We get it: Applying to college can be nerve-wracking. What’s the secret to showcasing your strengths? What’s the best way to write a personal statement? How do you impress recruiters without inflating your accomplishments?
To get insider advice about college applications, we went straight to the pros: USC’s admissions counselors and reviewers who receive thousands of student applications every fall. These real-life recruiters have seen it all and they have a few tips to help you showcase your best on your college application.
This story was updated on Nov. 3, 2020
Don’t misspell words or use sloppy grammar.
An application with an easily fixable mistake (or even worse, multiple ones) shows reviewers that you didn’t put in the time required. Proofread every part of your application and consider getting another set of eyes to double-check it before you submit.
Don’t pick a major because it will be “easy” to get into.
When students see that their dream program has more specific requirements than others, some figure they’ll just apply to any USC program and then transfer to their dream major later. Here’s the problem: You still might not get into that program when you’re at the university. Portfolio and audition submissions are still required, and you risk having to stick to a major that you’re not as passionate about for four years.
Don’t assume academic disruptions due to COVID-19 will make you less competitive.
Admission officers know that many classes and activities are online or delayed indefinitely. Instead of docking students for things out of their control, recruiters will look at how students have coped with the impact of COVID-19 and how they’ve adapted to school policies. Take the opportunity to explain how the pandemic may have affected your transcript and activities in personal statements or in the special COVID-19 essay section.
Don’t bother scrubbing your Instagram or Facebook trail.
Although students should always be thoughtful about how they represent themselves online, don’t waste time cleaning up your online posts. Public information could be considered in the admissions process, but most staffers are far too busy to look at your pictures and posts on social media.
Don’t add in extra essays.
The Common Application has an “additional information” section for students to mention items that haven’t been included elsewhere in the application but are still relevant. Explain why you transferred high schools or had a temporary drop in grades, but this is not the place to put in another personal essay.
Don’t rush your application.
Give it the time and care it deserves. Instead of tackling 20 applications, advises Beltran, “put your energy into five preferred schools.”