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Application Dos and Don'ts

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Filling out college applications can be daunting, no doubt about it. But these timely tips will help you do an outstanding job!

Want to avoid application stress and create stellar applications? Heed this advice and you'll be an application wiz from the start.

Do read directions. Pay attention to the instructions for each application. For example, directions usually specify a minimum and 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 leave typos and misspellings. 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. A college usually won't accept a late application. Different parts of an application may have different deadlines. If you are mailing an application, allow a realistic amount of delivery time and arrange for proof of delivery.

Don't procrastinate. Give yourself plenty of time to work on your essay. Some students allow several weeks. Give your teachers at least a month to complete your letters of recommendation. Remember the tortoise? Slow and steady wins the race.

Do pay attention to grammar and spelling. You may be a fine college candidate, 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 or teacher to proof your application.

Don't let Mom or Dad 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 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.

Don't make an extracurricular laundry list. It is more impressive to highlight the activities that got most of your attention and show your commitment and leadership.

Do get presentable online. Set up an adult-friendly e-mail account that you can check from anywhere. And clean up your social networking pages. If you think colleges will never look, you may be right. But don't take the risk.

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

Do keep all correspondence. You may need to prove that you sent or received a document by a certain date. In a folder for each college, keep letters, print e-mail messages, and make notes of phone calls. Note the date and time received.

Don't forget to breathe. When you are stressed out you are more likely to make mistakes. Calm down, ask for help, or come back to the tough questions later. Both your peace of mind and your admission chances are bound to improve.