As we launch into (or continue) college application and essay writing season, I know you may have questions galore about how to fill out the college application, where to get the information you need for it, and what happens after you hit Submit. (I know I’ve had to look back at my daughter’s applications to remember whether our school weights GPAs or not.)
I don’t have all the answers on the best strategies for completing the college application, but I can share the recent questions I’ve received from parents and students as they’re filling out the Common App, ApplyTexas, and more.
The portals are essentially the same, asking for roughly the same information. So how do you know which to complete?
First, list all the schools you’re applying to, and then look at how they accept applications. Some have their own portals, some accept applications through just one of the major portals (e.g., Common App, ApplyTexas, Coalition App, UCs), and some offer a variety of application methods.
If all your schools have the common denominator of, say, accepting the Common App, then there’s your answer. Just use the Common App.
You want to minimize the work you have to do of entering in personal data and grades and pasting in essays and checking their formatting. In the past, I’ve had students who had to create ApplyTexas accounts just to apply to one or two schools. But because many of those schools (like A&M and UT-Austin, in 2022) have joined the Common App, students aren’t as constricted as they used to be.
Schools don’t have a preference for how you get your applications in — just that you do — so use whichever application portal lets you be most efficient with your already-precious time.
Recommenders will go under the Recommenders and FERPA section of each school.
You can’t upload letters yourself; you’ll have to first invite your recommenders to upload their letters.
Next, you’ll assign recommenders to a school accepting letters of recommendation.
Note: If your school uses Naviance or a similar platform and syncs with the Common App to send recommendations, it’s very important to request those recommendations in that platform rather than through the Common App.
If your school syncs Naviance with the Common App, requesting recommenders via the Common App can wreak havoc for the teachers and the college counselors — and potentially other students at your school (because, technology).
Not sure how your school does it? Check with your counselor before making any selections.
If your recommender is writing a letter they’ll upload to an application portal, make sure you waive that right on your application to read the letter by waiving your rights under FERPA. That’s right — no matter how tempting it is, you don’t want to read the letter.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) gives you the right to review your educational records — and that includes your letters of recommendation.
By waiving your right to read your letters, you’ll ensure your recommenders feel they can be totally honest, because they know you won’t read what they’ve written. If you don’t waive your FERPA rights, colleges might assume you’ve read the letters, and they may believe the letters to be less objective — which could be a detriment to your application.
This is another good reason to ensure you’re requesting these letters only from teachers with lots of great things to say about you.
For most applications, no, a resume isn’t required —- and there often isn’t even a place to upload a resume should you want to upload it. Instead, you’ll want to ensure you put as much as possible in the application itself. In the Common App, for example, the Additional Information section is a great place to put in whatever you haven’t been able to add anywhere else. (That section allows 650 words, and I encourage you to write in bullet point rather than essay format. The College Essay Guy has a great explanation of how to write the Additional Information section.)
Some schools (like UT-Austin and Texas A&M) will allow you to upload resumes, either as part of the application or after you submit your application.
Please note: I recommend you talk with your school’s college and career professional or an independent educational consultant for specific advice.
This is a tricky question — and sometimes there isn’t a right or wrong answer. (Trust me, we agonized over sending my daughter’s test scores to some highly competitive schools — wondering if they would help or hurt her.)
While every school varies, every interview I’ve heard with college officials about test-optional policies is this: A good score you submit can help you when you are completing the college application. A bad score you submit may hurt you. And submitting no score? Most are emphatic when they say they aren’t judging applicants on why they didn’t submit a score; instead, they just weigh the other parts of the application more.
Now, back to the original question. To help you decide, Google [school name] Common Data Set and look at what the school lists as their most recent range of scores. For example, below is the range A&M reported for 2020-2021. See where your scores fall in comparison. Near the top of the range? Your scores will probably strengthen your application. Near the bottom? Those scores might not do you any favors.
My opinion, which is, again, based on taking admission officers at face value, is that schools aren’t going to judge you negatively if you go in without test scores. Now, you can always email admission officers and ask this question: If I apply test-optional and then get an amazing ACT or SAT score, can I switch my application and submit my scores? Some schools will allow that opportunity.
Whichever one you can write the best story about who you are and what’s important to you and how you’ve grown. Answering one prompt over another won’t give you an edge. But how you write your essay and address that topic will.
There are two easy ways I suggest checking essay prompts when you’re completing your college application:
I will warn you that sometimes (this happened with my daughter and the University of Southern California), you’ll think you’re almost done with the application and BOOM, they sucker-punch you with an essay out of the blue. Luckily, that’s uncommon.
No matter which portal you use or where you’re submitting your application, you want to ensure you’re submitting your strongest application. That means making sure there are no typos, glaring grammatical errors, or essays that miss the mark.
My 60+-page downloadable guide to self-editing your admission essay walks through the top mistakes you need to look out for — and how to fix them. It also includes a reprintable checklist you can use for each essay to make sure you’re ready to submit!
Need even more support completing the college application or your admission essay? See if my one-on-one coaching support is right for you.