The Application Form

By Anthony F. Capraro, COO, College Outreach USA


e application form differs from college to college, with the exception of those colleges that use the Common Application.  Today most colleges encourage you to use an online application.  If you need to submit a paper application, you may print one from an online PDF or have one sent to you.  When you start to work, be sure to note all deadlines, follow all directions, and fill out the personal and geographical data with accurate facts. You should be especially careful that your e-mail address is correct, since this is how the college will communicate with you.

It is best to work through a rough draft of the application before you actually work on the application copy to be submitted. The online applications will allow you to save your work as you go and come back to revise and finish as needed. Remember to print or make a copy of all parts of the finished application before you send it.

You are responsible for giving your guidance counselor a list of the colleges to which you are applying. Your guidance counselor is responsible for sending the Secondary School Report along with official copies of grades, rank in class (if any), the school’s profile, and a written recommendation regarding you. 

It is also your responsibility to request an official score report from College Board or ACT to be sent directly to each college to which you have applied, even if your SAT or ACT scores are on your high school transcript. Your college file will not be considered complete, and will not be sent to the admission committee for a decision, without these official scores. 

Most colleges want recommendations (Teacher Evaluation Forms) from one or two teachers, who will submit these directly to the colleges. Request these from teachers who know you best. Choose wisely and allow each teacher plenty of time. If English is your interest, be sure to choose an English teacher. If you are fluent in Spanish and have future interest in Spanish at college, ask the Spanish teacher. Remember, though you have many interests and have participated in many activities—you are developing an admissions package as part of your marketing of yourself.  Emphasize your strengths and show how they are integrated into your activities and achievements.

Extracurricular activities usually are athletic or non-athletic. If you have won athletic awards, note them.  If you have had the starring role in the spring musical for the last two years, say so.  If you are an editor on the school newspaper, specify this. Admissions people view your activities with special interest.  They realize how very time consuming these activities can be and how they sometimes bring very few accolades.  List these activities in the order of importance to you. (There are a few colleges that are exceptions to the rule.)  If you do not believe that the application allows you the opportunity to show your depth of commitment to one or two activities, you may add an addendum. Use the KISS (Keep It Short and Simple) method. This is an addendum, not an essay, letter, or dissertation. Be honest.

Some applications have mini-essays. Here, less is more. Your ability to organize your thoughts and present them concisely is being tested. Be sure your writing is clear, grammatically correct and no longer than the suggested length. You will receive your chance to impress each college with your prose in the long essay segment of the application. Some colleges have as many as four long essays, whereas some require none. In addition to the short and long essay questions, some colleges ask the student for a graded paper signed by the teacher.

Some colleges encourage you to support your application with additional materials. If you are given this option, consider what will strengthen your application -- a musical recording, art and/or photography portfolios, published writings, an exceptional graded term paper -- all the additional opportunities for the college to get to know you better and for you to increase your image as an angular candidate. Such additions help the admissions committee to get a better handle on who you are in relation to other applicants. Be sure your presentation is clear and as professional as possible. These additions are not going to be evaluated by the admissions committee.  Your material will be directed to the appropriate department for evaluation and an evaluative note will be sent back to the admissions committee. It is this note that will become part of your admissions package, the same way an athletic coach evaluates potential student athletes.

Proofread all parts of the application. Be sure you, the student, place your signature where it is required, and then submit. If you are submitting your application electronically, the application will prompt you to pay the application fee by credit card or personal check. If you need the application fee to be waived, there is a form online or in your guidance office for this  purpose. If you are submitting a paper application, be sure to check with your counselor for direction. Your job is now finished and the waiting begins. 

If you have additional materials to send along with your application, mark them clearly as instructed by the college, or with your full name, address, and date of birth. Clarity is so important to the professionals who will be evaluating these addenda for your college admission process. If it were my application, I would send my additional materials by certified mail or a private shipping company.

The Common Application

About 300 colleges in the United States have agreed that students may apply to their colleges by completing one common application. Using the Common Application substantially reduces the time spent completing separate application forms. Some of the colleges using the Common Application also have their own application. Students applying to a college that allows the applicant a choice of using either the college’s own application or the common application, obviously have a decision to make. If you choose the common application, be sure to read the pages surrounding the Common Application carefully, or check the College Information page on their web site. You will see a chart listing all of the colleges and indicating whether a college requires additional supplementary material in addition to the Common Application. The “supplement” can range from an additional essay or two, to additional information about your activities.

All the colleges participating in the Common Application have each member of their admission staff sign a statement that they will NOT discriminate in the admissions process between students who submit the Common Application and students who submit the college’s application. However, there are counselors who believe that when there is a choice, the applicant has a better chance of conveying information by using the college’s application; there is a vast difference in format between the two applications, even if the college requires a supplement. Check with your guidance counselor if you are unsure regarding your choice of format. To access the Common Application online, go to: