9 Last-Minute Dos and Don’ts for College Applications

Whether you have already begun submitting your college applications, or you are just starting to fill them out, you need help. That’s why you are reading this post about last-minute dos and don’ts for applying to college. Let’s start with mistakes to avoid and end with tips that may help.

Common Mistakes

  1. Don’t submit a sloppy application. This is a mistake often made when rushing to finish your applications.  If you wait until the last minute to do your college applications and fail to thoroughly review them, you will likely overlook errors.  An application riddled with mistakes will give the college a bad impression of your capabilities and work habits.  In addition to checking for spelling and grammar errors, make sure you answer what is being asked and, above all, follow the directions.  Give yourself plenty of time.  If you don’t know how long you will need, double the amount of time you are planning just to be safe.
  2. Not applying to the FAFSA is another big mistake. Everyone should apply to the FAFSA in order to be considered for federal student aid and institutional scholarships.  You may have read this tip in our previous blog post on the FAFSA, but it’s worth reiterating.  The FAFSA annual open enrollment period has changed to begin on October 1st.  In addition to federal and state deadlines, colleges have their own deadlines that could be as early as the first day of enrollment.  The earlier that you apply to the FAFSA, the better.  Need-based federally funded financial aid is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis (e.g., Pell grants, federal student loans, work study).
  3. After you submit your applications, they are not considered complete until all of the required components are received by the college (e.g., letters of recommendation, official transcripts, entrance and AP exam scores, resume, payment/fee waiver, etc.). Only completed applications will be reviewed.  While you delay submitting the additional components of your application, other students are receiving admission offers, decreasing the number of available spots and your chances of admission.
  4. Failure to regularly check your emails from colleges may mean that you miss important messages. Email is a primary method that colleges use to send information and updates.  You may be notified via email that your application is incomplete.  A good solution is to create a new email account solely for your college applications.  It’s an easy way to reduce the likelihood that important communications will be missed because of spam and clutter.  If you do create a new account for college applications, make sure that you consistently use this email address so that you receive all emails in the same account (e.g., Naviance, SATs/ACTs, letters of recommendation, transcripts, etc.).  Furthermore, continue to check for emails from colleges after you are accepted.  Many admitted students who have failed to follow through with a required task found their acceptance withdrawn.

Tips & Tricks

  1. Have a system for tracking your progress as you apply to colleges.
    • One possibility is to create an Excel spreadsheet of your college list.  Then, organize your list by the application deadlines.  A detailed spreadsheet will allow you to keep track of what you have submitted.  Your spreadsheet should include the following information for each application: the application type (e.g., Common App or the college’s own application) and the deadline date and type (e.g., Early Decision, Early Action, Regular Decision, Rolling Admission); the required number and type of recommendation letters (e.g., from teachers, school counselor); the required entrance exams (e.g., SAT, SAT Subject(s), ACT); transcript(s); supplemental essays/answers; resume; financial aid/scholarships deadline).  Only include the information that is relevant to your college applications, and use the spreadsheet as a checklist.  Save your spreadsheet on your computer or to the cloud (e.g., Google drive, Dropbox, etc.) so that it may be edited and easily accessible when you are working on your applications.  Without a tracking mechanism, the application process may become overwhelming and you are more likely to make mistakes or miss deadlines.Organization and deadlines should be the criteria that you use to decide what to do and when.
    • When you decide on an order for completing your college applications, although you have some flexibility, the application deadline is a limiting factor. You could, for example, start with colleges that use the Common Application, or ones you are most interested in attending, or those that have the easiest applications (e.g., does not require an essay, supplements, entrance exams, recommendation letters and/or a resume).  The most important thing is to keep the momentum going, and to submit them by their deadlines regardless of the order.
  2. Plan now for college applications that are due after the winter break by submitting requests for recommendations and transcripts before the term ends, or on your first day back to school. It could take your school 2-3 weeks to complete your requests.  It’s fine for these documents to be received by the college before you submit your application.  If you took classes at other schools that do not appear on your high school transcript, you will need to request a transcript from each high school and/or college that you attended.
  3. If you plan to apply to colleges with a January deadline but have not yet taken an entrance exam, call the admissions office or visit their website to determine their deadline for receiving the SAT or ACT. The next SAT is in January and the registration deadline is later this month.  The next ACT is not until February and the registration deadline is in January.  For students who receive accommodations on exams, the approval process can takes months and will require the help of your school counselor.
  4. Until you send in your application fee or a fee waiver, your application is incomplete. Some fee waiver types may be listed on the application to determine your eligibility.  If you are eligible for a fee waiver, you may obtain one from your school counselor.  The waiver may be sent by your school or by you, and you need to confirm that the waiver was received in both instances.  If you do not have the waiver with you when you apply, you may still submit your application by indicating that you will be send the payment later.  Do not miss an application deadline because you do not yet have the waiver.  If you have problems, call the college for assistance.
  5. Developing your college list is one of the most important aspects of the college application process. If you are starting late and have more than ten colleges on your list, that is most than likely too many.  You may benefit from having H2D Counseling help you to strengthen your college list by narrowing it down to those colleges that are the best fit for you.  Call us for your free consultation!