College Applications: It’s All in the Details

College applications are work, plain and simple, no doubt about it. You’ve got to fill in the form details on top of writing all those essays and getting letters of recommendation. You have to manage deadlines and document your activities. Almost all students are aware of these requirements, but what often gets overlooked — whether out of hastiness or carelessness — are some of the little details.

So, here’s a word of advice: pay attention to the specifics, even if they appear to be insignificant, because details do add up. Omitting info or making a mistake when entering a particular fact (say, your date of birth) may cause difficulties later. Be careful and thoughtful as you record your info because thoroughness and accuracy will create a more robust and personal profile of you — and trying to determine who you are is the mission of each and every admissions representative.

As you move through your applications, you will encounter a series of asks. For example, you will be asked for your counselor’s contact info. You will need to list how many weeks per year and hours per week you participate in, for example, Model United Nations or Chess Club. You will need to know the exact name of each class you are taking senior year, including spring semester. You will be asked the number of languages you are proficient in, the number of siblings you have, your graduating class size, and your future plans. Read the activities section carefully because you will be asked to rank your activities from most to least significant. Think of the application as a blueprint of your life and recognize that crafting a picture with lots of details will be far more interesting than a half-blank page.

A large part of your job with the application will be building an impression of who you are. Maybe it will be an impression of being academically sophisticated, morally whole, deeply contemplative — or maybe all three. One impression you’ll surely want to make is that you are invested in your work. You want to show that you care enough to address the smallest details and that the application is worth your time and attention it takes you to create a strong, clear document.

Dedicating time and attention to each application helps to avoid a slapdash result, which could send the message that you are just going through the motions and, perhaps, are indifferent to the outcome. This is certainly not the impression you want to create. 

As you are moving through your application, hit the print preview tab to see how your information is being presented in the final copy, as you may see a few edits you want to make. When you have moved through every section of your application, be sure to print a full copy. Proofread it carefully because you may catch a typo that you didn’t notice on your screen. Check formatting, grammar, spelling — and every one of your details, for both content and presentation! You may have to go in and tinker a few times before you are ready. Put your energy into it, do your best, and then, when it’s fully polished, hit submit!

Will you get rejected because you neglected to add what school your three-year-old brother attends? Of course not, but why not show admissions that they can count on you to be meticulous? Review every field, required or not, and check every space and each punctuation mark. Leave nothing blank if you can help it (unless it’s not applicable, of course). Turn in an application that makes you proud — not just for its content but for the care you took in completing it. 

Updated July 23, 2021. Jeff Knox contributed to an earlier version of this blog.