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Application Do's and Don'ts

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Filling out college applications can be daunting, no doubt about it, especially when the clock is ticking. But these tips will help you stay on track as you complete your applications and meet important deadlines!

Do read directions. Pay attention to the instructions for each application. For example, directions usually specify a minimum and a maximum number of words for essays and short answers.

Don't rush or work on automatic pilot. Slow down. Rushing through your application can cause you to skip key sections and overlook typos and spelling errors. Write your essay and short answers in separate documents that you can proof and spell check before adding them to your application.

Do pay attention to deadlines. Most colleges won't accept a late application. Different parts of an application may have different deadlines. If you are sending an application by mail, be sure to factor in delivery time and arrange for proof of delivery.

Don't procrastinate. If you have procrastinated, forgive yourself and move on. Ask for those recommendations, and get started on your essay. For help see:

Do pay attention to grammar, punctuation, and spelling. You may have excellent credentials, but admission counselors will never know that if they can't get past your poor writing. Keep your language simple and to the point. Double-check your grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Ask a parent, teacher or someone else you trust to proof your application.

Don't let a parent fill out your application. They are not going to be around to hold your hand once you are in college. This is your job. Plus, admission officers are skilled at detecting a parent's hand in an application.

Do check the college name. If you are “recycling” portions of one application to use in another, make sure you update the college name in each application. The admissions officer at Vassar will not appreciate reading how much you hope to attend Bryn Mawr.

Do get organized. Staying organized is the easiest way of staying on top of your applications. Keep each application in a separate folder, make a calendar of all your deadlines, and make your own deadlines so you won't put things off. You may also want to check out our mobile app, CollegeData Deadlines, which will help you organize important college application deadlines.

Don't make an extracurricular laundry list. It is more impressive to highlight a few key activities in which you put forth the most effort and that show your commitment and leadership than listing all of the activities in which you occasionally attended a meeting and had little real impact or involvement.

Don't forget the other pieces of your application. It's easy to think you are done when you click the submit button. Be sure to finish all of the steps, such as arranging for teacher recommendations and completing supplements and financial aid documents.

Do send your official test scores. Be sure you know when your ACT, SAT and/or SAT Subject Test scores need to be submitted to the colleges you are applying to if required. If you scored high on AP and IB exams, don’t forget to include these scores as well.

Do keep all correspondence. You should keep a record of when you sent and received certain documents, including your application and test scores. In a folder for each college you are applying to, keep letters and email messages, and make notes of phone calls. Note the date and time sent and/or received.

Don't forget to breathe. When you are stressed out, you are more likely to make mistakes. Slow down, ask for help, take breaks, and come back to the tough questions later.

What's Next?

Thinking of sending a resume, work samples, or a video with your college application? See Should You Include Something Extra with Your Application?

Are you applying to college with the Common Application? Review the application requirements of all your Common App colleges,  including letters of recommendation and supplemental essays, in our Common App Guide.

The information contained on the CollegeData website is for general informational purposes only and may not apply to you or your situation. You should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of any content contained on the CollegeData website without consulting with your parents, high school counselors, admissions representatives or other college counseling professionals. We disclaim all liability for actions you take or fail to take based on any content on the CollegeData website.