Tiny Details That Matter: Final Tips Before You Submit Your Application for College


Tiny Details That Matter: Final Tips Before You Submit Your Application for College

The college admissions process can feel as though it’s all a mystery—at the end of the day, what really matters to admissions officers? After you submit your application, all components will be thoroughly analyzed. It’s not just about the content (although, that matters tremendously); it is also about how it is presented.

After four years of preparation for college, and countless hours (we hope) spent drafting your personal statement and perfecting your activities list, it’s time to polish it all and make every single element strong, clean, and consistent. You never want the mistake you missed to be what an admissions officer remembers most about your profile. Here are details that our Former Admissions Officers notice along with tips before you submit your application for college that can ultimately make or break their first impression of you.

Do not include that additional letter of recommendation

Why? If the school hasn’t asked for it or states explicitly on their website that they will not read or accept additional letters of recommendation, they won’t read it. After the first two teacher recommendations, your chemistry teacher’s glowing letter that notes how fabulously you managed to save your lab experiment from disaster will probably never make it before an admissions officer’s eyes. Worst case scenario, the admissions office might even find it annoying that you blatantly ignored the school’s policy and submitted extra letters—none of which said anything particularly different about you.

Exceptions to the rule: If the school specifically states that will take additional letters of recommendation, then this can be a way to add a bit more color to your profile. Make sure that it’s a reasonable number (i.e. one or two, not five) and that the letters add a unique perspective to your application. Ask an internship supervisor or someone who was involved with one of your activities rather than another teacher to help diversify your recommendation writers. When in doubt and looking for tips before you submit your application for college, check the admissions office website’s “FAQ” page. But if an additional letter won’t add any new insights and/or a school clearly discourages such letters, stay away!

Or that resumé

Why? The resumé is another piece of additional information that will probably never be read by an admissions officer. With approximately 11 minutes to process your application, admissions officers will –at best– skim an attached resumé, particularly if it largely overlaps with your activities list. In fact, they might find it a tad frustrating if you’ve decided to tack on a 5-page resumé to an otherwise pristine application. In short, investing a lot of time into a resumé is not a strategic. It’s additional information that probably won’t benefit you.

Exceptions to the rule: If your resumé actually includes key information that is not present in your activities list (and the resumé is relatively short!) it’s appropriate to include. But when in doubt, lean on the side of caution: don’t submit a resumé that doesn’t add anything new to your profile.

Watch that comma, semicolon, and parentheses!

Why? When an admissions officer reads your activities list, you don’t want them to be distracted by sloppiness. Go over everything with a fine-tooth comb for grammar mishaps. I mean everything. Some of our Former Admissions Officers have stated that if they caught more than 2 typos or syntax errors, they would quickly skim the rest of the application and move on. So it’s important when thinking about tips before you submit your application for college – don’t let this happen to you!

Don’t underestimate the importance of a clean and consistent application. This goes for your personal statement too—pull out all of your editing techniques to ensure you are actually ready to submit your application. Show admissions officers that you’ve been thoughtful and meticulous with your work.

Exceptions to the rule: None. (Yes, it really does matter!)

Do your math

Why? If your SAT, ACT, or TOEFL subscores aren’t adding up—something is wrong. I’m not saying you deliberately lied on your application—just that you can definitely access a free calculator online to help you avoid any mistakes that will leave an admissions officer scratching their head as to why you have a “38” ACT if the highest possible score is a 36.

Admissions officers also know how to count your activities list hours. Every year, they see applicants who exaggerate the amount of time they spend pursuing extracurriculars to the point that it isn’t plausible. If your activities list hours exceed the number of hours in a week, admissions officers will roll their eyes.

Exceptions to the rule: None. Whether it’s the Common App, UC App, or Coalition App - make sure you get this right.

Don’t miss a chance to share more about yourself

Why? Even if you’re not sure what you want to pursue in college, never leave the future plans section blank. Don’t worry—you aren’t committing to any life path! Nothing you list here is binding, so use this opportunity to show one of your interests. Admissions officers understand that you will probably change your mind many, many times, but they like to have a sense of your direction so that they can visualize how you’d contribute to their campus.

Exceptions to the rule: None. Leaving this empty is not strategic!

For more strategic, last-minute advice, check out this podcast featuring a Former Admissions Officer:

Double check the obvious

Why? Don’t mix up your first name and your last name or the address of your home and your school in your application’s profile section. Make sure you’ve got all of the right information on your parents’ backgrounds – don’t just wing it. All of this information provides important context for your background. This may seem too obvious to be included among the tips before you submit your application for college but trust us—we’ve seen it happen.

Exceptions to the rule: None. This is simple stuff—just don’t be careless.

Think again about the organization

Why? There’s a method to the madness of ordering your activities list. Your top activities should demonstrate your key interests and match your designated major and future career goals. Activities should be roughly ordered from most to least involved (hours, weeks, years), and be organized from most to least impactful or unique. If you’re a future psychology major, your top activities should focus on psychology research or internships.

Exceptions to the rule: You’re going to have to use your personal judgement for this – sometimes it can be tricky to tell what activities have had the largest impact. When in doubt, ask yourself: did this affect me (or someone else) in a big way? Was this a large-scale project or activity? How much do I really care about this? An admissions officer is going to walk away from your application feeling confused if you say that you want to be a journalist, your future major is English, you wrote your personal statement on journaling, and then your top activity is about dance club and not the creative writing magazine you started at your high school. Take a step back and make sure that it all makes sense!

Be consistent

Why? Inconsistency is distracting! If some activity listings end with a period, make sure that happens 100% of the time. If you’re using commas, stick to commas. If you’re using semicolons to split up key phrases, keep doing that. Don’t alternate between “&,” “+,” or “and.” Just pick one and stick to it.

Exceptions to the rule: None – there are no excuses for messy applications!

Don’t be bold

Why? When you enter text into an online application for your personal statement, make sure that every piece of text looks exactly as you intend. Do not put all your text in bold (yes, this happens), make sure that italics are only where you want them, and double check any characters in other languages.

Exceptions to the rule: None. Always click “preview” or “review and submit” on the Common App, then turn your application into a PDF and double check how it appears. If characters in Mandarin are popping up as question marks on the PDF, they’ll be question marks to an admissions officer, too.

Self-presentation is in the details. You wouldn’t show up to a job interview in a hoodie and sweats, so make sure your application puts its best foot forward too. Follow our tips before you submit your application for college and make sure that admissions officers will see your application exactly the way you intended.


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