Preparing for College Applications

1. Make a college account from the college application and keep track of your login info.

You must use an email address to create an account. Be sure to register with an email that you check regularly, as colleges will use that email to contact you. Also, make sure to write down the password as well as the email address you use to register so you do not forget.

Best Student Tip: Create a new email address that is separate from your RJUSD or personal emails. That way you only get emails from the colleges, scholarships and financial aid.


2. Check your email regularly. It’s worth repeating. Colleges will use your email to send you application reminders, and many will also send instructions for creating your own application portal, where you can see if your application is complete on their end, and if it’s not, what’s missing.


3. Use a calendar to keep track of all dates and deadlines.

Application deadlines are not flexible. You must complete your entire application, in addition to submitting any supplemental materials, by the college’s deadline. Consider using an old-fashioned wall or desk calendar placed in a “can’t miss” location. Alternatively, enter deadlines into your phone calendar, and set up alerts as the deadlines approach.


4. Start a folder for each school you are applying to.

Either on your computer or in a physical folder, keep all the printed materials, notes, correspondence, passwords, and photos together.


5. Fine-tune your college essays and supplemental essays (if the college application is requesting essay responses)

Most schools require students to write at least one essay (the main Common App essay, also known as the Personal Statement; or the UC Personal Insight Questions {PIQs}). We strongly recommend that students write all supplemental essays even if the college says that they are optional. Optional essays are not really optional, and not answering them sends a negative message about your work ethic and interest in the college.


6. Review your application carefully and keep track of your progress.

Small, silly mistakes will not reflect well on you as an applicant. Take your time filling out each section. Students can preview each part, section by section, to make sure they’ve completed what is asked of them. When you have completed and submitted all the college’s requirements, you should double check and use the preview button of each application to check for errors. We strongly recommend printing out the application and reviewing it on paper, a step that many students overlook. Also, have a credit card ready to pay the application fee if you are not eligible for the online college application fee waiver. For questions about fee waivers, contact Mrs. Fukuda.


7. Print records and take screenshots.

Whenever you send an email to a school or interviewer, or receive a response, print it out (or take a screenshot) and add it to the appropriate folder. Take screenshots of completed applications and confirmations once you receive them. One of our students used a screenshot to prove his application was not late…and it worked! It’s best to keep all this together in one place.


8. Set manageable goals.

Whatever you do, do not plan to complete the application in one night or even one weekend. It’s going to feel overwhelming, and chances of making mistakes will increase exponentially. Set reminders for all dates and deadlines, including when to contact teachers, counselors, and coaches who are writing recommendations. If you have not already, start now and set time aside to really work on your essays. Leave no stone unturned; proofread the application multiple times before you send it, and have someone else proofread it as well.



-Excerpt from International College Counselors

Essays

Essays are commonly used for some college applications and many scholarships. Here are some quick essay topics to avoid, or how to draft your essay if you choose one of these topics.

7 Essay Topics to Avoid and Why

The college essay is the most integral piece of the application in terms of showcasing a student’s unique attributes and experiences. It can be difficult to decide on a topic, so keep in mind that the essays you write will act as your voice, demonstrating who you really are as an applicant—beyond transcripts and other components of your file. This is why it’s important to tell a great story about who you are that admissions officers might not glean from your application otherwise.


Don’t worry about being the next Ernest Hemingway or Jane Austen; however, do avoid these common essay topics:


1. A Litany of Your Academic and/or Extracurricular Achievements

Assuming you have already listed and appropriately described these on your resume and in the Activities section of the Common App, you need not rehash every accolade you have received since 9th grade. In fact, doing this can be off-putting, as it is easily construed as boastful and not impressive as one might think. Not to mention, you’ll miss the opportunity to help the admission readers get a glimpse of your personality and what makes you tick.


2. Your Hero

A common mistake students make is to write too much about someone who inspires them, which defeats the purpose of the personal essay. Colleges want to know about you and your development as an individual and as a student. If you do go down this road, spend less time discussing your hero and more time on how that person has contributed to your growth or significantly impacted your life, and use specific examples.


3. Experimental or Creative Writing

Your college essay is not likely to be nominated for a PEN or Pulitzer award, so writing without punctuation or in a non-linear form as a matter of stylistic choice will not win you any points. Instead, opt for a clear voice and style that will engage your readers, not confuse them. Save your stream-of-consciousness narratives for your high school’s literary magazine.

4. A Sports-Related Challenge or Success

One of the most popular topics, we caution against writing about your golf team’s underdog story or the injury you thought would end your softball career, not because they aren’t important stories to tell, but because so many students write the same formulaic narrative. If you do choose to write about a sports-related endeavor or obstacle, make sure to keep it fresh by focusing less on what happened and more on how it affected you.


5. Service Trips

In an effort to demonstrate their altruism, many students feel compelled to write about volunteer experiences, especially those in developing countries. However, these essays can backfire if not articulated carefully. You never want to come off as pretentious, privileged, or tone-deaf. If you choose this topic, steer clear of a chronological retelling of your trip and focus on one aspect of it (e.g., the relationship you developed with your host mom or the one moment that gave you new insight). Offer readers an account of how the experience changed you and what action you took as a result.


6. Tragedy

The personal essay asks students to share their story—and often that story includes personal tragedy, whether it’s death, divorce, illness, or something else. These difficult topics may be central to your identity, but how you write about them will determine whether they are appropriate for a college essay. Whatever you do, do not pepper your essay with clichés such as, “I learned how precious life really is!” or “Everything happens for a reason.” Colleges are much more interested in what you did in the face of tragedy. How did you overcome it? What did you do in response? If you lost a loved one to cancer, did you organize fundraisers for cancer research? Keep the essay personal to you.


7. Controversial or Polarizing Subjects

While you may be quick to share your stance on gun control or reproductive rights, you cannot easily predict the opinions of your reader. For this reason, we urge you to steer clear of making a social or political issue the focal point of your essay unless you have a personal connection to the issue. If that is the case, briefly explain your personal connection and spend more time telling the reader how you have taken action.

One last piece of advice: to ensure adequate time for proofreads and revisions, start writing your essays sooner rather than later. If you’re a rising senior, the time to start is now.


-International College Counselors