College Admissions

College Applications

Big Changes in College Admission

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

There are changes in the world of college admission every year. But in 14 years as an independent college counselor, I have never seen more changes coming at the same time.

In standardized testing, we have the new SAT, which debuted last month. While the exam is now much more similar to the ACT, there are still differences. Test planning has been complicated by the fact that the College Board did not release scores from the March administration until May 10 and the May test scores will not be available until mid-June.

The good news is that more colleges join the test-optional list each year. Skidmore College announced a new test-optional policy a few weeks ago, and there will certainly be more announcements from colleges in the coming months. Students who are anxious about testing should include at least one test-optional college on their college list.

The financial aid application timeline is also changing. High school seniors applying for financial aid will no longer need to wait until January 1 to complete the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA). Students can apply beginning October 1, using prior-prior year (PPY) tax data. Seniors who will be applying to college in the fall will be using 2015 rather than 2016 tax information. The new policy should enable colleges to provide earlier and more accurate information about what kind of financial aid a student will receive from a college.

There are also changes in college applications. Several popular schools that previously required their own applications have joined the Common Application, including Indiana University and University of Wisconsin. This will make it easier for students to apply to those schools.

But the biggest change will be the new Coalition Application. The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success was started by a group of colleges to enhance access to an affordable education and provide early engagement to help under-resourced students. Coalition members are required to meet several criteria, including a minimum 70% six year graduation rate. Private schools must meet all demonstrated financial need for each domestic student they admit. Public schools must have affordable tuition and provide need-based financial aid for in-state students. More than 90 institutions have joined the Coalition. The list includes the Ivies, Stanford and other highly selective schools, as well as more than 35 public schools including University of Florida, University of Maryland and University of Washington.

The additions to the Common Application and the introduction of the Coalition Application mean that students who apply to a number of public universities outside of California may find they will have to complete fewer applications. But new systems usually have glitches, and students should not be surprised if the Coalition Application tests their patience during this first year. In fact, concerns about the new technology have led some Coalition members to delay using the Coalition Application for a year.

The UC has its own changes, and will no longer have a personal statement where students respond to two required prompts with a total of 1,000 words. Instead, students will choose four of eight personal insight questions, and can write up to 350 words for each question. While students may end up doing more writing for the new UC application, the more targeted questions will provide flexibility, and should enable students to provide a more complete picture for UC application readers.

The Coalition has released essay prompts, but not all member institutions will be requiring essays. Prompts for the Common Application essay will be the same as last year. Supplemental essays required by many colleges may change and will become available over the summer. Students who are eager to get started on application essays should verify that they have the correct prompts before writing their essays.

Take Control of Your College Admissions Process

Friday, January 9th, 2015

If you are a high school junior who is starting to think about potential colleges, you have a choice to make about how you approach this process. You can read magazine rankings and lists of “best” schools. You can apply to the colleges your relatives have attended, or the schools your friends are talking about. You can focus on the many colleges sending brochures and emails urging you to choose them.

But these are passive approaches that allow your choices be determined by other people, and that’s not the best way to make a major life decision. It is very empowering to tune out the outside influences and look inward. Think about who you are and what you want in a college experience, and then you can make sure to find the schools where you will be able to have that kind of experience.

You might not know what kind of experience you want, and that’s fine. It can take some time to figure out what is important for you in choosing a college. There are many factors that go into this decision.

If you know you want to study architecture, or nursing, or another subject that is not offered at every college, finding schools with that program will narrow down your options considerably. If you are contemplating majors that are offered at most colleges, there are other ways to determine what kind of college would be right for you.

In what type of environment have you flourished in the past? Think about your favorite classes in school. What made you love them? Is it a passionate teacher who got you interested in the subject? Class discussions where you enjoyed having your say and hearing what your classmates thought about an issue? Do you enjoy talking to your teachers outside of class? You might want a smaller college that offers a lot of interaction between professors and students. Do you like being one of the top students in your classes? If so, you might be happier at a college that’s not overly competitive.

