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Admission Application Tips

The process of applying to schools is relatively complex--multiply it by 6 or 7 different schools, and the amount of paperwork and complexity gets overwhelming! Get the details on how the process works, and some tips on completing your application to help you in organizing your application effort.

APPLICATION DUE DATES -- do you know your deadlines?

COLLEGE ADMISSIONS OFFICERS -- who are those guys?

ADMISSIONS CRITERIA -- all the pieces matter!




You will typically encounter three kinds of due dates for admissions applications.

  1. Priority dates. This term refers to the PREFERRED DATE the school would like to get your application. In essence, meeting this deadline means you are getting the application AHEAD of schedule, instead of waiting for the final due date. Colleges will evaluate the applications submitted by the priority date first and therefore, you are likely to hear more quickly about your admissions status. Check the availability of early application options.

  2. Final due dates. If you see this term used in application materials you should know it refers to the DEADLINE FOR SUBMITTING YOUR APPLICATION. When confronting a final due date you need to have your materials in the mail and postmarked before midnight. Colleges will not feel any obligation to consider your application if you do not meet this deadline!. However, some schools may consider your application in some cases. If you really want to attend that particular college, you should write a letter (or place a phone call) explaining why you were late in filing your application and send everything in anyway.

  3. Rolling admissions dates. When colleges use this term in their application materials it indicates there is no "final due date" or "deadline". Colleges using this method will consider applications as they come in until the freshmen class is full. This kind of admissions procedure gives you more leeway in terms of completing and sending your applications. BE AWARE OF THE FACT that the longer you wait to send in your application, the more likely it is that the college may have filled the freshmen class. It IS NOT advisable for you to procrastinate for too long.


Who are the mysterious admissions officials at each college? What are they expecting from you? Here are a just few clues concerning these questions.

Who are the folks who read my essays and thumb through my application?

Admissions Officers are usually divided into two groups. The first is made up of temporary officers who do most of the grunt work. They are trained to evaluate application materials based on ranking systems that vary from college to college. They are the ones who deal with the job of reading and ranking the admissions folders under quite a bit of pressure as they approach deadlines for completing this evaluation process. Many colleges also hire outside evaluators, from graduate students to professors. The other group is comprised of the full time Admissions Officers who decide on actual admissions policies and rules.

Almost all folders are read by the temporary officers and the more junior full time officers. Each evaluator is expected to read a quota of folders and evaluate a variety of criteria. They will write comments and observations directly in the folders to remind them of strengths and weaknesses. They will generally sort their folders into stacks divided into the following categories:

  • Acceptance recommended

  • (The big stack) Maybe!

  • Wait List

  • Sorry, not what we are looking for.

Who ultimately decides my fate?

An Admissions Committee will meet to listen to the recommendations of the Admissions Officers. These committees are usually made up of ; the Director of Admissions, the presenters (the officers who read the files) and frequently, professors, and other college administrators.. The ultimate decision as to whether or not you get in is usually already made before the Committee meets. The recommendations of the officers are rarely overturned and the Director of Admissions will rarely read any applications at all. He/she simply wants to hear what the officers have to say, and if there are any questions, the Admissions Director may quickly skim an application. One thing the Director might do in borderline cases? Quickly skim and evaluate the essay.


What ARE they looking for in my application? What specific criteria do they use to decide who gets in and who doesn't? The key criteria are pretty standard, but some elements of your application carry more weight than others. Each school's admission program has its own ranking of criteria.

  • Your transcript

  • Your test scores

  • Your interview

  • Your extracurricular activities

  • Teacher recommendations

  • Your essay

    Your transcript-- Most schools still rank the transcripts as the most important element of your application. Officers will evaluate the strength of the courses you took. Advanced Placement and Honors courses are obviously given more weight while classes like "The History of Disco" will automatically set off the "Micky Mouse" course warning. The other obvious factor under consideration involves the grades you received in these courses. If you have a high GPA in honors or AP courses, this will be more impressive than a high GPA taking general or basic courses. However, admissions officers do not just look to see if you have high grades. They are sympathetic to the fact that a rigorous course load of honors classes in difficult courses can result in (gasp!) a grade of "B" or even the dreaded "C" from time to time. Just because you have trouble with a difficult course does not mean you have blown your chances.

