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Tips for a Smooth College Application Process

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Even with the best teachers, counselors, and mentors, senior year can be a very confusing time, particularly when it comes to evaluating your options for post-secondary education. In order to ensure Atlanta seniors are ready like spaghetti to apply to college, here are a few tips and links to help you out. (For this year’s seniors applying early decision or early action by October, it’s time to get started!)

Essays: Know Yourself

Is it too short? Is it too long? Does this sentence make me sound like a grammar snob? Typically if you have a question like this, the answer is “yes.” You should be totally confident in your college essays. This is why I urge you to focus your writing on something that you are passionate about, rather than something that makes you look smart.

It helps to realize that applying to college is less of a battle to the death between you and other applicants and more of a showcase where you are the star and the admissions team is the audience. Colleges get applications from thousands of other intelligent students. In order to separate yourself from the pack, speak to an experience that is unique to you. Instead of claiming to be the best or the brightest, use what you know for sure.

My college essay about crying at the series finale of “Glee” got me into Sarah Lawrence on an academic scholarship.

Make them laugh, make them cry, do what you can to illicit an authentic response and make your essay worth remembering. When it comes to proofreading, find a peer around your age as well as an adult to review your essays. This way your essay can appear polished but still maintain a youth voice. Remember that this is your essay.

Start drafting your Common app essay in August: Early decision deadlines can start as early as November. Writing supplements differ according to the college. Some may ask for a five-page analytical essay while others may just want a few sentences about why you want to apply. That may seem like a lot of time, but once schoolwork and extracurriculars start to pile up, college applications can begin to feel like an overwhelming nuisance. Make sure to take breaks when you need to.

Application Forms: Tedious but Necessary

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Common App. Direct applications. GA Futures (formerly known as Georgia 411). No matter what the website, application forms are tedious as heck to fill out. They are sometimes convoluted, always thorough, and your parents will probably say something obvious and slightly irritating like, “They sure are asking a lot of questions,” if they are helping you.

Get a head start by pacing yourself and breaking the forms up into smaller, manageable pieces. It would be best to start on these applications in mid-August, especially if you are applying early.

When it comes to listing your accomplishments and extracurriculars, sometimes less is more. According to Allyson Smith, an admissions counselor at Spelman College, listing too many extracurriculars can make it seem as though you are unfocused and/or desperate for a resume boost. Try and stick to two to four extracurriculars that you have been involved in for a while and genuinely care about. It is very likely that you will have to write an essay (either for the college or a scholarship) about at least one of them.

Applying Early: Yay or Nay

Upon entering my senior year, I swore off applying early. I felt I needed more time to straighten out my grades before I submitted anything to a college. Waiting is not always the best idea. Colleges receive a mid-year report that includes your grades from your first semester, so it is typically a good idea to apply early. Applying early can reduce stress and give you more time to look for financial aid, housing, etc., if accepted. However, there are restrictions on applying early. Being accepted early decision means that upon acceptance you must withdraw all other college applications. This can create a lot of pressure and prevent you from comparing aid packages. It is best to apply early decision to your first choice and if necessary, one other school. Applying early can be nerve-racking, but there is arguably no better Christmas present than an acceptance letter.

Final thoughts

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The senior year experience varies from person to person, but mine was less than enjoyable — largely because I was so uneducated about what I needed to know before applying to college. Being well-read and asking former seniors about this crucial year can clear a lot of anxiety and ultimately ensure a smooth and memorable end to your high school career. You only get one chance to be a senior. Take heed, and seize the year!

Alimah Dawkins is a South Atlanta High School alum and is very excited to attend Sarah Lawrence College next month.


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