And if you are clueless, no need to panic. Start by visiting some local colleges, both big universities and small liberal arts colleges, and those visits can help you begin to clarify what you want and don’t want in your college experience.

Even if you have it all figured out, you may find that your preferences change once you start visiting colleges. Students who grow up in quiet suburban neighborhoods may fantasize about the excitement of living in the middle of a major city, but sometimes they end up falling in love with a sprawling, peaceful, grassy campus.

Unlike high school, where you go home at the end of the day, college will be your world for four years. It needs to be a world where you are engaged and challenged, and where you feel part of a community. There is more than college where you can thrive, but not every college is a good fit.

It’s all about individual preferences, which is why it makes no sense to use other people’s preferences in choosing which colleges are best for you.

So spend some time thinking about what you want in a college and then you can start researching schools. If you plan some campus visits for spring break, you’ll have a chance to make sure you are on the right track with your college list.

Going to college is a major life decision, and you are much more likely to be happy with your decision if you are knowledgeable and in control of the process.

College Application Update for California Students

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

At the recent University of California counselor conference, admissions directors from each UC campus provided updates, and the numbers continue to be daunting. It’s easier to understand why admission has become so competitive when you look at a graph showing that applications at Berkeley have more than doubled over the past 10 years. Berkeley received over 73,000 freshman applications last year, and more than 34,000 of those applicants had a grade point average of 4.0 or above. The total number of students admitted to Berkeley was below 13,000, so it’s clear that the vast majority of excellent students were denied. The admit rate to the campus was below 18 percent, but it was even tougher for prospective engineering majors, as the admit rate for Berkeley’s engineering school was just nine percent.

UCLA admitted 16.3% of California freshman applicants. Since UCLA plans to maintain a stable enrollment target and will probably receive more applications next year, admission will be even more competitive. Even campuses that have not been highly selective in the past are becoming much more competitive. At Irvine, the admit rate dropped from 41 percent to 35.4 percent in one year. Santa Cruz had a very high number of students accepting an offer of admission, and the admissions office is predicting a lower admit rate for the next freshman class.

While the UC certainly has become less accessible in recent years, the good news is that more colleges around the country are actively recruiting California students. In the last few weeks, I’ve attended meetings with admissions officers from more than 25 colleges that are eager to increase their enrollment of California students, and that’s a small fraction of the schools looking for California students. Some will even subsidize airfare for admitted students who want to visit the college before making a decision. Many schools offer scholarships that can bring the cost down, so that in some cases, families are paying no more than the cost of attending a UC campus. Even if the cost is a little higher, it can be worth it for smaller classes and more personal attention, along with a guarantee of completing a degree in four years.

You don’t need stellar grades and test scores to get into college. It’s true that competition for admission at schools that are in the top 25 of the US News rankings is intense, but these rankings don’t provide meaningful information about the quality of education or the experience a particular student will have at a college. There are hundreds of colleges that offer strong academic programs, as well as great internship and study abroad opportunities. Since so many strong students are no longer able to access the most selective schools, those students are attending and raising the caliber of other colleges. If you are willing to look beyond the usual suspects, you will find colleges where you can get a good education and have an enjoyable four years on campus.

As college application deadlines approach in the next few months, high school seniors and their parents are vulnerable to extreme admission anxiety. It helps to find at least a couple schools that you like and that would be clear admits. If you have good grades but just don’t do well on standardized tests, be sure to apply to some test-optional colleges. You can find a list of test-optional schools at It is also important to make sure you have colleges that are financially accessible. The net price calculator on each college’s website will give you a preliminary estimate of the cost for your family.

Take Time to Write “Why Our College?” Essay

Friday, November 8th, 2013

Demonstrated interest has become increasingly important at many colleges, as they try to predict yield, which is the number of admitted students who enroll in the college. Since the Common Application makes it easy for students to apply to a dozen or more schools, many colleges have added supplemental essays in the hope that students who are willing to do the additional work are seriously interested in the school. One of the most common supplemental essays is some version of “Why are you applying to our college?” 

