The college application process can be as complicated or simple as you want to make it.  Regardless, it’s important to approach it with the right attitude.   The following are a few overriding principles in mind as you apply to college: Own the Process, Kindness Counts and Stick to the Rules.

Own the Process

Think about what is important to you.   Develop questions you can ask of all the schools you consider so you can compare the institutions.  Remember—you are different from your parents.  Things have changed since they applied and attended college, so you need to think independently about what you want.  Of course, parents can be a terrific resource and sounding board because they know YOU best, but you need to set your own course.

Pretend you know nothing and build your knowledge of schools from there.   College websites, campus visits and school visits from college reps are all ways to develop an understanding of the school, its environment and academics.   If you have visited schools to see family or friends that can be helpful.  However, be sure your assessment of each school is based on what is important to you.

Keep an open mind.  As noted above, colleges have changed a lot since your parents attended.  You may find exactly what you’re looking for at a school you never expected.   Don’t just assume “big name”  or highly competitive schools are the best for you!

Kindness Counts

Appreciate your Guidance Counselor.  You need many people to help you complete the application process.  At the top of this list is your counselor.  Even if you have not spent much time with your counselor up to this point, now you need this person’s help.  A counselor’s recommendation is a requirement for some schools.  In addition, at many schools the counselor compiles transcripts, recommendations and actually gets that crucial information off to the colleges.  Counselors care about their students, so keep your counselor aware of visits, what schools you are most interested in and your progress.

Plan ahead when asking for recommendations.  Most schools do not require teachers to write recommendations;  they do it because they also care about their students.  However, recommendations are a big time commitment for teachers.  Make your request as early as possible (even in Spring for the following Fall).  Offer to supply additional information about yourself if that will help the teacher (or counselor).  Be sure to write a thank you note to anyone who writes a recommendation for you.

Share your good news respectfully.  The day you receive wonderful news about acceptance may be the day a classmates finds his or her hopes have been dashed.  Of course share your good news, but be aware of how others may feel if you got into a school and they didn’t.

Make the right impression on campus.  If you are very interested in a school, be polite and not demanding as you request information online, over the phone or during a visit.   Schools track contacts from students to gauge interest level.  You want your communications to convey respect, interest and maturity in how you approach them.

Stick to the Rules

Deadlines are important.   As you work on applications, be aware of the deadlines and adhere to them.  Thousands of other applicants have to meet the same deadlines so it is unreasonable to expect an exception will be made just for you.  The same is true for deadlines set by your counselor.  If a college deadline is December 1 and your guidance office says applications or documents must be in by November 23 to meet the December 1 deadline, get it done.

Essays and other submissions need to adhere to stated maximums of length or time.  Online, you may find there is simply no more space available to add the additional 30 words you need to complete your essay so you’ll be forced to edit.

You are planning for your future.   While there are still a lot of unknowns, take the attitude that you need to invest time, energy and care in the process.

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