Do’s and Don’ts: What to Include in College Applications

College applications are a vital part of your ticket to higher education. However, the process is not so glamorous. Actually, it’s a lot harder than it looks. With thousands and thousands of applicants applying to various institutions across the country each year, how do you “stand out” as your guidance counselors told you to? How much information should you share and how much is too much? What should you include in college applications and what should be left out? You may not have the answers to those questions, but we do. The tips and tricks to help this process run smoothly. Here are our do’s and don’ts for what to include in a college application.

Colorful balloons laying together on top of confetti.

Do: Read the directions

Self-explanatory. It may seem obvious to some, but you’d be surprised how many careless mistakes are made that could’ve been avoided. Not taking the time to properly read the directions on your applications will cost you. It’s important to know and understand exactly what the admissions team or counselor is asking of you so that you can avoid the mistake of information overload. Not to mention that the ability to read and follow directions properly is an important skill. The admissions team at the institution in question is probably taking notes on how you do both while reading your responses.

Don’t: Write your whole life story

This tip is in reference to the college essay. Yes, it’s always good to write them. They are supposed to be captivating stories that tell about who you are. However, your college essay should not be three pages long. Quite frankly, no one has time to read all that. Here’s a bonus tip: if you take your time to outline your college essay prior to writing, that’s a good place to start. Having a plan will ensure that you know where the story you’re trying to tell is going and you’re not just rambling on. Also, reviewing your outline post writing can be a great way to make sure you hit all the points without having to write more than is needed or required.

Do: Watch your language

When we say watch your language, we mean to choose your words carefully. If you can, avoid being repetitive. In the case of filling out a college application, it can come off as rehearsed. You don’t want that. Even though you’re probably filling out a decent number of applications online, do your best to treat each one individually. You want to keep the readers as engaged as possible. It’s ok to switch it up every once in a while.

Don’t: Exaggerate

Simply put, be honest. It doesn’t pay not to be. While we understand you want to make the best possible impressions to an admissions counselor or team, that is not the way to do it. For example, if you only have one club or organization that you’re apart of and you enjoy, don’t spontaneously decide to put four on the application. More often than not, the people reviewing your application know when you’re exaggerating. Also, if that is your situation, remember that extracurriculars aren’t everything. Yes, they help in some cases, but it is only one part of a whole if you look at the big picture. College admissions officers are evaluating you as a person AND your body of work when considering you.

Do: Ask for recommendations

Recommendations like extracurricular activities are also good to have with your application. They give whoever’s reading them a good idea of the intangibles. For example, your learning style and character. With that in mind, focus on the quality and content of the letter over how many you have. That’s going to hold more power. You could have five recommendation letters, but without the substance, it may not carry you. When asking for them, be sure to use someone who knows you well. A teacher you’ve had for consecutive years, a coach, a guidance counselor or mentor. They will be the ones best able to speak on your behalf and make sure you’re represented well.

Don’t: Leave any question unanswered

Simply put, don’t assume. Construct your responses and provide supporting materials as if those reading it know nothing about you. The reality is, that they don’t. For example, If on your transcript it says that you were a part of a team or organization 3 out of 4 years, one of the first questions another person might ask is why not senior year? In your defense, senior year can be pretty hectic. However, the people reading your application don’t know that. All they see is a hole in your story. Try to avoid that as much as possible. The goal is to tell a complete story.

Do: Go the extra mile

An extraordinary person is just an ordinary person who does a little extra, Have that mindset when approaching your application. If there’s an optional essay and you have the time, do it. A little extra effort can go a long way. The extra effort shows initiative which is a great quality to have. Never be afraid to take a shot, you have nothing to lose.

Don’t: Forget to proofread

Earlier, we touched on careless errors and mistakes that are made. Proofreading your application before you submit it, helps with that. The general rule of thumb is to proofread your application twice before it’s finalized. Once by you, and then another person you trust. For example, a guidance counselor or your parent/guardian. They can be a big help so take advantage. It doesn’t hurt.

Yes, they can be tedious and time-consuming, but college applications are actually helpful. It is an opportunity to present your best self to the world, similar to when you apply for jobs and other things going forward. Therefore, take them very seriously. Keep in mind that they can also be expensive and no one likes to waste money. However, if you put in the right work (use these tips and other resources) available as a guide, then you will be fine.

Good luck and keep in mind what to include in college applications and what not to include in college applications!