I have seen hundreds of the “Your university offers outstanding academic programs in a dynamic urban location with great access to internships” essay. It is a very efficient approach, since students can just change the name of the college and use the same essay for each application.

It is not a very effective approach. If the same essay can be sent to different colleges, you are not answering the prompt, which asks why you and this college are a good match. After students have spent many hours perfecting the main college application essay, I can understand the urge to rush through these extra essays and be done with the applications.

But this is an opportunity to set yourself apart from all the other applicants who dash off a generic essay. This question should prompt students to research the school and think about whether it is in fact a good fit.

Flattering the college is not a good strategy. Neither is telling admissions officers what they already know about their school. You don’t need to tell University of Pennsylvania that Wharton School is one of the top business schools in the country. You do need to tell them what unique academic programs, research opportunities, and extracurricular activities make Wharton a perfect fit for your background, interests and goals.

The first step in responding to this prompt is to spend time on the college website. If you plan to major in political science, read about the course offerings and look for any unusual programs and opportunities. Does the school have a polling institute that uses undergraduates to conduct interviews? Have many students completed internships with local government agencies? Does the school offer a Washington semester for students who want to study in the nation’s capital?

The student life section of the college website should list clubs and organizations. If there are any unusual clubs that sound especially interesting, you can name them. Again, the focus should be on why this club is perfect for you. Perhaps you have been on your high school debate team and you are excited about this college’s winning debate team.

You can also access a school newspaper online, and if you read it regularly, you will learn what groups are active on campus and what issues are being discussed in the campus community. How do you see yourself contributing to this community?

Reading about a school’s programs and talking with current or former students is the kind of research students should be doing before deciding to apply to a college, but very few invest the time that’s required to really understand what a college has to offer and whether it is a good fit.

Writing this essay is an opportunity to make sure that each of the colleges on your list is right for you. It is true that if you know you want a small liberal arts college, many of the schools on your list will have similar characteristics. But you should still be able to find something specific that appeals to you at each school. If you can’t think of anything that excites you about the college, you still have time to revise your list.

Fear and Uncertainty Can Lead to Bad Behavior on All Sides

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

At the same time that many families are in a state of high anxiety over the competition to get into college, admissions staffs at the majority of colleges are worried about enrolling enough freshmen.

According to the recently released 2013 Inside Higher Ed Survey of College and University Admissions Directors,  more than half of private, bachelor’s degree granting colleges and public, bachelor’s or master’s degree granting institutions had not met their fall enrollment goals by the May 1 deadline for students to accept an offer of admission. Schools offering doctoral degrees were more likely to reach their enrollment goals.

Some schools, including St. Mary’s College of Maryland, the public honors college in the state, and Loyola University New Orleans, were significantly short of their enrollment targets this year, and will have to make budget cuts because of the loss in tuition revenue. Colleges that don’t have large endowments and are very dependent on tuition are especially vulnerable to fluctuations in enrollment. Nobody wants to lose faculty and staff, and every college will be working hard to meet enrollment targets this year.

Admissions offices at many colleges are likely to be dealing with enrollment pressures for a while. In many parts of the country, the number of high school seniors has peaked, and for the next few years, there may be fewer students applying to college.

Families are no longer so willing to take on big loans for expensive colleges, and this has impacted private colleges as well as nonresident enrollment at some public universities. Some schools are trying to reassure families worried about the costs going up every year by guaranteeing that tuition will remain the same for four years. However, residence hall and meal plan costs can still increase each year.

International recruiting has become more important as colleges seek to broaden the applicant pool. In 2011, the majority of admissions directors backed a National Association for College Admissions Counseling draft policy that would prohibit colleges from using recruiting agents who are paid at least in part by commission. Just two years later, at last week’s NACAC convention, members approved a new policy that will allow the use of these agents, who enable colleges to bring in more applications from international students. Many admissions offices already send their representatives around the world and fly in high school counselors for campus visits. I attended a campus visit program at one highly selective university, where counselors were flown in from Greece, China and even Nepal. This, despite the fact that the university already has an admit rate below 15 percent.

