January tends to be one of the busiest months for high school seniors because many colleges schedule their regular-round application deadlines during this month, beginning with Columbia University on January 1st, Cornell University on January 2nd, Northwestern University on January 3rd ... the list goes on. And as tempted as students may be to ‘get it over with’, there are a few things that I advise them to check and double check before they hit ‘submit’.

Tip #1: Take a look at the major you have selected on your application. Now take a step back and evaluate it from the perspective of an Admissions Reader. Have you demonstrated sufficient evidence in your application to show that you are aware of what is required for that major? For example, if you say you want to study psychology, have you acknowledged the science component involved in the subject? Ideally, you also want to demonstrate at least 2-3 skills in your application that prove you have what it takes to be ultimately successful in your chosen field.

Tip #2: Although you may be applying to a test-optional college, you should report your standardized test score, provided your score is in the top 25 percentile of the college’s reported scores. Many colleges have claimed to go test-optional this year, and yet from what I have witnessed so far, students who have submitted test scores have received a leg up in the process.

Tip #3: Make the most of your activities section. Students often struggle to condense their activity descriptions within the stringent 150-character limit of the common app. The trick here is to capitalize on the space available in the activity title, use succinct power-action verbs and don’t worry about writing full, complete sentences. Make every word count.

Tip #4: Even if something is ‘optional’, you should try to get it done. Some colleges will give you the option to upload an extra letter of recommendation or a resume. Don’t waste these opportunities! Of course, you need to ensure that you are not simply repeating the same information over and over again. Instead, aim to highlight new and interesting experiences/skills in these ‘optional’ uploads.

Tip #5: Take ‘demonstrated interest’ seriously because colleges do. Demonstrated interest indicates to a college whether you are genuinely interested in attending or if they are just a number on your college shortlist. Why is this important? Because colleges care about their ‘yield ratio’ i.e. the number of students who ultimately enroll after being accepted into their college. And the reason colleges care about this ratio is because media publications like the US News & World Report factor in yield while determining rankings – meaning that the higher the yield, the higher the college’s ranking. So, what does this mean for you, the applicant? It means that you need to make the college feel that they are your top choice – if indeed they are. So, when a college asks you: How have you engaged with our community? Don’t take this question lightly. Make sure you tell them about everything you have done to get to know them better – whether it is visiting them, networking with current students, or attending online tours.

Tip #6: First generation status works in your favor. Some students I have worked with in the past have been embarrassed to admit in their application that their parents have not completed high school or college. This applicant is considered a ‘First Generation’ student and gets a slight edge over the others in the admissions process. This is because colleges pride themselves in attracting and enrolling first generation students who have the potential to transform their family’s economic and social future for years to come.

Tip #7: Proof-read your essays. At Yale, we were told that if our resume had a single punctuation error, our application would go into the trash. This is because the university assumes that you don’t care enough about them to proofread your work. Don’t make that mistake. Proofread your essays. And while you are at it, make sure that the reader is able to easily identify 5-6 different skills that will make you an attractive candidate including skills like leadership, teamwork, creativity etc.

Another common mistake I have encountered is writing the wrong name of the school in the ‘Why Us’ essay. Copying and pasting essay structures across colleges can definitely save you time but after doing so, you need to remember to customize the essay for the new college. More students make this mistake than you can imagine!

Bonus tip #8: Don’t wait until the last moment to submit your college application. This year, on January 2nd – and in the past as well – the common app server was overloaded, and students had a difficult time submitting their application. I had a student who had to hit refresh every couple of seconds over a duration of 45 minutes to finally submit his Cornell application. You don’t want to deal with that kind of stress and pressure at the end - especially after all the effort you have put in. So be smart: don’t wait till the very end to hit ‘submit’.

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