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How To Apply To College Without (Mostly) Losing Your Mind: Part 3 – The Application Process

This is part 3 in a three part series for high school students and parents.  If you missed it before, please read How To Apply To College Part 1 – Getting Started  and Part 2 – College Visits.

How To Apply To College Part 3 – The Application Process

Work on the college essay over the summer.  This is best done the summer between the junior and senior year of high school because by then you have something of interest to say.  If your high school offers it, take an essay-writing workshop.  My son did this.  For my daughter we hired someone to help her brainstorm, organize and outline her essays.  Oh, and college admission personnel are sick of the “I went on a mission trip and it it changed my life” essay, so get creative and dig deep.

Start the Common Application as soon as possible.  Although more and more colleges are using the Common Application exclusively, most will still require their own supplements as well, usually the form of an essay or two.  Nevertheless, as soon as you can fill out the general parts of the Common Application, the sooner you can start to work on the individual supplements for each school.

Ask for teacher recommendations early.   Every year teachers get last minute desperate requests from students asking for recommendations, but don’t let this be you.   If you want the recommendation given to the college in a timely manner, it is only fair to give the teacher ample time to write one.  Most recommendations can be sent through the Common Application portal, but if needed (like for an independent scholarship), provide an addressed and stamped envelope for the recommendation to be sent by postal mail.

It’s a nice gesture to give hand-written thank you cards and maybe a small gift to each teacher who writes a recommendation.  It’s also a good opportunity to thank each teacher for supporting and encouraging you during your high school years.

Does the college conduct admission interviews?  Inquire early.   This information will not always be readily found on the college website, but a phone call the to admissions office will quickly give an answer.  Interviews can be conducted by university staff or local alumni and may or may not have any bearing on the admission decision.  Either way, it can’t hurt and it is another way to ask questions and show “demonstrated interest.”  My son had a few interviews at a local Starbucks and found them to be a positive experience.  My daughter had one phone interview with a student leader.

Email or call the school if you are unsure about anything.   The schools prefer to hear directly from the student, so that is ideal, but if as a parent you are concerned or confused about any part of the application process, call.   Most contact numbers and names can be found on the school’s website, but students this is also a good opportunity to keep in touch with that college admissions rep that you met.

Set aside a specific time to discuss college applications.  Don’t discuss college all day, every day in your house.  This will only stress out your family.  Do not make it the topic of dinner conversation.   My family scheduled meetings on Sunday evenings.  During that meeting time we reviewed anything that still needed to be done and updated our spreadsheets.   Parents: remember that the colleges will communicate with your child, not you.  It’s frustrating – especially if your child is one to let things fall through the cracks – but you’re not really in control anymore, so get used to it.

Stay organized.   Although this was a tip in my first post, it’s so important that I will say it again.  You must have a systematic way of keeping track of all the moving parts to this college admission process or you will quickly become overwhelmed.  This could be in a dedicated notebook or in a computer document.  Or you can simply download the printable PDF worksheets below☟.  It’s everything you need to stay organized and on task and it’s FREE.

Parents: if your child rejects your help, let it go.  Students: if you don’t want your parents to help you, find someone else.  While my son enjoyed our family college tours and welcomed my organizational help, he did not want my help proof-reading his essay nor his father’s help with his music resume.  We encouraged him to ask his favorite English teacher for help with the essay and a high school alum helped him craft his music resume.   I never saw any parts of his applications until recently; I found his college essay while cleaning out an office drawer (it is brilliant).

On the other hand, my daughter really needed and welcomed my help.  While we hired someone to help her organize her essays, she also requested that I proof-read each one and help her with her resume.  Together we created checklists and worksheets and frequently met to ensure that she was on task.

So that’s it; I have shared everything that we have learned.  I hope that my tips over these three posts will make it a little bit easier for your family to successfully navigate the college admission experience.  Good luck!

*The college landscape is always changing, but the over-all sentiment remains the same: applying to college is stressful. I hope that I made it less so.


Great tips about how to apply to college! - Sherrelle


Storyteller. Travel junkie. Extroverted introvert. Very, very clever. Find me at .


  • This is great info. But I’m getting nervous about the application process. Things certainly have changed since I was a high school senior.


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