Fear and desperation can bring out the worst in people. When students feel the pressure of competition for college admission, they sometimes resort to exaggerating or fabricating their achievements. Some students even have someone else write their application essays.

Admission offices are not immune to the temptation to cheat. There have been several cases in recent years of colleges reporting higher average SAT scores to the US News rankings, and in the survey, while very few admissions directors say their school reports false data to US News and other rankings systems, the vast majority believe that other schools engage in this practice.

In recent years, as fear of competition and the desire to compare costs motivates students to apply to more colleges, it has been increasingly difficult for colleges to predict how many students will accept an offer of admission. According to the survey, 29 percent of admissions directors admitted to recruiting students who had already committed to other schools. Doing this after the May 1 decision deadline is a violation of NACAC’s Statement of Principles of Good Practice, and the fact that it was not uncommon this year is a sign of how desperate some schools were to meet their enrollment targets.

While some colleges may be engaging in unethical behavior, that doesn’t mean students get a pass to violate the rules. If knowing that you have conducted yourself honorably is not enough motivation to complete your applications in an ethical manner, be aware that dishonesty could jeopardize your admission. Some colleges may ask for proof of your community service hours or extracurricular activities, especially if the hours you claim on the application seem excessive. Admissions officers will be suspicious if the “voice” or the quality of writing in an application essay is not consistent with the essay you wrote as part of the SAT or ACT, or does not seem to match your academic performance in English classes. Parents who are tempted to provide too much help with essays should know that admissions officers are quite capable of recognizing essays that were written by 45-year-olds.

It can be challenging to stay on an ethical path, especially when other people, and institutions, may stray from that path. But applications that are authentic stand out, and there’s nothing better than getting an acceptance from a college and knowing you earned it.

Start Those College Applications

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

With the school year ending, rising seniors need some time to breathe after final exams and SAT/ACT tests. They should take a week or two to relax. But then it’s time to start working on college applications. 

If you haven’t finalized your college list, this is the time to do more research. In addition to reading about academic programs and student life on the school’s website, be sure to check out the student newspaper. Even if the newspaper is not publishing over the summer, you can read stories from the academic year. The admissions office won’t tell you that students are upset about a housing crunch or cutbacks in library hours, but you will find out by reading opinion columns and letters to the editor. The school newspaper is a great resource for learning what students are talking about as well as what organizations are active on campus.  

Be sure to register with the admissions office, and you will be invited to local information sessions. Most colleges will resume these local sessions at the end of the summer, but Colleges That Change Lives, a group of 40 student-centered colleges, has events scheduled through the summer. For families in the Los Angeles area, the CTCL information session and college fair are scheduled for July 31 and August 1, at the Hilton at Universal City.  

Register with an e-mail address that makes it easy for colleges to identify you, preferably something with your name. You should use the same e-mail address on college applications, so that the schools will be able to track any demonstrated interest. For example, if you have visited a college or attended a local information session, and used one e-mail address for those contacts, but another e-mail for your applications, admissions officers may not know that you visited campus. Many colleges, especially private schools, use demonstrated interest as a factor in admission decisions, though the most selective colleges do not generally consider interest. For those that do, even the time you spend on a college website may be tracked.

While I recommend visiting colleges when they are in session, many families need to schedule college tours during the summer. You will see other high school students on the tour, and these potential future classmates will be a good indication of the types of students who are attracted to this college. But the campus atmosphere is completely different, and can even feel desolate in the summer, especially at small schools that don’t have summer sessions. You don’t want to rule out a college that would be very appealing if you saw thousands of students walking across campus. It’s also helpful to sit in on a class, which you can only do when school is in session. Many colleges begin in August, and if your high school does not start until the end of the month, you may be able to schedule some visits during the first week of the college semester.

In the meantime, even if you haven’t finalized your college list, you can start working on application essays, which always require several drafts. While the University of California application will not open until October, you can access instructions for the personal statement now.

