Joyce Ivy Talk: College Application Tips

By Mackenzie Slagle | December 14, 2020
Hey friends! Welcome to the second installment of our new blog series! In October, we talked about wellness and productivity, but today we’re going to talk about ways to create an amazing college application. While this may not be the most enjoyable topic to discuss by any means, we want you to feel confident and prepared as you enter into college application season. Whether you have already submitted early action or early decision applications, are working on regular decision applications, or are not even applying to college right now, this blog can offer you some practical advice. No matter what stage of the application process that you currently find yourself in, I hope that you can find some encouragement in this post!

So without further ado, here are six tips to help you navigate the daunting world of college applications.

1. Get an early start and know your deadlines.

As someone who sees the “Phew, done just in time!” message that pops up everytime I submit a Google Classroom assignment at 11:59pm, I may not be the best person to provide this advice. But seriously--do not wait until the last minute. Make note of any deadlines and plan your time accordingly. The quality of your work decreases when you are stressed and rushing through your application, and you want to ensure that you are putting your best foot forward. This application is your opportunity to display everything that you have been diligently working on throughout high school, and colleges will assess you solely on the merit of your application. So don’t procrastinate any components of your application! If you are applying for financial aid, make sure that you get an early start on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Be mindful of any additional materials that you may need to submit as well, such as transcripts, official test score reports, financial documents, or recommendations. And speaking of recommendations….

2. Choose your recommendations carefully.

While many teachers may be able to write about you from an academic perspective, you should ask the people who can speak about you as a person, not just as a student. Most applications will require one or two teacher recommendations, so choose the teachers who know you the best. Make sure that you give them plenty of notice, and politely ask them for a recommendation at least three weeks before your application is due. They have their own busy schedules, so you want to demonstrate respect for their time. Although it often goes without saying, it is also a good idea to waive your right to access any letters of recommendation. You want your recommenders to write an honest assessment without worrying about you eavesdropping on them. Besides, you should trust the people that you ask to write your recommendations. They are rooting for you, too!

3. Never underestimate the power of a great essay.
Ah, the infamous college essay. In the midst of an application crowded with unweighted and weighted GPAs, SAT and ACT scores, and AP and IB results, this is your chance to showcase who you are beyond a bunch of numbers. So make every word count! Discover your writing voice, search for an essay topic that you are passionate about, and make sure that you clearly respond to the prompt. Your essay is the opportunity to show colleges why you are unique, and it should exhibit the main attributes that you would like colleges to associate with you. It is also important to create a captivating opening and closing that admission officers will remember. They are reading through quite a few of these, and you want to ensure that your essay stands out.

Don’t be discouraged if your rough draft isn’t as refined as you would like it to be; there is nothing that a bit of editing and organizing can’t fix. If you are currently in the revising stage of your essay, one of the best tips that I’ve received is to rewrite your essay in an outline format with each sentence as its own line. Then revisit your essay one sentence at a time. It is a very helpful way to catch any lengthy sentences or repeated phrases, and it will create a strong essay in which every sentence is powerful. Never be afraid to ask people that you trust to provide constructive feedback, either. And proofread, proofread, proofread!

4. Don’t let the stress get the best of you.
Let’s be honest--college applications can be really overwhelming. That’s why I recommend setting aside a bit of time each day to work on your application. Whether you brainstorm essay topics or begin completing your activity resume, try to make a little progress everyday. By breaking down your application into separate components, it seems much less intimidating and can help avoid the tendency to procrastinate. Most importantly, remember to actually enjoy the application process! This is an exciting time! I know that those late nights spent drinking coffee and typing essays don’t seem like much fun at the moment, but you are reaching a huge milestone in your life. And when you finally read that acceptance letter, it will all be worth it.

5. Be yourself!

I know, this cliché made me cringe too. But it’s the truth. It is so tempting to mold yourself into the drone that you think colleges want to see, especially when you hear about those kids that have started nonprofits by the age of twelve and you’re currently lying in bed and watching Netflix. But in reality, there is no cookie-cutter method for getting accepted into college, and comparing yourself to others is only a dangerous trap. It can be stressful when you hear about your friends who have already gotten accepted into college and you are still navigating the treacherous abyss of college applications, but stay focused on your deadlines. Remember that you are on your own beautiful path, and it is okay if that direction doesn’t quite align with those around you.

6. Keep going no matter what.

Even if you follow all of these tips, there is unfortunately always the possibility of receiving a discouraging application decision. But don’t be too hard on yourself if your decision isn’t quite what you were hoping to hear. Eat some ice cream, listen to that depressing playlist, and do whatever you need to do to process your disappointment. But keep moving forward despite any setbacks. You should be incredibly proud of everything that you have accomplished so far, and you are still extremely awesome and capable regardless of what any college thinks. Sometimes it requires some flexibility and resiliency to achieve your aspirations, so have confidence in your abilities and never let anything dissuade you from pursuing your goals. I promise that you will eventually end up where you are meant to be.

Happy college application season! May the odds be ever in your favor :-)

Mackenzie Slagle is a 2020 Summer Scholar from Toledo, Ohio, and she is currently a senior at Toledo Christian Schools. When she’s not participating in the theatre troupe, tennis team, or marching band at her school, Mackenzie loves drinking iced coffee, having Jeopardy marathons, solving jigsaw puzzles, and listening to the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat.