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When Should My Kid Apply to College?

applications apply to college college high school senior Jul 22, 2020

So you have your kid registered for the One Week to Perfect essay writing class, but you have absolutely no idea when they should be done with their essays. While we aim to have at least three essays completely finished by the end of the week, some schools require a number of supplemental essays and application materials. When should you have those in? 

Short answer? As soon as possible. 
Long answer? It depends on what type of admission you're seeking. 

Parents of seniors are feeling out of the loop right now. There may be some anxiety, some frustration, and a lot of misunderstanding the admission process. I find that parents are usually all over in the understanding of best practices— especially this year. It's been years since they have applied to college; since when did everything get so difficult?

I have interviewed dozens of admission reps from schools all over, and their recommendations allow us to better help your child gain admission to their first choice school. 

Types of Applications

The application process begins on August 1st. As I mentioned, early applications get better decisions, which I will explain shortly. But first a few definitions:

Early Action: You are applying early. You are prepared and know that this is a top choice and want to have an answer sooner rather than later. This is NOT binding, but shows that you are eager to attend a school. You can select early action to apply to every school that offers it as an option. Early action applications are typically due by November or December 1st. 

Early Decision: You are letting the school know that if they accept you, you WILL attend their program— regardless of any other acceptance offers you receive. You can only apply to ONE school using early decision. Parents must also sign off on this selection, demonstrating their understanding of this commitment and willingness to support their child in this decision (AKA pay tuition). This is a BINDING decision and should be considered carefully! Early Decision applications are typically due by November or December 1st.

Rolling Admission: You can apply any time during the admission cycle, and your application will be considered by each of the school’s admission decision days. Each school has a different admission cycle, but for many schools you can apply for the fall semester as late as the spring or summer before— although we DEFINITELY recommend getting in earlier. This is a great choice for fallback schools, though, or for last-minute applications and decisions. 

So, why apply early? 

Why apply early if the school does not offer an early action option and only offers a rolling admission offer? Because admission reps are anxious to fill their class. Admission reps want to put prepared students into their school.

In August and early September, reps see comparatively fewer applications than they do in late October and November. When they are looking at fewer applicants, they can take more time in reading the applications and essays and better understanding who the student is and any challenges they have faced. Later in the cycle, when the number of applicants is greater, applicants are often weeded out based on the most readily available information— AKA grades and test scores. If your child is not above the average in these areas, their chances decrease when admission representatives are weeding through the massive piles of applicants.

The earlier you apply, the more you stand out

Colleges want to put together a diverse class of students. Diversity means not only ethnicity, but background as well: rural, urban, suburban, higher socioeconomic status, lower socioeconomic status, athletes, actors, class representatives, volunteers, writers…. The list goes on and on. If you are among the first in a category, you have a higher chance of being chosen.

Let’s take an example of a typical engineering major applicant.

The majority of engineering applicants are white males from a suburban school with a GPA of 4.0 or higher, and an ACT above 30. When considered against most students, these grades and test scores are excellent— but might not be enough to get them in the door.

As the school begins selecting students who have applied early, much of their class will begin to look the same. But they want diversity, so they will then begin searching out applicants to round out their class who bring a different perspective, a different background or culture. This diversity aids in the learning process! You must be open to learning new things, new ways, and understanding different perspectives, and having a diverse class helps with that process. However, the white, suburban, male student in the example is not exactly a shining example of diversity; it will be much more difficult for him to stand out later in the admission cycle. He will be less likely to earn one of the coveted seats available when a school has already admitted a dozen other kids that are exactly like him.

The fact is that the more selective the school, or even the more selective the program in a less challenging school, the more likely you are to meet all of the requirements and still be denied. 

Essays make a difference!

The second factor that must be understood in the admission process is the essay. To provide the best opportunities, we encourage students to send their essay to all schools— even those that do not require an essay. The essay adds insight to you as a person. Providing an essay also shows that you are willing to do extra work.

However, there are definitely some things that you should not write about— including your sports career, or your involvement in a volunteer activity that is already listed in the activities section of the CommonApp.

Why no sports essay?

Think about how many students participate in a sport during high school, who have overcome an obstacle, worked hard, demonstrated perseverance, learned to be a great teammate… Yep, we have read them all, and so have the admission reps you are trying to impress. Your story probably isn't very unique, even if it does show great qualities about you as a person. 

The goal of an essay is to gain interest, be unique, and share something that is important to you or different about you. If you can think of other students in your high school that are likely to write something similar, there are probably hundreds if not thousands across the state or the country who also will. 

A recommendation can make or break you

In addition to applying early and having a unique essay, ask for your recommendations now

Teachers are going to be overwhelmed at the start of this school year, especially if part of their day is in class, and part is being done virtually. It is important to ask the “right” teachers. Colleges want to know how you will do academically, so avoid asking a coach who only you taught PE for one semester. Ask a math, english, history, or science teacher— especially one that is relevant to your intended major. It is okay to ask a teacher who taught a difficult class if they are likely to mention that it was difficult work but you put in extra effort, asked for help, and became a better student in the class as a result, so don't shy away from asking that teacher. 

Remember, the application paints a picture. Be sure it is complete; don't leave parts of the picture blank!

Have questions about the application process?
Contact us and we will get back to you!