The Common Application will open August 1, but the new essay prompts have been announced.  Additional essay prompts for schools that require supplemental essays should be available when the Common Application opens. If you finish the main essay now, you can focus on the supplements in August.

The more you do during the summer, the less stress you will have in the fall.

Prepare For College Applications By Doing What You Love

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

While some students will be going off on costly service trips or educational programs during the summer, others are finding less expensive ways to explore their interests. When a student takes the initiative to pursue her interests, that experience is likely to be more meaningful to her and more impressive to colleges.

In a case study session at a recent professional development meeting, admissions officers talked about activities that stand out on an application and mentioned a student who was an aerial artist. That doesn’t mean you need to run out and sign up for trapeze lessons. What matters is finding something you enjoy doing.

Last summer, a student who had already taken the basic psychology course offered at his high school signed up for a summer class in social psychology at a nearby university. His excitement about the subject impressed the professor, who asked him to help with a research project. While the student’s initial motivation was his intrinsic interest in the subject, and a desire to explore a potential college major, he ended up with great material for a college application essay. Admissions officers like to see genuine intellectual curiosity, and this student was able to demonstrate his love of psychology through his coursework and research experience. Despite the fact that his extracurricular activities were not particularly impressive, he will be attending one of the most selective universities in the country.

Admissions officers like to see long-term commitment and leadership. Leadership isn’t just being elected president of your school. It’s what you do with the position. One newly elected student council president had enjoyed volunteering at a center that provides services for people with disabilities, and he made it his goal to have the school do more service projects. His first act as president was to create a committee that assessed the needs in the community. But you don’t need an official position to demonstrate leadership. Persuading a group of friends to start an after school program for low-income elementary school kids shows that you can influence people in a positive way. Even more ambitious would be getting additional students involved and expanding the program to other communities.

Not every essay needs to impress admissions officers with a grand achievement. A student who loves cooking got together with his best friend every week to experiment with new dishes. He wrote a lovely essay about how they keep each other in check when one gets too carried away as they explore New Orleans Cajun cuisine with a Japanese fusion twist.

The impact of coursework beyond the high school curriculum or ambitious service projects depends on the college and on the student. It can be both frustrating and comforting to realize that there isn’t one clear path to an offer of admission. Evidence of intellectual curiosity and impact on your school or community is more important at highly selective colleges. But these factors only come into play when a student has an excellent academic record, and the strongest essays won’t overcome an unimpressive transcript and mediocre test scores. While rising seniors can use the summer to get a head start on application essays, younger students who have struggled in school might spend part of the summer brushing up on their most challenging subjects and developing study skills so that they are prepared for a successful school year.

So Many College Applications, So Little Time

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Early application results are coming in daily, and my students who have been admitted to Boston College, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Occidental, Princeton, Rice, Tulane and University of Chicago are now able to enjoy a relaxing winter break.  This is one of the rewards of applying early.

Students who still have five or more applications to complete by January 1 won’t have such a relaxing break. Some students need the adrenaline rush of a tight deadline to perform at their best.  Others have been avoiding their college applications because of fear.  There is fear of failure.  If I don’t finish the applications, I won’t get rejected.  And fear of success.  If I’m accepted, I have to leave home and everyone I know.

Whatever the reasons for the procrastination, at this point, students who have not worked on college applications are likely to feel overwhelmed.  The best way to deal with that feeling is to make a plan, with small, attainable goals every day.

Organization is crucial, especially when you are working with tight deadlines.  The first step is making a list of all the application tasks you need to complete.  Start with the things that are easy to do, like sending test scores and filling out the basic information in the Common Application.  Finishing just one task will give you a feeling of accomplishment and begin to generate a sense of momentum.  Once you are working and getting things done, the anxiety will dissipate.

Create your own deadline for each application, and make a detailed daily schedule, with time allotted for all the tasks you will complete each day.  Knowing that you will work on your short answer about an activity for the Common Application from 9:00 to 10:00, and your NYU supplement from 10 to 11:30 gives you a structure.  You won’t waste time thinking about what to do next if you have a detailed schedule.

