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College Application and Essay Tips

Looking to take the stress out of applying to college? It is possible. While such an important venture will probably not be worry-free, a little preparation and a smart approach can make the task far less daunting. As you sit down to put your college applications and essays together, consider using these ten tips. You will find the process is easier than you expected. Need an added bonus? You will also increase your chances of gaining admission to your school of choice.

    1) Start Early with Your Application and Essay

    Many activities in life can safely wait until the last minute. A successful college application is not one of them. Putting together a winning application is not something you can do in an hour or two. Be prepared to work hard and get started as soon as possible. Don't give in to procrastination. If you do, you may find yourself without enough time to complete and submit a high-quality application.

    There is one other important reason to start an application as soon as possible: you, the applicant, are not the only person involved in the process. Failure to begin early enough may mean asking for letters of recommendation at the last minute. That kind of request will leave your writers feeling less-than-honored as they realize you have saddled them with a tight deadline. You also want to give yourself enough time to have others read your essay to help you proofread and make corrections.

    2) Know the Process of College Admissions

    Surprises are only good when they are attached to birthday parties or spur of the moment vacations. As you begin the process of applying to college, don't let an unexpected requirement or an early deadline derail you. For each institution you consider, find out everything you can about the application process. A problem you know about is always easier to handle than one you did not see coming.

    Be aware that some colleges and universities have special requirements. Applicants may need to participate in an interview or submit a portfolio. Before you fill out a single piece of paperwork, understand what is required of you and prepare yourself to meet those challenges.

    3) Solicit Amazing Letters of Recommendation

    Nearly every college or university requires applicants to supply letters or recommendations. The admissions committee leans heavily on these as they select the next group of students who will walk their institution's halls. Do not underestimate the importance of great recommendations. While your application and essay are both chances for you to "sell" yourself, your letters of recommendation allow the committee to see what those who know you think of your abilities and character.

    Fortunately, you can select who writes these letters. The people on your list should include teachers and mentors who are familiar with you and with whom you enjoy a good relationship. Make sure they can speak to your strengths and are comfortable doing so. Many writers will allow you to review a copy of the letter they have written on your behalf, but not everyone is comfortable with this practice. Before you ask someone to recommend you, make sure that you would feel at ease submitting their letter without reading it.

    4) Do a Little Delegating

    Instead of trying to gather transcripts, test scores, and other assessments and deliver them with your application, arrange for your school and testing agencies to send results directly to the places you are applying. This is a simple step that can help you avoid the hassles of lost paperwork and incomplete applications. Take advantage of it.

    Be aware that you may not always have a choice in this matter. Some schools absolutely require these items to be sent directly from schools and testing agencies. Also, there may be a fee associated with this service.

    5) Model Your Writing After Good Sample College Essays

    For most applicants, nothing causes more lost sleep or cold sweats than the prospect of writing the admissions essay. Colleges use this personal statement to assess your writing ability, your character, and your chances of excelling academically.

    Fortunately, many model essays exist to make your job easier. Visit your local library or high school's guidance office and ask for a book of sample essays, or search the Internet. You can use these proven examples to help structure your own writing and decide what to include. Of course, the words and details contained in your essay must be your own, but you do not need to reinvent the form.

    6) Be Yourself at Your Best

    As you write your essay, always remember to be your best self. Be open, honest, and convey your passions. You want the admissions committee to get a sense of who you truly are and what you can bring to the university community.

    If you are tempted to represent yourself as someone other than who you really are, resist it. It is easy to write the things you think people want to hear, but it is important to be truthful for a couple of reasons. First, if you are not honest, the committee may sense that and move on to another student. Second, if you are admitted to the college under false pretenses, you may not truly be a good match for that institution. The result could be four years of misery for you.

    7) Be Concise, Clear, and Compelling

    While what you say about yourself in your application essay matters, so does the way in which you say it. Always remember that the committee will be looking at hundreds of essays from prospective students. You increase your chances of standing out from the crowd by being concise, stating your case clearly, and writing in a compelling manner.

    It should go without saying that your grammar and mechanics should be as close to perfect as you can manage. Beyond that, make sure your style is one that makes readers want to learn more about you. If you do that successfully, your essay will be a welcome relief as the committee combs the files piling high on their conference room table.

    8) Be Careful with Humor

    It is okay to inject a little humor into your essay, but not too much. You want the committee to understand that you take the application process seriously and that you are presenting an accurate picture of yourself and your thoughts. Over-the-top humor can make those difficult goals to achieve.

    There is one additional problem with trying to be humorous: it's subjective and hard to convey on paper. You can easily and unintentionally offend people or come off as being serious when you were attempting to be ironic. If you do not think you can handle humor appropriately in your essay, by all means, avoid it.

    9) Tailor Your Writing to the University

    Every piece of writing is written with an audience in mind. The better the writer is able to define that audience, the more successful her writing is likely to be. Your college admissions essay is no different. You are writing for the admissions committee at a specific institution; tailor your message to them. You will instantly increase your chances of success.

    Ask yourself what you know about the history, strengths, and achievements of the university. Try to see if there is a way those things intersect with your own abilities and dreams. If you can make these connections, your application will stand out from the crowd.

    10) Choose Excellent "Beta Testers"

    Just like software developers use beta testers to find and fix the flaws in a new program, writers can benefit from letting carefully selected readers review their essay before submitting it. Ask your "beta testers" to look for grammatical problems and misspellings, but more importantly, for things that just don't make sense. Take their input seriously as you correct your drafts.

    To get the most benefit, choose at least three people to review your essay. Try to find people who know you well and who are good writers themselves. By improving your essay over a series of drafts, you become much more likely to send out something you can be proud of.

These tips may not make applying to college your favorite activity, but they will make the process manageable and should help you put together a successful application and essay, which will be well worth it to get into your dream school.