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Expert Opinions on the College Admissions Process
by Dave Berry

Application Submission Countdown

It’s that time of year again. Well, if you’re a high school senior applying to college, it’s really not that time of year again, it’s just that time of year. For you seniors, it’s that time of year to be putting together your college applications, be they related to the Common Application or college-specific (that is, non-Common Application applications). Many of you may be applying Early Action (EA) or Early Decision (ED). Others of you may be considering a middle ground between regular ED and Regular Decision (RD). That would be either “ED I” or “ED II” offered by some schools.

Then, there are those among you who are applying to so-called “rolling” admissions schools (sorry, no abbreviation for that option, unless we care to refer to it as “RA,” not to be confused with your future dorm’s “Resident Advisor”). Rolling admission works on a kind of first-in-first-out basis, where the admissions staff processes applications in the order that they’re received. Usually, these schools offer a “preferred” deadline, which functions as a kind of incentive for those who are truly sincere in their desire to attend.

Speaking of completing your college applications, let me remind you of one seemingly obvious caution that–surprisingly–many applicants overlook: spelling. Sure, we have spellcheckers, but sometimes they can play havoc with our intentions. For example, take the sentence, “Write to Mr. Wright right now.” If you happen to pen that sentence as, “Right Mr. Write wright now,” your spellchecker might let it slip through … but your detail-oriented admissions officer might be having a bad day because someone just slashed three of his Honda’s four tires that morning. So, a word to the wise: Be careful about what goes into the mail (or email) to your candidate colleges.

Common App TV

Along those lines, here’s some good advice from College Confidential’s Ask the Dean writer, Sally Rubenstone.

While it’s never great to make spelling mistakes on an application, you can rest assured that your application–and YOU–won’t be rejected just because of this. Your chances of admission have not decreased dramatically. However, since you spelled your name incorrectly on one form, you might have inadvertently screwed up a filing process that could lead to a lost document or the incorrect entry of data. That’s not likely, but–depending on where and how you made your error–it’s possible.

So, here’s what I suggest: Send a cute note (e-mail or otherwise) to the admission office. Make fun of yourself by saying, “Would you ever admit an applicant who can’t spell her own name? I hope so! …” then go on to explain your error (very briefly). You can also point out that you were unfamiliar with the online application format and made a couple other spelling goofs along the way.

You shouldn’t make a big deal about this, but–because your misspelled name might confuse some records–it’s probably worth the follow-up.

In general, although applications are not shoved into the “Out” pile as soon as a spelling error is spotted, it’s wise to proof each submission as carefully as possible. The best way to do this is to print preliminary copies and let someone with a fresh pair of eyes (e.g., parent, sibling, friend) look for mistakes you may have missed. Admission folks tend to be more tolerant of occasional typos than of simple words that the applicant looks like he or she can’t spell. (Top contenders in this category include: Definitely, Received, business, psychology). Also remember to capitalize proper nouns like Spanish and French.

As my College Confidential colleague Dave Berry always says, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” So take some extra time to make sure that everything on your next application is spelled correctly.

As for general application advice, here are a few tips from Smart Money. These appeared a while back, but like vintage cars, these tips never go out of style and are worth the investment. In this case, they’re worth the investment of your time.

Create a checklist

The two parts of an application that must be in on time are the basic application (this includes your identifying information, your education background, a short-answer question and a personal essay) and the college’s application fee.

Roughly 400 colleges accept the Common Application to receive this information. Colleges that don’t use this form often make their application available on their web sites.

Students have to submit a supplemental application if a college requires it, which can include additional short-answer questions and personal essays. Students should also send a resume that lists the jobs they held while in high school, extracurricular activities and community service where they demonstrated leadership skills, and sports teams they belong to, says Paul Hemphill, a college admissions coach and founder of PreCollegePrep.com.

Several crucial components of a student’s application are sent in by other parties. The guidance counselor’s office will submit a student’s high school transcript to the colleges, the College Board submits SAT scores (assuming they’re notified of the colleges a student is applying to), and teachers and guidance counselors send letters of recommendation. In most cases, if these components are late, they won’t immediately derail a student’s application, but it’s the student’s responsibility to confirm that their guidance counselor and teachers have sent in everything, says Turner.

Contact the colleges

Students shouldn’t hesitate to contact a college’s admissions office especially to confirm that all their application materials have been received.

Should the admissions department inform you of an incomplete application – and say a letter of recommendation or your transcript is missing – speak with your teacher or counselor responsible for sending that. (If your transcript or test scores are late, ask the college admissions office if they’ll accept unofficial copies in the meanwhile.) Let the college know that you’re on top of this and call seven to 10 days later to confirm they’ve received everything, says Hemphill.

“It’s really critical that the student be doing these things, not the parents,” he says. “This way, the student comes across as being in control of process, mature and having initiative.”

With an “incomplete,” give yourself two weeks max

Unless a college sets a deadline, there’s no official rule about how quickly a student should complete an incomplete application.

Still, students should give themselves two weeks maximum to file whatever is needed. “It can be a disadvantage if you don’t reply quickly because your application could fall to the bottom of the pile,” says Bob Chonko, dean of admissions at Longwood University, a public college that’s part of Virginia state universities.

Don’t give up because of missed deadline

If the deadline to submit an application has passed and a student hasn’t applied to that school, “it’s not necessarily over,” says Melanie Reed, director of college advising at Seattle Academy, an independent Seattle-based school that ranges from sixth through 12th grade.

Interested students should call the college’s admissions office to find out if they can still apply for the upcoming academic year. It’s also helpful for the student to explain why they didn’t apply earlier, especially if they were initially unaware about the college and it offers a top program in a major they plan to pursue.

Don’t take rolling admissions for granted

Even colleges that have rolling admissions are likely to reach their class size limit before the summer. That means students should pick up the pace on their applications even if there is no set deadline.

Part of the immediacy this year is the expectation of increased applications at most colleges as parents and students shop around for a college that offers a top education without requiring them to incur many loans or out-of-pocket expenses. At Longwood University, applications are already up 13% from last year, says Chonko. “We’re not taking any more freshmen than last year because we don’t have space and the budget is a little tight,” he says.

So, don’t be like the poor applicant in the picture above. Get started on your applications early enough so that you can deal with any problems in your materials, recommendations, interviews, transcripts, essays, etc. Also, try to make a decision early enough about your application plan (EA, ED, ED I , ED II, RD, “RA,” etc.) so that your schedule will include enough time, in case you have to do a detour to find additional materials or help from other sources.

Also, don’t forget the best source of information on the Web concerning college applications: College Confidential. You won’t find a better source than CC anywhere. That’s a fact, Jack!

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Be sure to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.

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