So you’ve got your list of “safety,” “match” and “reach” schools and you’ve done your homework on each program and campus, now what? To effectively handle the entire process of filling out applications, there are a few things you’ll need to keep in mind.
It may sound obvious, but even the most organized student can get overwhelmed by the amount of papers flying about so you’ll have to work extra hard to stay on top of all of the deadlines. I recommend going to Office Max or Staples and purchasing a dry-erase school-year calendar. Put it on your bedroom wall and immediately fill in all of the application due dates. Let’s say you are applying to 8 schools. Don’t expect to fill out each application a week before they’re due. Give yourself at least a week to complete each one. That means for 8 apps, you should be getting starting with the applications a minimum of two months before the due dates. This will give you plenty of time to get your supplemental information (transcripts, letters of recommendation, resumes, etc.) in order. You don’t want to rush yourself.
For the physical applications, create a file folder labeled with each school’s name and keep them together in a file box. Many students also make a checklist for each of the application’s components and attach them to the front of each application with a paperclip. As you add a transcript or a personal essay to each application, check it off and note what else needs to be completed.
Give yourself a person due date for each application. Aim to have each fully completed one-two weeks before the actual due date. This is will give you plenty of time to re-read each piece of information for errors before you submit the final application. Photocopy the entire application before you mail it and when you go to the post office, make sure to send it by certified mail so you can get confirmation that it was delivered.
I applied to 13 schools as an undergrad and somehow managed to keep all of the applications organized – if I can do it, so can you!
Getting Letters of Rec
Many students feel shy or embarrassed about asking for letters of recommendation but it’s important to remember that your teachers are there to help and support your dreams. If anything, they should feel flattered that you’re asking!
Check to see what the requirements are for the letters of rec. Usually teachers are preferred but sometimes counselors, community leaders or family friends are acceptable. Obviously you want to choose the people who know you best, but there are ways you can help your recommender write the best possible letter.
When asking, check to see what information your teacher would like to aid them in writing. If you can, provide them with copies of your resume, personal statement and transcript. Explain to them why you are applying to each specific school and how you’d like to come across to the admissions department. Give them a deadline for the letter but try and give them at least 3-4 weeks to write it – they’ll probably have lots of others to write as well). When they complete it, make sure to give them a thank-you card and keep them posted in the spring on the status of your applications.
The Personal Statement
Keep in mind is that you will be writing more than one statement, so it’s important to keep a folder on your computer desktop with each school’s essay clearly titled. As you print off drafts label them ‘Draft #1’, ‘Draft#2’, etc. You will probably be able to recycle the same 2 or 3 essays to fit each school’s prompt, but it’s important to get started early. You don’t want to wait until the week before and then write something slapdash. The personal statement should be the first thing you start working on when you print your application since it will take much time to draft and revise.
The prompts are often incredibly open-ended and generic, so it’s important to be as specific as possible in your writing. Think about the experiences you’ve had in your life, especially those times where you’ve experienced great personal growth. Think about your statement as less of an “essay” and more of a “story.” Read short stories by great writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Katherine Mansfield, and John Cheever. Pay attention to how they draw a reader into an entire world in only a few short pages. Obviously your statement won’t be a work of fiction, but it doesn’t have to be boring! Find something to inspire you – http://www.npr.org has great short news pieces on people’s lives all around the world. Think of your statement as an opportunity to write a report on the significant people in your life.
Give your drafts to family, friends and teachers for feedback and comments. Don’t take anything personally; be open to their suggestions but stay true to yourself. Ask your readers, “How does the person who wrote this come across?” You want to use experiences from your life to illustrate that you are a mature, intelligent, sensitive individual who is ready to take on the challenges and opportunities of university-life, but the illustration aspect of the essay in important. As my high school English teacher, Mr. Lawrence, used to say, “Show them! Don’t tell.”
As you work through your applications, don’t be afraid to contact the Admission Department at the various schools. If you met an admission counselor at your school’s open house or at a local info session, ask for their business card and follow up with them. Ask them if there is anything you can add to your application to set yourself apart; keep them posted on your progress through e-mail. Making a friend in the Admissions Office can really help you out in the long run if your application ends up on the waiting list. Don’t be obnoxious, but show your eagerness. Schools want to admit students who want them.