This week you’re going to take your strategy one step further and tailor it to each of the colleges on your list based on what each particular college emphasizes as most important in their decision-making process.
Have you already made your application plan? Are you close to finalizing your college list? Have you done your pre-work? If so, you are ready to go!
As always, we are focused on helping you work smarter, not harder. One of the best ways to work smarter is to work strategically. You discovered your fundamental application strategy when you crafted your story last week. That story contains what YOU want admissions officers to know about you, because it highlights what matters most to admissions officers.
1. RESEARCH WHAT APPLICATION PLATFORM IS USED BY THE COLLEGES ON YOUR LIST.
Even though all college applications are available online these days (your parents probably still applied on paper), EVERY COLLEGE STILL HAS ITS OWN APPLICATION.
What? Isn’t there a Common App that is accepted by over 900 colleges?
Yes, there is, but the Common App is not what it sounds like. The Common App is NOT a single online application. Instead, it is an application platform that allows you to enter some basic information and answer some questions once, and then have that information transmitted to any college that uses the Common App.
The first big mistake many people make in the college application process is assuming that the Common App is in fact one application. It is not. Don’t let the name fool you. Many colleges also have some specific questions that you answer only if you are applying to that college.
And just to make things more complicated, the Common App isn’t the only application platform out there. Basically, colleges have these choices for application platforms:
And there is one more wrinkle! Some colleges use more than one application platform. For example, you can apply to Wake Forest University through the Common App, the Coalition App, their own application platform, or even by paper.
So how do you figure out which platform the colleges on your list use? Go to their websites and they should list your options.
2. RESEARCH EARLY OPTIONS AND DECIDE WHERE, IF ANYWHERE, YOU ARE APPLYING EARLY.
While you are on a college’s website finding out which application platforms they use, check out what early application options are offered by the college. Take your time here and read all the fine print, especially when it comes to Early Action options. The rules can be quite tricky.
Let’s just survey three Early Action colleges and their rules.
For example, Georgetown allows you to apply Early Action to Georgetown AND other colleges, but NOT Early Decision to other colleges.
By contrast, if you apply Early Action to Princeton, you may NOT apply to any other college early (meaning you can’t apply Early Action or Early Decision anywhere else).
Finally, if you apply Early Action to Harvard, you may not apply early (either Early Action or Early Decision) to any private university in the U.S., but you may apply early to public universities in the U.S. or to foreign universities.
In terms of deciding whether you should apply early, we say “Yes” unless any of the following reasons hold true for you and you should wait to apply during the Regular Decision:
If none of these is true for you, then go for early. It will increase your odds for admission and shorten the agonizing waiting period between the time you submit your application and when you find out.
3. RESEARCH WHAT MATTERS MOST TO EACH COLLEGE.
At selective U.S. colleges, admissions officers have the power; they are the decision makers. Therefore, your tailored application strategies should be developed with those admissions officers in mind.
How do you know what matters most to the admissions officers at a particular college? You do a little research on the College Board’s Big Future website. Each year, the College Board conducts a survey and asks each college to indicate what factors they consider in admissions (from a list provided) and how important each of these factors is.
That’s exactly the information you need.
Download our free College Research Guide that will show you how to find this information on the College Board site.
One important caveat in this unusual year: you can ignore the importance the college puts on standardized tests scores if your research reveals that during the 2020-21 admissions cycle, the college has made standardized tests optional or decided not to consider standardized test scores at all.
4. CREATE A TAILORED APPLICATION STRATEGY FOR EACH COLLEGE ON YOUR LIST.
Now that you’ve done your research and understand what’s most important to the colleges on your list, you can tweak your application strategy for each college on your list.
Remember that your application strategy is pretty straightforward: Share your story (the one you wrote last week). Tweaking it is equally straightforward.
Let’s say that you find out that Stanford considers the “rigor of secondary school record” very important (which it does). So what aspects of your story are you going to emphasize? The aspects of your story relating to academics, and especially to your quest for rigor – all those honors or AP classes, your participation in the Robotics Club, your summer spent at Space Camp, etc.
5. TAKE TIME TO EDUCATE YOURSELF ABOUT FINANCIAL AID.
Financial aid is a complicated business, and each college has its own policies and resources.
If you are really going to understand what options are available to you, you will have to take the time to do your homework. At a minimum, you need to know:
You also need to know whether the ability to pay is a factor in admissions, although figuring this out is difficult because you have to be fluent in "admissions speak" to decode the information that colleges give you.
In admissions speak, colleges that consider your ability to pay as a factor in admissions will describe themselves as having "need-aware" or "need-sensitive" admissions policies, while colleges that do not consider your ability to pay as a factor in admissions will describe themselves as having "need-blind" admissions policies.
Not all colleges are transparent about their policies. If a college does not explicitly state that it is need-blind, assume that your ability to pay will be a factor in admissions.
Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.