Emily Xie

Academic Blog

Academic Blog

How to Apply to College

For the past few months, I have been extremely busy applying to college, but now, the only thing left to do is wait! So, here's a few tips for the class of 2018, and the long grueling college application process ahead.

Not to state the obvious, but: do well in school, take the SAT and any subject tests that may be required, participate in extracurricular activities, etc. Now to the nitty gritty:

First things first, compile your list of colleges, and make sure that you are picking colleges that are a good fit for you. Don't just apply to a school because of its numerical rank or because your best friend is applying there; apply to a school, because you genuinely like it and could see yourself attending the next year.

Next, stay organized... I'm not sure how many times I can stress this. If you haven't already started to receive tons of emails, letters, flyers, and the likes of it all in the mail, you will soon. So, stay organized. One thing I did that was very helpful is, I made file folders for each school I was applying to and compiled everything I had received from them. This being said, if you don't get any mail from the colleges you are interested in, join their mailing list! Colleges want you to learn more about them, and a perfect way to do so is to peruse their website then join their mailing list to learn all of the new and exciting things going on there!

Continuing on housekeeping and organization, once you have your list of colleges, make a spreadsheet to keep tallies on what you have and haven't done.

Stay organized by using a spreadsheet to keep track of the schools that you have or have not finished applying to

Stay organized by using a spreadsheet to keep track of the schools that you have or have not finished applying to

After this, you can start making a timeline of when you want to get everything done. I did this by listing the things I wanted to accomplish by the end of a day or week. It's a lot easier to get a big thing done (like college applications), if you just break it down into smaller, more manageable pieces.

Next, if your schools are on the Common Application, rejoice! It will help you stay organized and make sure you know exactly what you still need to do. The only thing it will not tell you, however, is whether your test scores have been received. So, make sure to use each school's application portal (if they have one) or email your schools if you aren't sure if they have received your scores. The Common Application will also prevent you from becoming frustrated from typing in your activities, test scores, grades, essays, etc. on every single application. Instead, you submit the Common Application to each school (that uses it), and then any supplement that they would like you to submit.


Ask for your recommendation letters as early as you can! That's the one thing I can't stress enough. Teachers get extremely bogged down with recommendation letters during the beginning of the year, and chances are, if you ask for your letter 2 weeks before it's due it won't be very good. So, ask your teachers as soon as possible. Also, along the same vein, make sure you know how many and what kind of recommendations you will need. Some schools want 1, some want 2, etc., and some schools want science teachers, while others want humanities. So just make sure you know what is required. Don't think that asking at the end of your junior year is too soon either! This year, we had one teacher who stopped accepting requests before the end of last year.

Then, once you have finalized your college list, send any paperwork that your colleges may need: transcripts, counselor recommendations, SAT, ACT, etc. You'd rather be early than just barely making the deadline!

Since I get a lot of questions about the resume and activity list: I'll just address it briefly. Your true passion is what is important. Don't feel like you stand no chance, because you only do one thing that you're really interested in while Jimmy over there does every single activity at school. Stay true to who you are and make sure colleges know who that person is.

Now, essays are the part that everyone is a bit squeamish about. Do not fret though! As long as you plan out your time and then work your plan, you will come out unscathed (and hopefully you won't lose too much sleep). So, here's college essays in a few steps:

  1. Compile all of the essays into a word document or into a sheet of post-its, whatever works for you, group them by school, and get familiar with them
  2. Figure out what you would like the reader to take away from your essay
  3. Brainstorm experiences, ideas, stories, etc. that are applicable to both the prompt and what you want the reader to gain (I know it's sometimes hard to be so introspective at 17 or 18, but don't fret, everyone is feeling the same way as you are)
  4. Outline your essays
  5. Write (don't mind the word count either)
  6. And the most important step: revise, revise, revise
  7. Remove topics that you have finished/submitted so you can rejoice when your list begins to dwindle down

Finally, after all is said and done, just sit back and wait! (which is probably the hardest part of the entire process).

Best of luck to you all!

Last thing: if you have any questions, feel free to contact me anytime!