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Tips For College Applications, Essays & Letters of Recommendation

You’ve been making plans about what you’re going to do after high school for a while now, and it’s finally time to apply to college. The last year of high school is a whirlwind, with the time seeming to pass faster than any other year of your life so far. When it comes to applying for colleges, you don’t want that time to catch up with you, so here are some important tips from Excel High School for getting your college applications, essays, and letters of recommendations in time and in top shape.

Plan ahead. 

The most important advice we can give you is to plan ahead and be organized enough to know when the deadlines are for the applications, what the topics are for each essay, and who will write your letters of recommendation. Look up the deadlines and set reminders in your phone calendar so that you give yourself plenty of time to get everything done. On top of that, you have to give the people writing you letters of recommendation enough time to write and revise their work for you as well. 

That boils down to the fact that you need to start collecting data early. Don’t wait until the last minute to find out how to request your transcript or ask teachers for recommendations. If possible, start talking to teachers about letters during junior year, but at the very least, touch base with them at the beginning of senior year.

When you are ready to write college essays, be sure to plan ahead enough to do any research you need to do and give yourself time to put real thought into what you want to say. You’ll want time to brainstorm and outline your essay before you write it. And you’ll definitely need to start the writing with enough time to get feedback about what you’ve written and improve your writing through revision.

Content

If you’ve done all the planning ahead and are ready to complete your applications, be sure to follow all of the instructions. Once you submit your application and essay, there’s no turning back, so make sure you understand every question on the application as well as the essay prompt. Some applications will even warn you that if you leave certain parts blank, your application will be disregarded, so pay attention to what you’re doing when you’re filling them out. If there are any questions you don’t understand or if you aren’t clear about how to answer the essay prompt, then ask for help. You can talk to people at school, family members, or trusted friends. This process is far too important to just wing it.

When you’re asking adults to write you letters of recommendation, not only do you want to be sure to give them time to write them, but you’ll also want to make sure you understand what qualities you demonstrate that the school is looking for, and you’ll want to communicate that to the people writing them. You want to be honest, but you also want those qualities to be mentioned in the letters. It’s okay to provide a list of your accomplishments and positive qualities to the people writing these letters. They know you, and they can certainly confirm these things about you; however, they might not remember as well as you do. Helping them out is a great way to make sure the letter gets done on time and is well-written with specific examples.

In your essays, be focused and specific. Students who write about general qualities without specific personal examples do not stand out as much as those who are honest and include a personal touch. When you’re talking about important experiences you’ve had, reflect on your experiences rather than just telling the story. Taking the time to be introspective and reflect on what your experiences taught you about yourself and the world around you pays off in a college essay. 

If you have a choice of prompt, choose wisely, not just the topic that seems like it will be the easiest. Be sure it’s the right topic for you, your writing style, your experiences, and your personality. You want to choose a topic that is going to help you communicate who you are to the admissions team. While you’re writing, use your own voice and show your personality. If you’re funny, be funny, but also be sure you remember who your audience is: adult professionals working to better their college. While you’re showing the admissions team who you are, feel free to talk about your future plans and about how their school will help you achieve your goals.

Revise Everything

If you’ve planned ahead, then this step will be no problem. You want to put some time between your first writing and the revision process because it will help you revise. It’s even a good idea to have a trusted adult check through everything in your application before you press send. You want to be sure that you don’t contradict anything between the application, the essay, and your letters of recommendation. That’s a major red flag for people going through your paperwork. 

This process is important, so having other people check your application and your essay proves that you understand the seriousness of the future you’re working toward. If you or the people helping you revise find the work lacking in any way, don’t be afraid to start over. 

Getting ready for college is a lot of work. It’s going to take a lot of time, dedication, and planning. But you can do it: get yourself organized, put in the work, and get the help you need to make it happen. Before you know it, you’ll be graduating and heading off toward opportunities and amazing experiences in college.

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