Daily Journal Masthead

College bound? As deadline looms, tips for admission success

Follow Daily Journal:


Road map with trip from Center Grove to Bloomington highlighted. Photos for an illustration about college applications Friday, Oct. 11, 2013. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Road map with trip from Center Grove to Bloomington highlighted. Photos for an illustration about college applications Friday, Oct. 11, 2013. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal

If you are a local high school senior who’s planning to attend a four-year college but you haven’t gotten around to applying, now would be a good time to start.

Students applying to Indiana University or Purdue University need to submit their applications by Nov. 1. That’s the deadline for students to be considered for most scholarships they might qualify for, and the faster students apply to either university, the faster they will find out whether they’ve been accepted.

About 1,700 seniors typically graduate from local high schools; and if history repeats, about 60 percent of them will go on to college.

Once students have that acceptance letter, they can start making plans for where to live, what kinds of courses to take and how to pay for it. Or they can go on to Plan B.

You are not guaranteed a seat. Last fall more than 84,000 students applied to IU, Purdue University, Ball State University and Franklin College. About 66 percent of those students were admitted, and their average GPA was 3.7.

Filling out those applications — most of which are done online — can be confusing, especially when colleges ask students to answer open-ended essay questions. When students are filling out the questions, it’s important for them to remember not to repeat information admissions counselors can find in their transcripts or resumes.

 This is the students’ one chance to communicate who they are, and to convince a university why they should be accepted, guidance counselors said.

Some colleges also might ask students to have teachers or counselors write letters of recommendation, but the best letters aren’t necessarily going to come from teachers who gave them A’s, Whiteland Community High School counselor Shannon Fritz said.

Here is some additional advice from both counselors about what students and their parents should keep in mind as they fill out college applications this month:

You’re going to need a computer to get this done: Most colleges, including Franklin and IU, have online applications for students, which allow them to upload their basic information, essays, test scores, transcripts, letters of recommendation and other required information all within a few hours.

Applying online will make it easier for students to confirm that colleges have received all of the application materials. Students applying to Purdue will use an online program called The Common Application, which includes a network of about 400 colleges nationwide and lets students apply to multiple colleges, including Butler University and DePauw University, simultaneously.

“It makes it easier for kids to apply to schools that are similar, without having to fill out 15 applications,” Fritz said.

Essays are your chance to make yourself stand out: Many of the questions on a college application ask specifics about students’ grades, the courses they’ve taken and lists of extracurricular activities.

But students also will be asked to answer one or several essay questions. The topics of the questions could be open-ended, asking students why they want to attend the college they’re applying to, while others can ask students to describe specific times in their lives, such as a moment they experienced failure and what they learned from that.

Franklin no longer requires an essay, but students are encouraged to include one as part of a more complete application.

The biggest problem students can make with these essays is repeating information the college already could find in the student’s transcript or resume, Fritz said.

Students shouldn’t simply list that they were captain of their football team or member of the National Honor Society; chances are the admissions counselors saw that earlier in the application. Instead, they should tell a specific, detailed story about the impact of being a part of those organizations and how that will shape their time at college.

Students’ answer to the essay questions can be 100 to 650 words long, but students shouldn’t worry about filling the page. Colleges will be looking at the essays to see how well applicants can write, not how many words they used, Fritz said.

Teachers who push students write the best letters: Remember the algebra or English teacher who gave you a B-minus, even after months spent in their classroom before and after school trying to better understand what they were talking about in class? If you need a letter of recommendation, that’s the first person you should ask.

Colleges want to read specific examples about how a student handled themselves under pressure or how motivated they were to pass a difficult class.

The best stories typically come from teachers who saw how hard students were willing to work to earn good grades or pass a class and who can explain to an admissions counselor what kind of work ethic that student will bring to college, Fritz said.

If a college wants a letter of recommendation to come from a high school counselor who a student might not have worked with or seen regularly, then the student should give the counselor names of teachers who can provide anecdotes of their drive or character for the letter, Fritz said.

Parents: Be supportive, but stay away from the keyboard: Many students might find it overwhelming to write essays for admission to multiple colleges and to track their transcripts and test scores to ensure they get submitted on time.

Parents should encourage their students as they’re completing their college applications, and they can even help proofread the essays to make sure they’re free of mistakes, Greenwood Community High School guidance director Bill Ronk said.

What they should not do is fill out the applications or write the essays for their students.

“Don’t have your parents write it so it sounds like a parent’s vocabulary,” Ronk said. “The student should write it. You can tell when a parent writes it, and it’s not good.”

Ronk and Fritz both have had students who didn’t know where they were applying to college without checking with their parents, who had been filling out all of their applications.

“That’s just setting your kid up for failure because they don’t know what’s happening,” Ronk said.

Don’t forget to visit campus: High school seniors who are taking college-level courses so they’ll be better prepared for their freshman year of college usually don’t want to take time during the school week to visit their prospective colleges.

But students need to find a way — whether during summer or fall or winter break — to see the campuses and talk with staff members and students in person. No matter how appealing a college looks on paper, a student can’t know for sure if they’ll want to stay there for four years until they’ve walked around campus and met the students, Ronk said.

“If you haven’t visited the campus and you just show up on freshmen orientation day, and two weeks later you realize it’s not a fit, you’ve got a real problem,” Ronk said.

Think your friends should see this? Share it with them!

All content copyright ©2016 Daily Journal, a publication of AIM Media Indiana unless otherwise noted.
All rights reserved. Privacy policy.