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How To

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

1. Work on the college essay over the summer.  As our college counselor explained it, 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.  You should save all essays that you write because sometimes the same essay can be tweaked for use with different college or scholarship applications.  Oh, and college admission personnel are sick of the “I went on a mission trip and it it changed my life” essay, so write about something else.

2. 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 supplement application as well.  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.

3. Ask for teacher recommendations early.   I’m sure that 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.  If needed, provide an addressed and stamped envelope for the recommendation to be sent by postal mail.

My son gave hand-written thank you cards and a small gift of gourmet chocolate to each teacher who wrote a recommendation for him.  He also used that opportunity to thank each teacher for supporting and encouraging him during his high school years.

4. 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.  My son had 3 or 4 interviews at a local Starbucks and found them to be a positive experience.

5. 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 on a school visit.

6. 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.

7. Stay organized.   Although this was a tip in my first blog 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 application process or you will quickly become overwhelmed.  This could be in a dedicated notebook or in a computer document.   I made several Excel spreadsheets and put them in Google Docs so that my son could update and add to them as needed.

My Excel Spreadsheets:

College Search:  We used this spreadsheet for general research information.

College Application Checklist:  This spreadsheet helped us keep track of the information sent to each school.   We also used this spreadsheet to record each school’s admission decision and orientation dates.

College Recommendations: Sometimes the colleges wanted different formats of recommendations (electronic or paper, sent by email or thru the postal mail) and different kinds of recommendations (music teacher, academic teacher or school counselor) and this spreadsheet helped us keep track of it all.  This spreadsheet might not be necessary for everyone, but since my son was applying to music schools, which is an entirely separate application process from the larger university, it was needed in our house.

 Decide on Accepted Schools: Yay! –  All that hard work has paid off; you are going to college!  Mostly likely you have been accepted to a few schools and now a decision has to be made to attend just one.   Sometimes that is not an easy choice.  This spreadsheet helped us look at all the factors in an objective way.

8.  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 and his father’s help with his music resume.  So we encouraged him to ask his favorite English teacher for help with the essay and an older friend 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.)

So that’s it; I have shared everything that we have learned over the last grueling year.  I hope that my tips in these three blog posts will make it a little bit easier for your family to successfully navigate the college admission experience.  Good luck, God bless and Go Canes!

University of Miami


 *This blog post was written in 2014.  If you are reading this much after that date some things may have changed, 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

© 2018, Sherrelle. All rights reserved.

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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