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10 Tips for Completing your College Applications

It’s an exciting week for rising seniors!  Application portals for the University of California, Coalition, and Common are now open, and students can work on filling out these college applications.

As students work through these applications, it’s important to keep in mind some important tips. 


1- Have transcripts ready to go! 

This does not only apply to your high school transcripts of all your courses and grades from 9 – 11th grade, it applies to any classes you may have taken at another higher school or at a community college during the summer, and also if you took any classes online through BYU or NUVHS. Having these transcripts close by and ready to go means you can complete those sections of your college applications quickly and efficiently. 


2- Get family details from your parents in advance 

This includes your social security number, something that most students don’t have memorized yet but is important for your applications. Find out where your parents went to college if you don’t know already! This can be very important information when it comes to determining if you have legacy at a school. Another big one is to make sure you know what to list under the parent employment section as you work on your college applications.


3- Add EACH individual tests in the testing section for the Common App

Thinking about all the tests you’ve taken, which could include either the SAT or ACT, SAT Subject Tests and AP tests, talk to your counselor about which exams you’re going to include in your application. However, it is very easy to accidentally neglect a test when you’re listing them out and move on to the next section without realizing it. Your college application will show a completed section, but it may not actually be complete – so make sure you have all the tests listed out and double check before moving on. 


4- Gather information about your activities including hours, titles & responsibilities ahead of time 

You want to make sure that when you’re listing out an activity, you can include the important information such as the title of what you did, how long you did it for, what your responsibilities were and if you were part of a team or did this activity on your own. For the UC application, students have 350 characters to describe an activity or award. Use it well! 


5- Use consistent punctuation

One of the most common errors we see students make year after year is to capitalize a letter when describing an activity (Eg. I took part in Swimming) and then not capitalizing other activity names (Eg. I took part in Swimming, dance and robotics). Keep it consistent! The same goes for if you decide to list out numbers numerically (Eg. 8 hours of Robotics) or written in full (Eg. eight hours of Robotics). 


6- Choose the correct essay prompt 

This sounds like an obvious one, but we have seen many examples of students who paste their final essay into the application under the wrong essay prompt. Clearly, if this got to the college that way it wouldn’t make much sense, so just be cautious and double check your work. 


7- Review add. Info./additional comments (may not apply), discuss counselor 

This is available through the Common app, the UC app and there are some individual colleges such as the University of Washington through the Coalition app that will give you a shorter space to describe additional information about you that may not otherwise be shared in your application. This can include things like if you switched high schools in the middle of high school, if you or a family member close to you have been dealing with a health problem, if you have had a death in the family – anything that may have contributed to a change in your grades and maybe in your extracurricular activities as well. Discuss this with your counselor to see where the best place for you to talk about this is. 


8- Check Recommenders section for requirements/restrictions at each college

This will not apply to the UC or Cal State application, but it will apply to the Common application and most private schools or out of state colleges. You want to check how many teacher recommendation letters they require, and how many they allow. This will be crucial in your planning in asking for letters. 


9- Know your deadlines (ED, EA, RD)

This again may sound like an obvious thing, but you can put in the deadline in the application for when you plan to apply. If you have a top choice school that you are planning to apply to Early Decision, which is binding, you need to mark it as such. If you are applying Early Action, that may have a different deadline than if you apply in the regular round. Keeping track of these deadlines for your full college list and across all applications is very important. 


Read more: Early Decision vs. Early Action – Which to Choose?


10 – Don’t worry about what other people write! 

This is incredibly important. You want your college application to stand out, be unique to you, share you experiences and convey who YOU are. At the end of the day, the school is reading your application to decide if you are a good fit for that particular school. Writing about the things that you love will be much more interesting than writing about things that other people are doing because you’re worried about their profile being “better” than yours. You got this!


All the best,
Zach Pava and Team Insight



Written by Zach Pava

These interviews were conducted by Insight Senior Counselor Zach Pava.

Zach has guided hundreds of students throughout the college admissions process. His extensive writing background includes essay contributions online and in print, a sports blog, screenplays, and film reviews. Contact Insight Education today to schedule an initial consultation with Zach. Read his full bio here.

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