On the web, you’ll find lots of helpful tips about how to write a good college admission essay-one that lets the admissions committee at a particular college learn something personal about you that may not be reflected in your academic record or extracurricular activities. One of the best is found on the College Board’s site, BigFuture that provides 8 valuable tips for crafting your best college essay.
Also remember that good writing is a result of good thinking and that requires time. A few years ago, a student asked me to review her Early Action essay to an Ivy League university a few days before the deadline. In this student’s case, the essay wasn’t her best effort. In fact, I knew if the student submitted this essay, it might actually hurt her admissions chances. While most college essays will not dramatically change your admissions fortunes, a poorly organized and written essay could impact your admission decision. Keep in mind the cardinal rule of writing college admissions essays: Do No Harm.
Give yourself plenty of time to determine what essays you need to write, brainstorm ideas, develop a draft, refine the essays, and let parents, your guidance counselor and others review them. Since you will likely be applying to six to eight schools or more, you’ll need to determine which schools have supplemental essays or their own homegrown applications (the latter is true of many public institutions). The summer before your senior year is the best time to draft essays with the goal of making sure admissions officers gain insight into your special qualities or strengths.
Above all, make sure your essays are authentic, reflect the real you and are free from grammatical and spelling mistakes.
With good organization, planning, and hard work over the summer, you should be in good shape for the fall application season. Here’s my top 10 checklist for high school seniors:
- If you plan to take the SAT or ACT another time to improve your scores, take the early fall test administration of either. This gives you time to send scores to colleges for early decision deadlines or take the test one more time before the January regular application deadlines.
- For colleges of serious interest to you, plan to take a second visit to the campus if you can (particularly if you visited the campus over the summer when few students were around). Complete campus visits by early October if you’re applying early and early November if you’re applying regular decision. Remember, at many selective schools demonstrated interest matters.
- Keep a master table or spreadsheet that lists all the schools you plan to apply to and each school’s specific priority, early or regular decision deadlines depending on which one you plan to use. At some institutions, priority deadlines must be met for students to be considered for scholarships or honors program eligibility and can be as early as October 1.
- Make sure you have completed all application essays (Common Application, supplemental essays or essays required by public institutions that often have homegrown applications). If you’re applying early, make sure your application and essays are completed by late September. Give yourself time to put aside the essay, review it, and make final revisions.
- By now you should have asked for or received written college recommendations from your teachers in core subjects. If you forgot to approach teachers before the summer break, ask them if they are willing to write you a personal recommendation as soon as school begins. Teachers have many recommendations to write and deserve the courtesy of you giving them adequate time to do so.
- If you plan to be considered for a scholarship, check to see what requirements each institution has. For example, do you need to fill out a separate form, write an additional essay, participate in a scholarship competition, and so forth to be considered for a scholarship? By late summer or early fall you should have all this information in hand.
- For those students applying for financial aid, make sure you and your parents have registered for an account on the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and the College Board’s CSS Profile (College Scholarship Profile—Profile)—required by many private institutions. This year both can be filed as soon as October 1 since accept “prior year” tax returns.
- Remain engaged in activities within and outside school that are intellectually and personally interesting to you. If you have the minimum hours of community service, consider volunteering for an organization with a cause or mission you strongly support. Commit to volunteering on a regular basis (weekly). The activity will be fulfilling to you and will strengthen your college resume.
- Keep up the hard work in your classes to ensure your grades don’t take a dip. Colleges are wary of students whose grades decline in the senior year. Don’t let up.
- Finally, remember colleges like to admit good citizens—students who will be engaged in positive ways on their campuses. Avoid risky behavior or decisions (altercations, drinking incidents, etc.) that can result in a college rescinding its offer of admissions.
Selective colleges across the country receive tens of thousands of applications each year. That’s why admissions officers increasingly look at “demonstrated interest” as a factor in an applicant’s admission decision.
Demonstrated interest—or touch points, as I like to call them—can be a campus visit, participation in a college information session at your high school, attendance at a larger event or college fair in your city or region, or a binding, Early Decision application—in other words, any contact you have with an institution that shows your strong interest in the school.
According to a National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) survey on factors important in the admissions decision, 50 percent of colleges consider demonstrated interest of moderate importance and nearly 30 percent consider it of considerable importance. The bottom line: if you have a serious interest in an institution, make sure the college knows it. Find ways to make connections with the campus, its faculty, admissions staff, coaches, and others.