Via Adobe Stock

5 things I wish I’d known about the college application process before applying

Like many seniors across the country, I’m currently knee-deep in the process of applying for college. When I first began, my mind was filled with conflicting advice from older peers, family members and college websites alike. So here’s my take on applying, and what you should be sure to keep an eye out for.

  1. Start EARLY. Ideally in late July. 

This is the biggest suggestion I wish I would have taken. The common application opens on Aug. 1, but I disregarded it until September. As soon as senior year began, I was flooded with homework, extracurriculars and other obligations, and suddenly, I wished that I had utilized the whole extra month. Getting a head start, especially on writing essays, can make or break your application. The more time you have to work on applications, the better, so make some time during the summer (or before) and save yourself lots of time-related panic as deadlines loom closer.

  1. Who to ask for letters of recommendation–do at the end of junior year, then follow up in September.

The majority of college applications will require at least one letter of recommendation. Some schools may require more, generally ranging from two to four. From what I’ve learned, your best bet is to obtain 1-2 from core academic teachers (English, science, math, etc.) who taught you in junior or senior year. Any other leftover recommendations can come from an elective teacher, coach, or even boss. Make sure to provide colleges with multiple recommendations when you can, since this helps them get the best picture of you both inside and outside the classroom.

  1. Optional essays: yay or nay? Write these in late September or early October.

Many schools will provide their applicants with the option of writing additional essays to be included in their application. Although it can sometimes be exhausting to put in the extra work, it’s often worth it. The extra responses are much more casual than your all-encompassing essay, so the stakes aren’t nearly as high. By putting in extra work where you don’t have to, colleges can see your level of motivation and devotion to the school. It’ll oftentimes give you an edge—especially if your grades and GPA aren’t quite up to their standards. On top of that, doing so gives colleges an additional chance to get to know you better by providing them with a look into your life and writing style.

  1. Pick essay topics that you care about. This is best accomplished in late July.

Nothing screams inauthentic more than an unenthusiastic essay. A personal statement doesn’t have to be about the most impressive or noteworthy accomplishment you have. Rather, it should demonstrate your personality and uniqueness. Even more “mundane” focuses, such as a day at work, can seriously impress colleges if written with care. Colleges don’t want a brag sheet, they want to see what makes you feel passionate!

  1. Seek out interviews! Ideally as soon as you can, depending on the school.

Interviewing with a college is a great way to demonstrate your interest, boost an application and get to ask some specific questions about what a school is like. Colleges will often offer interviews ranging from 15 to 30 minutes in length, both in-person and virtually. Some schools will contact you directly after you apply. However, some interviews you’ll have to seek out and schedule yourself, so always be sure to double-check if your schools offer them. You’ll have the opportunity to speak with either an alumnus or admissions counselor about everything ranging from what major you’ll pursue to your favorite ways to spend downtime and community outreach opportunities at that college. Additionally, asking personalized questions–from the campus experience to what classes are best–can both help you to know if the school is a good fit for you as a student and show the college that you’ve done your research.

The college application process is going to be scary, but it shouldn’t have be completely confusing. Staying on track with deadlines and putting your full effort into every aspect of your application ensures that colleges will see the best version of yourself; good luck!


  • Lina McDonald

    Lina McDonald was born with a sword in her hand and a weight on her foot. Cue a sixteen-year training montage, complete with exploding volcanoes, murderous sharks and a shirtless Brad Pitt. You want to add an oxford comma? Don’t even run–because you’re not getting away in time. Lina can outrun a bear. Make sure to breathe evenly: even asthma can give you away.

    View all posts