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Ask About Written RecommendationsThis tip cannot be stressed enough. If there is one task you complete, choose the mentors and teachers who will write your recommendation letters. They undoubtedly would like to get a head start, too. The spring of your junior year or the summer before your senior year is the perfect time to ask to ensure that you fill each recommendation slot. Be mindful that each college or university may require a different number of recommendations.
Create a List of Prospective SchoolsMany colleges and universities maintain special, supplemental requirements within the Common Application. Although you do not necessarily need to write a comprehensive list of every school where you plan to apply, developing an early sense of your top choices will help you draft your application materials with those institutions in mind. If a school does not strictly require the supplemental sections, they may still be strongly suggested. If you are allocating time for each school in advance, you will have a more realistic approach to the application when it is released. If you are considering institutions that are not in the Common Application system, this is also important information to note now, as their applications may require more time and attention to complete.
Write a Mock RésuméA surprisingly time-consuming process on the Common Application involves listing every award you have earned, club or group you have participated in, and job or volunteer position you have held. Building a list of these achievements can take much longer than students often expect it to. Finishing this task before school begins again means that once the Common Application is live (which typically occurs in early August), you can simply copy and paste the information into the correct electronic field. Often, students leave this section until the end, and as their deadlines near, they become increasingly stressed. Do your best to avoid this outcome. The Common Application was originally developed to make students’ lives less stressful, despite the pressure it adds to a single document. If you are concerned that the Common Application does not fully showcase why you are the ideal candidate for a given school, reach out to the admissions office before the application process begins to learn what else you can do to stand out. Most schools offer other options—such as an in-person interview either on or off campus—that may better show your specific interests or better showcase why you would be a positive fit at that institution.
Andrea Deck is a professional GRE tutor and contributing writer for Varsity Tutors. She is a graduate student at Columbia University in the class of 2015.