    Your SAT I, II and ACT scores- Most Admissions Officers DO NOT assign as much importance to SAT I and II and ACT scores as the students and parents do. Questions have been raised over the last few years about how reliable the SAT I and II scores are in reflecting student aptitude and chances of success in college, especially given the huge increase in SAT I and II preparation courses that may have diluted the relevance of the scores. Many admissions officers treat these scores as just a way to evaluate your achievement on this kind of test while taking your background into consideration. A student who comes from an upper middle class home with two college educated parents could reasonably be expected to achieve above average in the verbal section of the SAT I. However, a student from a small rural town with a single parent and a poor school system could get a 580 in the verbal section, which could be considered a favorable score based on his/her background. The SAT I and II are still important factors, but many schools are looking past raw test scores and focusing more on the essays and other portions of the application to really see what a student may be capable of.

    Your interview-- Many schools are simply using the interview as a recruiting tool these days. Most interviewers are expected to make you feel comfortable and to provide a good impression about their school. Meaningful interviews take too much time and it is hard for schools to get a really solid read about you in only half an hour. Many schools are toying with the idea of getting rid of the interview process altogether.

    Your extracurricular activities-- Outside activities are very important indicators of your interests and levels of commitment. Admissions Officers generally are most impressed by students who pick only a few extracurricular activities and then participate fully in them. Your best chance of standing out is to be fully and actively involved in a select few campus clubs, teams, music groups, etc. It is also to your advantage to show evidence of a leadership role in these organizations. Remember that Admission Officers have seen it all and if you try to impress them by participating in 20 different organizations on a superficial level, they will see through your smokescreen! If you have waited until the fall of your senior year to participate in activities, you may encounter some problems when your file comes up for consideration.

    Teacher recommendations--Recommendations from your teachers and administrators still carry a great deal of weight with Admissions Officers. This is another way for schools to find out about the "real you". If teachers write good letters of recommendation they will, hopefully, communicate to the college examples of your character, dedication, humor, wit and other positive attributes. A well written letter is another opportunity for a college to get a sense of your uniqueness. SO, be careful about who you have write your letters. Pick instructors you trust and respect and who feel the same way about you.

    Your essay--By the time Admissions Officers get to your essay, they already have a general idea of who you are. They know about your activities, your grades, your family and a variety of other things. They have clues about your character and values based on letters of recommendation, and the "real you" is beginning to come into focus. NOW, you get to sharpen that image. A well written essay, with a unique, genuine quality, will help solidify and expand on the image the admissions officer is developing. can guide you in writing a compelling essay.


    Many colleges have now agreed to accept a Common Application, and will mention it in their college admissions materials. If more than one college you are applying to accepts the Common Application form, you can save time and effort-but there is a catch. Some colleges will also request that you fill out a "supplementary" application, which can be much more detailed and may actually contain their most important requirements--short answer responses and essays. You are responsible to be sure all REQUIRED application forms are completed and sent back in. Do not assume that because a Common Application is accepted that it is the only one the college expects you to submit.

    How do I get the applications I need? Just ask!


    Ask your counselor

    Some state applications can be obtained at your counseling or career services office. In California, for example, most counselors can provide you with application materials for the University of California, California State University or Community Colleges.

    Ask the college Admissions Offices

    For many schools you will need to write a letter requesting application materials. Your counseling office may have form letters you can send to Admissions Offices. You can also simply call the schools in question and request an application be sent to you.

    Ask for electronic applications!

    Some schools can send you computer diskettes with the application forms on them! Make sure to ask about this option when requesting the applications.



    • Neatness and accuracy count. Admissions officers WILL notice basic errors such as misspellings, poor grammar and illegibility. If your application is messy and looks rushed with many errors, many admissions officers might simply stop reading it.

    • Don't use abbreviations for terms or programs that only you understand. Write out these terms so you are sure whoever reads the application fully understands what you are referring to.

    • Don't leave blanks in the application form. Use the commonly accepted N/A to indicate that the information requested is either "not applicable" or is "not available". By doing this, you are indicating that you read the material and are aware of it, but that it does not apply to you. This way, evaluators will know that you did not just skip it due to carelessness.

    • Do not be afraid to attach another page if you don't have enough room to complete some portions of the application. Be sure to indicate on the main form that the evaluator should "see attached page". (Double check the application, because, at times, the college will expect you to ONLY use the space allotted for some information)

    • Have someone (parents?) proofread and double check your application for errors.

    • Use a typewriter or print very neatly to fill in applications.