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How to Get Into & Pay for College

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Create a Killer College Application

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By: Gen and Kelly Tanabe
Founders of SuperCollege and authors of 13 books on college planning.

Gen and Kelly Tanabe can answer your question in Expert Advice.




Edit your list of activities and awards as carefully as you would an essay.

Most students find that the spaces on the application forms are hardly wide enough for a single sentence, let alone a complete description of their activities from the past four years. The key is to be clear, yet concise, by carefully edit every word in your description. For example, you should not write something like this:

As vice president of the National Honor Society, I helped to start and run a canned food drive to benefit a local charity dedicated to helping senior citizens.

Instead write a more succinct description:

National Honor Society (VP). Organized charity food drive.

This second sentence is concise, to the point and much stronger than the first example. You can also abbreviate activities that are nationally recognized or well known among educators. And while there are some schools brimming with generosity that allow you to use extra sheets, remember that economy of words is important. Admissions officers don’t have the time to read excessive explanations.




When applying online, don't treat the application like email.

Applying online is certainly convenient. However, the convenience can also lead to carelessness. After all, we're so accustomed to dashing off quick emails and instant messages without any concern for typos. Be careful about mistakes and spend the time to review your work. Better yet, print out a copy and read it yourself and get someone else to read it too. You’ll catch many more errors (and believe us, there will be many) in your application if you and your editor can review a hard copy as opposed to just viewing it on the screen. Remember, just because you can apply instantly with the click of a button doesn’t mean that you should craft your answers as speedily.




Avoid leaving anything blank.

Application forms are not like art: White space is not aesthetically pleasing. If you do not have enough activities to fill all the spaces, then try adding more description to those that you are listing. This way you not only expand on those activities that are impressive, but you also minimize the white space. It is perfectly valid to substitute quality for quantity.

Don’t be afraid to reach back into the past and list a few things you did during your freshman year. Sharing that you were a member of the Square Dancing Squad adds an interesting and unique personal touch—especially if you went on to become a 250-pound nose guard for the football team.




Final Thoughts ...

One last thing before you put the application aside: Do not forget to autograph it in all the right places. There are probably several forms that require your signature, and without it, your application will not be processed.

Despite its pedestrian appearance, the application form is a critical part of getting accepted. Dedicate the time and effort necessary to make it a powerful testament to why you deserve to get in, and you'll be rewarded with fat acceptance envelopes from your first-choice colleges.




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Accepted! 50 Successful College Admission Essays

Learn how to write the essay that will get you into your dream college with this step-by-step guide that includes writing strategies from top students and admission officers. Read over 50 successful essays, and learn the 25 essay mistakes you must avoid.

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Accepted! 50 Successful College Admission Essays

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The only how-to book which shows all students how to get into the school of their dreams. Based on the experiences of dozens of successful students and authored by two graduates of Harvard, this book shows you how to ace the application, essay, interview, and standardized tests.

By: Gen & Kelly Tanabe
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