Guidance for the College Application Process

Guidance for the College Application Process
Kate Widener, Assistant Upper School Director & College Guidance Counselor

College Guidance BlogGuidance for the College Application Process

by Kate Widener, Assistant Upper School Director & College Guidance Counselor

The air is getting crisper and the days are feeling shorter as we come to the close of October.  With the turn of the leaves also comes the collective panic among our beloved seniors as they work with a fury to finish their college applications before the looming November 1st early application deadline.  We notice that our once calm senior class are now obsess over details of their applications. Applying to college can be fraught with feelings of insecurity, self-doubt and fear of failure, but despite the media hype around selective admission, it is not a matter of life and death. Students should not feel like they are being held captive by an application during what should be an exciting opportunity to imagine a bright future. Regardless, with a deadline looming, seniors are understandably nervous and so I offer some “do’s and don’ts” for applying to college:


Do…stay engaged and on top of your work. Keep in mind that your teachers are likely writing your college recommendations and you want them to think highly of your effort and quality of work.


Do not…submit test scores if a college is test optional and your SAT/ACT score falls below the school’s average for admitted students. A list of test optional schools can be found at

Do…send official test scores (if required) ahead of the deadline. It takes the testing agency ( or from a few days to weeks to deliver test scores to colleges, so make sure you allow some processing time before the deadline.


Do not…ignore these important opportunities to expand on your interest.

Do…explain both why the specific school would be good for your goals and interests and what you will bring to their college in terms of contributions to academic and campus life.


Do not…underestimate the benefit of visiting a college. It is helpful to get a sense of the community and if you can see yourself in that environment.

Do…interview. If the college offers interviews—either on or off campus—take advantage of this option, even if it is after the deadline. Interviews can only help strengthen your application and make you stand out off the page.


Do not…”shop it around.” It is a good idea to have one or two people (teacher, parent or friend) review your college essay, but be careful of seeking too many opinions in which you lose your voice.

Do…proofread. Don’t just rely on spell check. Read the essay out loud to yourself and be aware of homophones (there is an SAT word) like our and are, knew and new or their and there.

Financial Aid:

Do not…overlook financial aid deadlines. Often students are so focused on submitting the early application that financial aid is an afterthought.

Do…be clear on all the forms that each college requires for need-based aid applicants. All schools will ask for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) but many also require the CSS Profile and sometimes their own institution specific forms.