Guest Post: Understanding The College Application
Rahul Naik is a former Moon Prep student we guided through the admissions cycle. Now, he has advice for other students who are just beginning their journey.
I hope you enjoyed my previous letter and found it helpful. In this second letter, I will be discussing application types, essays, and choosing where to apply.
There are several popular application types: the Common Application, the Coalition Application, Apply Texas, and the UC Application. Apply Texas and the UC application allow a student to fill out one application and send it to multiple public schools in their respective states. For Apply Texas, this means all public and a few private schools in Texas, and the UC application allows you to apply to nine of the University of California public schools. This enables students to streamline their applications to these well-known public university systems.
The Common Application and the Coalition Application are used for all other schools. However, more schools accept the Common Application than the Coalition. Most top schools will take either. You can also use these applications to apply to multiple schools. It’s important to note, however, that most private schools will have supplemental sections that you will have to complete. Most often, these are essay questions, of varying quantity and length, which require you to craft artful responses to questions regarding your dedication to attending that university. All the different application platforms have an online site to streamline your applications and due dates. It’s essential you keep up with all the various deadlines for the schools and make sure that all your scores, essays, and any other components are submitted on time.
Let’s now go over some tips for maximizing your success on essays. Most schools, even public ones, will have some supplemental essays in addition to the general Common App essay. The Common App essay prompts are currently out. Take a look at them now and get started on drafting the personal statement. This essay will be incredibly important because you'll be showing it to almost every school you apply to. It will be their first in-depth and personal glimpse into who you truly are as a person. It’s important, as it is on all essays, to be extremely genuine. Doing so will allow you to write your best essay. When you try to develop a persona in these essays that doesn't represent who you are, the readers notice because your writing sounds cold and disingenuous. If you’re not funny, don’t try to be funny, if you’re not serious, don’t try to be serious. Putting on a facade to impress the college is unlikely to work.
At the same time, don’t be too shy and describe yourself only in a positive light. Don’t simply repeat things from your application or resume; tell the college something novel that they don't already know about you. Often, the prompt will allow you to discuss a setback or a shortcoming that you’ve encountered. Use this opportunity to emphasize to the college that you are imperfect, that you do make mistakes, but most importantly that you’ve used these setbacks as an opportunity to learn and grow.
It’s also essential that you make sure to fully and thoroughly answer all parts of the prompt. This means reading the prompt carefully before beginning any part of the writing process. Make sure you use your space effectively and write concisely. I, for one, tend to write in a very wordy manner. It took a lot of editing and a concerted effort to trim down my writing.
Many colleges, as a supplemental essay question, will ask why you wish to attend their school. This is the opportunity to use some measured flattery and really show the college why you like their institution and, more importantly, why you would be a good fit together. Think of going to a college as a relationship between you and the college; the college wants to make sure that you both are compatible. Research the college and the program you’re applying for and give concrete reasons as to why you’d want to attend their school. If you were able to visit the school, talk about this because schools want to see that you have a demonstrated interest to attend their school. To add a personal touch, you can even namedrop your tour guide's name or give a unique anecdote about your experience on their campus. Doing so will show the school that you were attentive during the visit and really care about becoming a part of their campus.
Lastly, I’d like to discuss how you should go about deciding which colleges to apply to. It can be tricky deciding how many schools to apply to, and you should consider things like whether the school is private or public, the quality, the cost, as well as many other factors. The biggest thing I’d like to say is don't simply go the US World News Report’s ranking of top colleges and decide to apply to each school on the Top 20. Instead, start by using tools, which can include college rankings, such as Niche, the College Board, and individual college website to gauge which schools would be a good fit for you.
Pay special attention to the average scores for the colleges as well as which schools have strong programs in the given field you wish to pursue. This is the time to sit down with your parents and have a frank conversation about your family’s financial status. Use net price calculators on each school’s website to gain an estimate of how much your family may have to pay for you to attend a certain school. Utilize this information about the cost to decide whether you even want to apply to a school.
Don’t only apply to super-selective schools. My recommendations for a balanced college list would be to spread your applications over one to two dream schools, six or seven match/reach schools, and one or two safety schools. Doing so will ensure that you at least get somewhere that you’ll be happy. I would recommend applying to about 10-12 schools. This number is a happy medium to where you can provide a quality application while still casting a wide net to potential colleges. A mistake that I made was only applying to 5 schools, and this significantly limited my college possibilities. Hopefully, I’ve given you some insight as to how you should go about deciding where to apply. ``