleges also require you to fill out a personal information section with your basic information.

This is easy to fill out but is time-consuming. If you can work on the application and save it as you go, I'd recommend filling out these personal information sections whenever you have downtime throughout the summer. If you have to fill out the entire application in one sitting (it doesn't have a save and come back option), make sure you look through how long it will take you to fill out the application, and plan a time to fill it out. You don't want to be caught off guard without enough time to complete your application, so make sure you look through all of the applications you want to complete before working on them and check out this guide overviewing the college process deadlines.

Big Tip #4: Write College Essays/Personal Statements Over the Summer ✍️

Once you know what you need to apply to each of your colleges, you'll want to start writing your essays! If you don't have any college applications that require a short answer or essay, congrats, you do not have to complete this step! If you do have to complete any writing requirements for your applications, here are some tips on how to get that done efficiently.
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First off, you're going to want to write your application essays over the summer. During your senior year, you're going to want to get involved with and go to as many school events as you can because stuff like that is always more fun when you're a senior. You probably are also going to be taking more challenging classes and be busy with activities and work. Because of this, you're most likely not going to have a lot of downtime during the school year. I'd suggest at least starting your application essays over the summer. It's not the end of the world if you do not write them until the school year, but it will make your life easier if you start your essays over break.

To minimize the number of essays you have to write, try applying to schools through the Common App. The Common App is one application that allows you to apply to a bunch of different colleges. Not all colleges accept the Common App, but a lot do. To see if your colleges accept the Common App, go to and create an account. If your colleges take the Common App, you can use one essay and submit it to all of those colleges.
Image Courtesy of Common App

Once you've figured out which colleges will take the Common App and which won’t, make a list of the essay prompts and their requirements.

Pro Tip: Most college applications have word count requirements.

You're going to want to write your essays somewhere that you can save them (not directly on an application website), so I would suggest making a google doc or a word document for each of the essays. Once again, CHECK THE REQUIREMENTS. On each of the documents for your essays, add the prompt word for word and write down all of the requirements from the application. You don't want to rewrite essays because you missed a requirement.

Once you have a document for each essay, plan which one you will write first. I'd recommend starting with either the one that is due the soonest or the one that needs to be the longest. Start with an outline for the essay that follows the format of a typical essay you would write for your high school English classes (intro, body paragraphs, conclusion unless a different format is specified on the application), and have someone proofread it when you are done. You could ask a teacher to proofread the essay, but it is also effective to have a parent, older sibling, or friend proofread the essay as well. If you are trying to get into a competitive program or want suggestions on the topic and structure of your essay, you could always talk to a teacher, guidance counselor, or advisor to see if they will help you proofread it. It’s helpful to run essays through a free online grammar checker (there are many out there if you google them) because that is an easy way to fix little mistakes and make sure your essay looks professional. It's a good idea to download a plugin like Grammarly for college anyways!

If you have trouble figuring out what to write your essay about, don't worry, there is something from your high school experience that will make a good college essay! If you have been in sports or activities during high school, list examples of when you have shown positive character traits in those activities to refresh your memory. If you have had a job during high school, make that same list about times you have done positive things at that job. Also, write down any cool experiences you've had during the past four years. This could be volunteering at your church, being a TA, taking a class you were passionate about, starting a club, or any other number of things. These lists should help jog your memory and help you pick an experience you can write about.

If a college has a very open-ended essay prompt and you still are having trouble figuring out your essay topic, go to the college's website and see if they have "core values" listed anywhere. A lot of workplaces and colleges have a list of "core values" (things like focus, leadership, sustainability, etc.). When you are applying to college or a job, make sure that you include these "core values" in your essays or interviews. Also, make sure to include words similar to essay prompts that are in job/college application descriptions. This is helpful not only for college applications but also for jobs because some employers will search for specific words from the job description in applications. Using a college or workplace's core values in your application essay will also show that you will fit into that college/workplace well.

For more advice on college essays and other components of your college application, read through these top Twitter threads. You can also check out these awesome YouTube content creators for great college application advice.

Big Tip #5: Submit Your Applications 📨

Once you have all of the materials you need and have written your essays, it's time for you to submit your application! Congrats on being almost done! Most applications will require you to fill out personal information (like your name, address, high school, etc.). This information is easy to fill out but is time-consuming, so make sure you set aside some time to get it done. Once you have filled out your personal information and double-checked it (always double-check your applications!), copy and paste any short answer or essay responses from where you wrote them initially into your application. Once again, double-check your information! You do not want to get rejected from a college on a technicality. You can also have a friend or family member check through your application with you to make sure that you haven't missed anything or entered information incorrectly.

Once you're done checking over your application, hit submit! Congrats on being done with college applications! Applying to colleges is both an exciting and stressful time in life, and you should be proud of yourself for working hard on your applications! Take some time to relax, and be excited about getting into college!

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