Essays are the most time-consuming part of college applications.  Print out all the essay prompts so that you can see where you will be able to recycle or modify essays.  You may not need to write as many essays as you think.  Break the essay writing process down into manageable parts.  First task is to brainstorm a list of ideas for the essay prompt.  Next, choose one or two ideas that seem promising and flesh them out a bit.  Choose the idea that you are most excited about writing, as your enthusiasm will propel you through the work and make the essay more interesting for admissions officers.  If the prospect of writing a full draft is intimidating, try brainstorming the ideas you want to include in the essay, and then put those thoughts into a logical order, perhaps in bullet points.  Once you have those bullet points, it should be easy to expand them into sentences and paragraphs, and you have your first draft.

Some students are paralyzed by the fear of perfection.  Remember that the first draft is not supposed to be perfect.  The goal is just to get your ideas on paper.  Essays take shape in the rewriting process.  But for now, put your first draft aside and go through the same process for the next essay.  Then you can go back and rewrite your first essay.  Most essays require at least three or four drafts.  That may sound impossible when you don’t have much time, but the first draft is the most time-consuming.  Subsequent drafts go much more quickly.

You want to submit the strongest applications.  Focusing on the task is crucial.  That means eliminating all distractions.  No video games, Facebook or texting while you are working.  This is a huge challenge for most students, who believe they can multi-task.  You probably don’t do it as well as you think.  Make sure you have a quiet, uncluttered space for working on applications.  Put the phone in another room. You can check it when you break for lunch.

Getting started is the hardest part.  You will pick up momentum as you work.  Remember that this will be over in a few weeks.  Think about how great it will feel to have all your college applications done.

Keep Working On Applications While Waiting For Early Decisions

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011

Many students are anxiously awaiting the results of their early applications before they invest time in other applications.  This is a big mistake.  Many colleges received more early applications this year, and competition for admission will be intense.  Early Action applications were up 14 percent at Northeastern and 25 percent at University of Chicago. Schools with binding Early Decision plans also saw significant increases.  Early Decision applications were up 15 percent at Northwestern, 17 percent at Emory, almost 20 percent at Boston University, 23 percent at Duke and 33 percent at Pomona.

Not all colleges had more early applications. Yale saw an 18 percent decrease in Early Action applications, which is probably because Harvard offered an Early Action option this year, and these schools don’t allow students to apply early to other colleges.  The new Harvard early option probably also accounts for modest decreases in Early Decision applications at Columbia and University of Pennsylvania.  But all of these schools may see increases in Regular Decision applications.  Students need to submit their strongest applications.

That’s why it’s important to keep working throughout this month.  Getting a rejection in mid-December can be a crushing disappointment, and it is very hard to recover from that emotional blow and do your best work on seven other applications when you have just two weeks till the early January deadlines.  While it may be difficult to push yourself to work on applications now while you’re waiting to get into your favorite college, it will be much harder after a rejection.  If you have finished your other applications and you are denied or deferred by your early school, you will be very relieved that your applications are ready to submit.  Best case scenario is that you are accepted at your early school, and in that case you will be so excited that you won’t care about the unnecessary work you did on other applications.

Students who did not submit early applications really have no reason to wait, and if they haven’t completed an application yet, it’s especially important to get started.  In addition to writing essays, you need to complete the activities/community service/work experience section, and you want to write those descriptions concisely and accurately.  Admissions officers appreciate an application that is clear and easy to read.  Print out the application so you can proofread it.  You may find that some of your activity descriptions are cut off, requiring you to rewrite them.  All of this takes time.  Add the stress of rushing to finish seven supplements in the last few days and you are more likely to make mistakes.  You also risk your computer or the server crashing, or a winter storm that knocks out your electricity right before the application deadline.  

