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You've probably waded in application forms since mid-August, and you're ready to attack them now. Since time is at a premium, you want to work efficiently. But you certainly don't want them to resemble your whipped-out 9th-grade English assignments.
College Application Advice
When approaching a heaping load of application forms, you are bound to face a number of questions. We will offer some thoughts on completing these application forms that should aid you in approaching this step of the college decision process with more confidence.

Pen or typewritten?

This question may soon become moot, as more and more colleges are offering PDF versions of their applications that can be completed using the free Adobe Reader software. When possible, we advise completing your applications in this manner, simply for the neatness that it encourages. As suggested by the colleges offering this format, you should prepare your essays and personal statements ahead of time because your data cannot be saved between sessions unless you have purchased the complete Adobe Acrobat package. Be sure to review your responses before submitting the application forms completed in PDF format, as some spaces may be left unfilled.

If you choose to print out the application forms to complete via pen or by typewriter, you can certainly stop and start when you'd like. We would recommend type-writing your applications, when possible, as it often shows a greater organization on the student's part. If you have phenomenal handwriting, you may choose to write in pen. The more legible your application, the happier admissions officers will be approaching it.

In addition, if you will word-process your personal statements and essays, we recommend typing or writing "Please see attached sheet" in the space provided and then stapling the appropriate essay to the application form. If you are unable to print additional copies of the application forms, a muffed print-out of your essay onto the actual form may prove especially stressful. Also, it is much easier to rectify an essay that begin "Teh gratest thing about... " when you have simply attached a copy of your essay to the application form.

To how many schools should I apply?

There is certainly a variety of theories on this question. When applying to colleges and universities with competitive admissions processes, it is unlikely to receive a "Yes!" letter from everyone. Although we do not discourage you from pursuing your dreams, we also urge you to approach the process with a realistic perspective.

Having explained that, the best advice that we've received is this: Apply to three types of schools. The first type represents that caliber of university to which you expect to easily gain admission solely on your academic credentials; your SAT or ACT scores and high school record indicate that you would be highly qualified to succeed at a school within this category. Your SAT or ACT score will most likely lie above the 75th percentile at schools within this category for you.

The second category includes those schools in which you would likely receive acceptance based solely on your academic credentials. In schools of this caliber, your SAT or ACT scores and high school record will be highly competitive with other applicants. For rough measures, your SAT or ACT scores should lie above the 50th percentile of the stated range for schools within this category.

The third and final category represents your "dream" schools. If you were to apply to schools of this category, you might possibly receive acceptance solely based on your academic criteria. To keep your dreams somewhat realistic, we recommend that you remember that students below the stated 25th percentile in the SAT or ACT range likely have some outstanding extracurricular talents that place them above the pack.

We suggest that you apply to at least one school in each of these categories and that you choose them wisely. Don't select schools merely for name-dropping purposes later. Unless financial restrictions determine otherwise, we recommend that you apply to two schools from each category.

Timing of your applications?

We strongly urge you to complete your applications well ahead of the deadlines, at least a week before the stated deadline. A great method to make that happen is to review the application materials as soon as you receive the applications from the various schools. Any forms to be completed by guidance counselors and teachers should be distributed well ahead of the stated deadline times. We know of several friends whose hopes of attending individual schools were scuttled by a disorganized, overwhelmed, or misdirected teacher. Check on the status of your recommendations before the last minute. Also, make additional copies of whatever portions you plan to submit so that you may quickly re-send your application forms should they be somehow mutilated or lost. Dogs are hungry for application this year, we hear.

What if I apply early to my dream school?

Even if you are almost certain that you will receive an offer of admission at your dream school, we encourage you to prepare your application forms for the other schools to which you might apply if rejected. We have heard some horror stories of overconfident seniors who had counted on an offer of admission from their top choice, only to learn that they had been rejected in mid-December. They were then hurried into applying to a number of other schools, making their winter break overpacked and stressful. Please do not open yourself to this possibility.