Over the next few months, parents of high school seniors will become exasperated by their inability to coax or assist their students with the college admissions process. A little information goes a long way to soothe irritated nerves.
Most colleges start accepting applications around the time that high school starts in the fall. It is not critical that applications be submitted immediately. Rather, it is vastly more important that the applications be submitted correctly and completely, with well-written essays.
Parents should be aware of a few admissions deadlines. Although major universities often use “rolling” admissions methods (accepting students as applications are submitted), most students will apply to one or more colleges with rigid filing dates. There are two dates to remember: November 1 and January 1.
Students who wish to apply “Early” – whether binding, non-binding, or priority – must do so by November 1. The University of Florida and the University of Miami prefer that students apply by November 1, and Ivy League and highly-selective colleges share that date for their EA/ED deadline. However, some schools use an earlier date, such as Florida State University, which uses an October 15 deadline. Students who apply “Regular Action” must do so by January 1.
Colleges uniformly require that applicants submit an SAT or ACT score, so parents should oversee that their students have the testing services forward their scores to the colleges. Selective colleges also often require one or more “subject” tests. Review each college’s admissions website for its specific requirements.
Colleges will need official high school grade reports, and parents should double check that their students have asked the high school counselor to send transcripts. Note that many high schools have a computerized protocol for requesting transcripts, and every year students who disregard notices from counselors find themselves in last-minute panic because they didn’t follow directions.
The most selective colleges also require recommendations from teachers and perhaps from a counselor. If students have not arranged for teachers to write their recommendations, they should do so as soon as school starts in the fall. Teacher recommendations are vitally important in the admissions process, so they should not be left to the end.
College applications are submitted electronically. Students create application accounts through each college’s admissions website. Many colleges share an application, called the Common Application. Students create an account at CommonApp.org, and within the account they select up to 20 colleges to which they submit applications. With the Common App, every college gets the same biographical information, list of activities, and main essay, plus each college has its own “tab” which requests additional information and supplemental essays.
The main essay is a personal statement, clothed in a topic prompt that students are asked to follow. The focus should always be on the student, not on someone else or matters ephemeral or philosophical. College admissions representatives are trying to find out about the personal side of the applicants. When writing essays, it is prudent for students to enlist the assistance of a trusted editor, whether that be a teacher, counselor, friend, parent or professional. Although proofreading is important, effective editing involves active review of student work. The essays are usually drafted in a Word document, then copied and pasted into the electronic applications.
Some colleges utilize interviews as part of the admissions process. Although they are usually not required, interviews are recommended. Most colleges assign interviews after applications are submitted, but some request applicants to schedule interviews even before formally applying.
Families seeking financial aid should prepare to complete their tax returns in January, as income for the prior year is the basis for many monetary grants. Financial aid requests should be filed as soon as possible because the filing period for aid ends around March 1.