Navigating the College Application Process
Updated: May 15, 2021
COMMIT YOUR WORK TO THE LORD, THEN IT WILL SUCCEED
~ Proverbs 16:3
After a very busy summer, August rolled around and it was finally time to start applying to colleges. We knew it would be quite an undertaking because Makayla was planning to apply to several colleges. We did not, however, expect it to become a part-time job! We had done some of the prep work ahead of time so we thought applying would be the easy part. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Applying to several colleges takes a lot of time, even when most of them are on the Common App. I would like to share with you some tips to help you along in the process. Ideally, this prep work will start near the end of Junior year…
· Letters of Recommendation - Talk to people about writing letters of recommendations asap so they are ready to go once you have finished the applications. You will need some letters of recommendation to apply for colleges and you will definitely need some for scholarship applications. Most colleges will ask for a letter from your School Counselor and 1-2 teachers. Some applications will want a character reference (employer, pastor, etc). Ideally you will ask for the letters near the end of junior year so they have plenty of time to have them completed when you are ready to submit your applications.
For most applications, you will send a request to the person via email and they will upload them directly to the college. Make sure you have already talked to your recommenders so when you are filling out applications, you can just submit their contact information and not need to wait until you contact people.
· Academic Resume - At the end of junior year, you should also work on finalizing your academic resume. Include academic information such as GPA, test scores, clubs, leadership positions, work experience, volunteer service, trainings, awards, etc. Some schools will let you upload the resume which is much easier than entering everything. For schools that you do need to enter the information, it will be much easier if you’ve already laid it out on a resume and it will come in handy for scholarship apps too. We took the resumes with us on our College Tourapalooza over the summer and my daughter was able to give it to her admissions counselors.
After you’ve applied to colleges, if something changes, such as increased test scores or academic awards, update your resume and send it to your admissions counselors at any schools you’ve applied to. My best advice would be to start writing things down freshman year so you don’t have to try to remember everything when you need to make your resume.
· Personal Statement – Over the summer, work on your personal statement, which is an essay you write to show a college admissions committee who you are and why you deserve to be admitted to their school. Not all schools require them but most will allow you to submit them. The Common App usually releases the list of prompts in January so if you can, go ahead and write it before the end of Junior year and have your English teacher proofread it for you. The Common App is keeping the prompts the same for 2021 with an additional prompt replacing the problem solving question so you can get started now! Some schools will have additional essays, so having this out of the way will allow you to have time to focus on the other essays. Make sure to have someone proofread all of your essays before you submit them!
· Start Applying - The Common App usually opens Aug 1, plan to start completing it asap so it is done before school starts. Most schools will be on the common app but not all of them are so figure out early on which ones need separate applications and have a system in place to keep track of which colleges you’ve applied to. Many schools will have questions and/or writing prompts to go with the application. The application process can take a while, which is why you should already have your personal statement done and have letters of recommendation ready to go. Our daughter planned to complete her applications before school started but she didn’t get it done and we felt like we were playing catch up all the way into fall scholarship interview season.
· Budget – Make sure you set aside money for college application fees, especially if your child is planning to apply to several schools. Some schools are free but most aren’t, some are $80-100 and that adds up fast! Some schools will waive the application fee if your child visits campus.
Ok, I think that pretty much covers the basics of applying for college. The biggest piece of advice I can give is to start early! Do your prep work ahead of time; have your academic resume and personal statement done and ask for your letters of recommendation, preferably before the end of junior year but for sure over the summer. Start applying as soon as the Common App opens, the process will take longer than you think.
If your child is hoping for merit scholarships then as soon as acceptance letters start rolling in, so will invitations to apply for scholarships. That is great news! That also means more applications, essays and requests for letters of recommendation. Don't miss my upcoming blog Surviving the Pursuit of Scholarships for some tips. It can all feel a little overwhelming for the whole family so just try to remember you’re all in it together and pray!