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5 Tips to Building a Better College Application

Creating the best possible college application is one of the most important things you will ever do – after all, your future and even your financial aid can depend on it. If your application is not solid, you may not get into the university of your choice. Rather than take any chances, take our advice: here are five ways you can improve your college application.

1) Lay a good foundation

It’s never too early to start being strategic about getting into a good college. In fact, high school years are ideal for putting on the foundational stones. Make sure you are doing well in all of your classes. Sign up for extra tutoring on any subjects that are challenging for you. Having good grades in high school is one of the best ways to ensure your acceptance into a top college later on. High school is also the time to pick up new hobbies or take on volunteering projects to boost your resume. Think of what interests you and reflects your personality – is it digging into HTML coding, running a volunteer program that does beach clean-ups or learning Korean? Pick one or two extracurricular hobbies that demonstrate that you are a goal-oriented, high-energy person who is interested in life beyond the home couch.

2) Start early

College applications consist of many things: high school transcripts, a personal essay, SAT or ACT scores, recommendation letters, a financial plan and the like. Check your dream university’s website to find out what is needed, as each institution has its own requirements. Make a checklist of everything you will need as early as a year before the deadline. Take both the SAT and ACT tests just in case, and complete them as early as possible: this way you can still retake them if you are not happy with your scores. Start collecting your documents at least six months before the due date so that you don’t have to cut any corners or pay for express mail deliveries. Applying to colleges is expensive enough even with extra FedEx charges. Your personal essay should be finished about two months before the due date – thus you will have time to make any necessary changes before sending it off.

3) Write a truthful essay

Don’t worry about needing to sound smart in your personal essay or using high-brow words that are not in your usual vocabulary – this will make you seem pretentious. Instead, tell your life story in your own everyday language. It’s always a good idea to start the essay with an anecdote to draw the reader in and to finish the essay by briefly coming back to that first scene again. Make sure to show, not tell: Instead of saying, “it was an exciting day,” you could explain that you first tried cliff jumping followed by paragliding. Instead of noting that you were sad, you could explain that tears ran down your cheeks for 10 minutes. Try to be concrete in your writing rather than relying on abstractions.

4) Mind your grammar

Nothing gets your application disqualified quicker than having glaring typos in it. Make sure you fill out the paperwork in a stress-free situation, with an online dictionary handy. While writing your essay, double-check the proper spelling of difficult words. Make sure not to mix up words like “their, they’re and there,” or “your and you’re.” After writing your personal essay, have a few family members or friends read it over. If they give you constructive criticism, don’t be offended – take note of the suggestions and make changes accordingly. Sometimes we are blind to our own mistakes.

5) Mail everything early

Send off your college applications at least a month before they are actually due. This gives the post office enough time to get your important papers delivered on time, even if there are unexpected delays. The last thing you want to stress out about is your carefully crafted application not making it to the school before the deadline. Take copies of all the documents before sending out the originals: You will want to have backup options, should anything get lost along the way.


About the author: Mirva Lempiäinen is a US-educated freelance journalist from Finland. After calling New York City home for years, she now resides on the French-Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. She is a regular blogger for, a site that connects international students with top universities abroad.


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