The best way to apply to colleges is simple: do exactly what each individual college tells you to do in their college application. This includes meeting all deadlines, submitting transcripts well in advance, making sure test results have been sent, and paying all fees. Since each individual college will usually have a slightly different application, make sure to read over their instructions carefully so that simple mistakes are not made. The reason for this is also simple: if an application is incomplete or incorrect, it will be returned to the applicant or rejected outright.
In addition, it is important to customize the writing submission to each individual school applied to. Many schools require a writing submission with their application. If possible, the applicant should try to link the writing submission with the school and the program they are applying to. An example of this might be: “..and, because of my experience with the veterinarian that helped Pouchi after the car accident, I decided that I wanted to pursue a career where I can both help injured animals and console their owners. College X, with its excellent veterinary program that specializes in emergency veterinary medicine...” An application that conveys the feeling that the student deeply desires to go to the specific college will have a better chance than a similar application with a generic writing submission.
Use the same name everywhere. The name on the application should be the same as the name on all legal documents. If an applicant’s birth certificate and school records both contain the name “John Jacob Smith,” then that is the name the applicant should use when applying to colleges. Putting the name “Jonathan Jake Smith” on the application could result in mix-ups and records not being properly filed.
Apply online if possible. Almost all colleges now accept Internet applications. Online applications have a few advantages over their mailed counterparts. The data is transmitted and acknowledge almost instantly, so the applicant knows their application has been received. As well, most colleges have login systems that allow electronic applicants to instantly learn the status of their applications, including which additional materials need to be received and if the student has been accepted.
Apply before the deadlines. Mail gets lost and requests get misfiled. If an application is sent a week before the deadline and the requested transcripts get lost, the entire application could be rejected. Apply to colleges early and stay on top of the situation – this will help to prevent problems.
Take the correct tests. The majority of colleges require that applicants take the SAT, ACT, or both. One or both of these tests should be taken prior to applying. Students may wish to take the tests long enough in advance that they can retake them before the application deadlines if need be.
Show that you are well-rounded. Students that know well in advance that they are applying to selective colleges may wish to start doing activities that will impress admissions representatives. At least a year before their application is due, students should consider doing one or more of the following: volunteering on a regular basis, getting a part-time job in the field they wish to pursue, and going to seminars. These activities are on top of any school organizations and sports the applicant might be part of.
Get letters of recommendation that will have the most impact. Some colleges will want letters of recommendation to accompany an application. If possible, get letters from people that the college will take note of. These people include successful alumni, professionals in the field the applicant wishes to pursue, executives in recognizable companies, and civic leaders. A personalized letter of recommendation from an alumnus that is now a successful executive of billion dollar company will have more impact than a generic letter from the applicant’s math teacher.
Think about using the early admission option. Some colleges offer what is called an early decision or early admission option. While the rules for early decision vary from place to place and should be researched, the advantage often is that early admission candidates have a better chance of being accepted. Note that this is not always the case, as some early admission programs are actually more selective. Still, if the student has solid grades, doesn’t think additional time will improve their application, and really wants to go to a specific college, it may be an option. If a student intends to apply to colleges with an early decision option, he or she should thoroughly research any possible advantages early decision offers.