Once you submit the Common Application to one school, you cannot make changes to that application.  If you applied Early Decision/Early Action and now want update your awards, activities or test scores, or would like to tailor your application to one college, you can create an alternate version.  After you log in, go to the Instructions page and scroll down to “Application Versions” for step by step instructions.  The alternate version will have all the information from your first version and you can edit as you wish.  However, any documents you uploaded will not transfer to the alternate version, so be sure to upload your essay to the alternate version.

Remember that with the Common Application you need to submit the application, supplement and payment separately.  Students sometimes think that once they submit payment, the application automatically follows.  Since it can take up to 48 hours for your payment to be processed, waiting until the day of a deadline means your application might not be submitted in time.  Check the My Colleges page to confirm that your applications have been submitted.  You can also see if your counselor and teacher have submitted their forms.

If you have questions as you’re working on the Common Application, the “Help” button at the top of the Common Application will take you to the Applicant Support Center.  If you don’t find the answer to your question there, you can contact technical support.

What Seniors Should Be Doing Now

Monday, September 19th, 2011

While some seniors are immersed in application essays, others still need to finalize their college list. Wherever you are in the process, you want to continue learning about colleges so that you can prepare your strongest applications.

Admissions officers will be offering local information sessions and visiting high schools throughout the fall. Check with your school’s college counseling center for a schedule of college visits.  Prepare questions to ask about the college, ask for a business card and follow up with an email thanking the admissions officer for visiting. It’s also a good idea to mention something the representative told you about the college that resonated with you.

Many colleges have special programs for prospective freshmen during the fall, so if you haven’t visited the schools on your list, you might want to plan on seeing some of them in the next couple months. If you can sit in on a class or two, even spend the night in a dorm, you’ll know if it’s a place you can really see yourself. Visiting a college can also enhance your application, as you are demonstrating interest, and you’ll be knowledgeable enough to write a more compelling “Why are you applying to our school?” supplemental essay.

Some colleges have changed early application options this year. A number of schools have established earlier deadlines, which allows more time for admissions officers to review applications. Being able to notify students earlier can also help win over students who may invest emotionally in that college before hearing from other schools.

If you plan to apply Early Action to University of North Carolina, you need to know that the deadline has been moved up to October 15. Harvard and Princeton have added a new Single Choice Early Action option, with a November 1 deadline. University of Virginia will offer a new Early Action option, with a November 1 deadline. University of Rochester has added an Early Notification option, with a December 1 deadline.

A number of schools have earlier deadlines for scholarships or honors programs. For example, University of Southern California has a January 10 application deadline, but if you want to be considered for scholarships, you need to apply by December 1. Some public universities have November 1 priority deadlines for scholarship or honors program consideration.

If you are applying to colleges that use the Common Application, you will find a helpful grid that includes application requirements and deadlines for all members:

Check with each college on your list to make sure you have accurate information about application and financial aid deadlines.  

If you plan to submit early applications, it’s especially important to get started on your essays so that you have time to complete several drafts. You need to build time into your schedule for weeks when you have too much schoolwork to even look at a college application.

If you are applying to Common App schools, or other colleges that require teacher recommendations, be sure to ask your teacher in the next few weeks, especially if you need the letter for a November 1 early application deadline. 

A calendar with all of your deadlines will be extremely helpful. Include registration deadlines and test dates for any final SAT, ACT or Subject Tests. In addition to official application deadlines for each college, create your own deadline for each application at least a week or two before the real deadline.

You are more likely to make mistakes if you’re racing against the clock when proofreading an application. If that’s not enough to motivate you to finish your applications early, how about the fact that some schools require you to pay the application fee before you can submit the application? Since it can take a day or two to process your credit card payment, this is not something you want to be doing five minutes before midnight on the deadline date.

Most private colleges, and some public universities, will ask for a midyear report, which includes your fall semester grades. This will be the final piece of the application, and you want your grades to be as strong as possible.

While you can’t fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) until January, you can learn about the financial aid process at If you plan to apply for scholarships not awarded directly by colleges, be sure to register with or another scholarship search engine. 

Make a schedule for application tasks so that you know exactly what you need to do each week. This process will be much less stressful if you start now and pace yourself.