As seniors trudge through submission season this year, I’ve found some questions that have surprised me. Those of us shepherding families through their college applications, myself included, can mistakenly start “talking shop” with the assumption that parents and students are following along. Acronyms start flying around and we get into our groove, not realizing we’ve left the newbies in the dust.

So, for those of you on your second or third rodeo, this post might be a bit elementary, but to those of you just sitting down to start your Common App, hopefully it’ll be a basic framework. 

Question #1: Does it matter what order we submit things in?

Answer: No! Schools keep digital files on all applicants that most likely started long before you were an applicant. The second you visited campus, filled out an inquiry card, or made a call to admissions, your file was created. Thanks to the wonders of technology everything can be sorted into your folder as it is received. Sure, sometimes mistakes happen, but the best way to avoid errors is to be POSITIVE the student’s name is identical on every document. Make sure your middle name (spelled out or an initial) is uniform across standardized tests, your high school files, and college applications. Also ensure colleges are notified if your address changes and credentials will have different addresses on them.

The best thing to do is submit whatever you can as early as you can. High schools can often take a couple weeks to get transcripts out. Testing services sometimes take even longer during “high volume” times.

Question #2: Where do I find the application?

Answer: Your best bet here is to start with the college. They can let you know if they a) Run an application via their website b) Are a member of the Common Application c) Are a member of the Coalition Application or d) Some variety of the above. Once that data is collected my OCD and I like to make a chart, noting which schools will take which application. That way I know how many I’ll be filling out and if I can avoid any altogether. All your schools are on the Common App? Hooray! You’ve got two on one app, three on another, and one that runs its own? Strap in for a lot of paperwork.

Question #3: What do they want from us anyway?

Answer: While every school’s requirements will differ slightly, they will all consist of these items in some form or another. These are:

  • Application: This will be comprised of some basic data as well as being where to attach the resume and essay. All these are one form, submitted simultaneously to each school. Even if you use the Common Application you’ll fill out a “supplement,” or cover sheet, for each school with some school-specific questions (and maybe some supplemental essays). This means you’ll hit submit multiple times within the Common Application.
  • Test Scores: These can be either SAT’s or ACTs, nobody cares which. Some schools (though very few) want the optional essay sections and some (though even fewer) want SAT Subject Tests. Some are also test-optional and don’t want any of these numbers! Check with schools on their regulations.
  • High School Transcripts: Request these from your high school ASAP and, guidance counselors are going to hate me for saying this, but request for any colleges you’re considering applying to so you’ll know they’re there. Worst case scenario a school gets a transcript and nothing else from you, not the end of the world. Better safe than sorry!
  • Letters of Recommendation: This varies widely school to school but briefly, get a few teachers who don’t hate you to write about how great you are. These, while submitted independently from the application itself, is often submitted through the application web portal by a mechanism that links the student application to the teacher’s school credentials.

Easy, right? Ok, easy might be a bit of an understatement but at least this is a framework to start from. The most important thing is to be sure to get things where they need to be by the time they need to be there. Unlike in math class, order of operations doesn’t matter!

By Kate Balboni