I know college application stress is peaking when students ask to meet with me on Friday afternoons. That never happens until October. So here we are. Early action and early decision deadlines -- November 1 for most schools, but please check the colleges’ websites to confirm -- are almost here, and we are going to rush around trying to submit them on time.
This post is all nitty-gritty details -- practical tips to help you avoid big mistakes before your child submits these early applications.
Tip #1: Your child can apply to more than one school “early.”
The only difference between Early Decision and Early Action is that Early Decision is binding while Early Action is non-binding. If your child is applying to one school Early Decision, she can usually apply to one or more other schools Early Action; the catch is that if the Early Decision school accepts her, then she will have to withdraw her Early Action applications and attend the Early Decision school. Also, if your child is applying to one school Early Action, she can usually apply to one or more other schools Early Action; multiple Early Action schools is an important strategy.
The one notable exception to applying to multiple schools Early Action? Certain schools such as Stanford, Yale, Harvard, and Princeton have what is called “Restrictive Early Action” or “Single-Choice Early Action”; students applying Early Action to these schools may not apply Early Action to other private colleges, though they may apply Early Action to public universities and international universities.
If your child is already applying to one school Early Action or Early Decision, it’s not too late to add one or two more!
Tip #2: Read the application aloud.
Before your child submits these early applications -- especially the first one -- read through the application, including the essays, line by line out loud. If possible, print out a hard copy. Reading through it will let you catch any typos or stray words. And yes, if you and your child have edited and re-edited and re-re-edited everything 22 times on a screen without printing it out, you can expect to find errors. Reading aloud is the fastest way to find those mistakes so you can submit the app knowing it’s as close to perfect as you can make it.
Tip #3: Make sure you know the deadline.
For Common Application schools, the deadline is 11:59 p.m. in the applicant’s time zone. However, for schools not on the Common App, the deadline is often 11:59 p.m. in the school’s time zone. If you’re a California applicant applying to a non-Common-App school east of the Pacific time zone, make sure you double-check the deadline so you can submit on time!
On a related note, parents and students are always asking, “Can I submit my application before my letters of recommendation, my SAT scores, and my transcript are submitted?” The answer is “Yes!” You can submit your application as soon as it’s ready -- no need to wait for all the other components to be complete.
Tip #4: Confirm the application has been submitted.
If we’re talking about a Common App school, submitting the application consists of three steps: submitting the Common App, paying, and submitting the supplement. Don’t let your child be one of those students who submits the Common App but not the supplement. Oops.
After your child submits an application, she should receive an email confirmation; sometimes this gets stuck in the spam folder. Also, after your child submits an application, she should see green check marks in the “Application” and “Writing Supplement” columns for that school on the Common App dashboard. Yellow circles mean pending, which is not what we want to see. A red dash in the “Writing Supplement” column is fine, though, since that means the college does not require a writing supplement.
Tip #5: Send your child’s SAT, ACT, and SAT Subject Test scores.
Yes, your child will self-report these scores in the Common App or whichever other application form the college is using. However, you’ll still need to send the scores directly. That means going to the College Board website to send SAT and SAT Subject Test scores and going to the ACT website to send ACT scores.
Which scores to send, though? For the most part, the student chooses which SAT/ACT scores to send (this is called “ScoreChoice” for the SAT), and the college “super scores” (combines the highest section scores across sittings). A few super-selective schools such as Stanford and Yale do, however, do not participate in ScoreChoice; instead, they require students to send all SAT/ACT scores. UC campuses allow the student to choose which scores to send, but they only consider the highest score from a single sitting (i.e., they do not super score).
With SAT Subject Test scores, too, it usually falls to the student to decide what to send. Some selective schools require a certain number of SAT Subject Tests -- no choice there. Others “recommend”; for example, here are the UC guidelines. If the school leaves it to the student, though, I usually tell my students to submit anything over 700. Sometimes over 650 is fine; it depends on the school.
Your child should self-report AP scores, too, on the Common App -- at least the scores that are 3, 4, or 5. There’s no need to send the AP scores, though. Bonus tip: The Common App asks for “Number of AP tests you wish to report, including tests you expect to take.” So make sure your child’s count of AP courses includes senior year AP courses!
Tip #6: Send transcripts.
Though some colleges -- including the University of California -- don’t require transcripts, many do. Make sure you know the college’s requirements so your child can plan ahead and order the transcript on time.
Tip #7: Follow up on counselor and teacher letters of recommendation.
Your child has done her part in finishing up the application, but she still has to make sure the letters of rec get in on time. This is a good time for your child to say hi to teachers and counselors to see if these are done. Better to give a friendly reminder now than to be rushing around in panic on November 1.
Tip #8: Check on any other application requirements.
For most colleges, if your child submits the application, pays the application fee, sends test scores and transcript, and makes sure the letters of rec are done, she will have completed all the application requirements. But it never hurts to double-check to make sure we haven’t missed something. Does your child's major require her to submit supplemental materials? Was there an extra essay to write to apply to that honors college? To see a school's application requirements, Google the college’s name and “application requirements.”
P.S. Looking for more college tips? To get our latest college insights straight to your inbox, sign up for our monthly news letter!