So, you’re finally ready to start filling out your college applications. You’ve glanced over the Common App, read the supplemental essay prompts, and are ready to get going, yet, you find yourself staring at a blank Google Docs page, unsure of how to approach those simple-yet-complicated questions that colleges pose to their applicants.
Filling out college applications is tough. It’s hard to talk about yourself and your accomplishments without feeling like you’re bragging, and it’s hard to know what schools want to learn about you based on what they ask you. To help guide you through this complex process, here are a few tips on how to approach filling out your applications and writing your essays.
1. Be an ice cream cone
Yes, you read that right. This is a tip my junior-year English teacher gave to my class, and it was extremely helpful to me while filling out applications. It means that you should have a well-rounded application with strong numbers and solid extracurricular involvement, which is just like the top of an ice cream cone, while also having a “pointy” part of your application that reflects what makes you unique, just like the bottom of an ice cream cone.
This uniqueness can come from a passion you have, a weird hobby you enjoy, a special skill you possess, a specific part of your identity, or whatever truly shows your personality and who you are.
Most people assume that colleges just want well-rounded applicants with good test scores and leadership positions. While those two things are important to have on your application, there’s one big problem: everyone has them. Everyone seems to be a well-rounded applicant because everyone’s putting similar things on their resume. So, to stick out from the crowd, you need to have a point, and you should make sure it shines bright on your application.
You can also have multiple points. Before you get going on filling out your applications, I recommend that you make a short list of personal characteristics you want to show each school. This way, when you’re filling out applications, you can make sure each point is incorporated somewhere in your essays, extracurriculars, or interview.
2. Write your personal essay
The next step I would take after making your list of schools you’d like to apply to is writing your personal essay. If you are applying via the Common Application (which I highly recommend you do), this long-form personal essay is typically referred to as the Common App essay. Even if you’re not using the Common App and are instead applying directly through the school’s website, those types of applications typically require a long-form personal essay as well.
This essay is super important because of its length. You’re able to reveal a lot about your story and your identity through that large word count. I recommend writing multiple drafts of the essay on different topics and having teachers and peers read over your drafts to see which one they think best demonstrates who you are.
Because this essay is so important, it’s crucial that you begin working on it as soon as possible. One of the things that I did right during my application process was writing my Common App essay before school started, and I felt so much more confident and at ease going into the school year with that task already under my belt.
3. Invest in your extracurriculars
One mistake that a lot of students; including myself, make is taking on too many extracurriculars and not truly investing in any of them. Colleges don’t want to see that you were in ten different clubs. Instead, they want to see that you were deeply involved in a handful of clubs and organizations that you were passionate about. While the Common App allows you to put in those ten different extracurricular activities, don’t stress yourself out about filling up all those slots. Therefore, fill up the slots you can with meaningful work. It will show admissions officers where your passions lie, thus helping you to show them your points.
4. Read sample essays and get creative
When I first read over my supplemental essay prompts, I tended to misinterpret what the college wanted me to write about. In order to avoid this issue, I highly recommend reading some sample essays, even if you think you know what the prompt is asking for.
When writing your supplemental essays, don’t be afraid to get creative with how you interpret the prompt. Doing so will pique any admissions officers interest and help you stand out from the crowd.
To return to the ice cream cone idea again, use the supplemental essays as an opportunity to show off your points.
5. Don’t stress about interviews
Interviews vary from school to school, where some require them for all applicants, while some don’t offer them at all, some require that the applicant request an interview, and some offer interviews to selected applicants. Check the interview policy for the schools you apply to far in advance, especially if they require you to request an interview.
Many students stress themselves out about interviews when, in reality, they shouldn’t be stressed about at all. Don’t worry if a school doesn’t offer you an interview, it doesn’t mean they are going to reject you.
Also, if you’re offered an interview, don’t stress yourself out about it! The interviewer is typically an alumni of the school, and their job is simply to have a conversation with you about yourself and to answer any questions you have about the school.
After the interview, they will write an additional recommendation letter for you based on the information you provide them during your conversation. As long as you show up to the interview and present your best self, the interview will only ever help your application. The interviewers love their alma mater and want to help you attend it—they don’t want to put you at a disadvantage!
They’re here to help
The last thing about interviews, make sure you send a “thank you” email after your conversation, as this will definitely help you stick out from the crowd! Plus, it’s always good to express your appreciation to someone who takes time out of their schedule to help you out.
Hopefully you feel a little more prepared to get going on your applications after reading this article. The college application process is definitely a beast, but you are in control of how it affects you. Make sure you prioritize self-care throughout the process so that you can present your best self in your applications. You’ve worked hard to get to this moment.
So show those admissions officers how awesome you are! Best of luck!