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Before You Submit: Your Guide to December College Application Submissions

Common Ap

It’s the beginning of December, and application deadlines are swiftly approaching—the reality of getting ready to finally hit the “submit” button is beginning to set in, and you might be wondering how you can maximize these final days and hours in order to polish your applications before time’s up. As college admissions become increasingly competitive, it is all the more crucial for students to make sure they’re submitting the best applications possible, checking for last-minute mistakes, and making sure they are submitting applications they are truly proud of.

If you want to make this final push count, we’ve created this list to help you determine where and how to spend your time most effectively:

Tip 1: Read your essays out loud.

Give your essays one final read-over to check for style and clarity before you submit. Reading your essays aloud can also help you pick up on awkward phrases or clunky transitions that you would miss during a routine perusal of your own work. For this to have maximum impact, be sure to read slowly and clearly, as if you are actually presenting to an audience. You may also ask a parent or peer to listen to you read, as they may be able to help you identify phrasing or content that needs tweaking.

Tip 2: Ask someone you trust to review your writing.

You can also ask someone you trust to read over your essays—a peer, parent, teacher, or counselor. An older sibling or a friend in college can be a great resource for editing because they recently went through this process, so their advice is likely to be valuable. Your friends and siblings also know you and know the essay you’re capable of writing, so they’re likely to be good resources. Parents can be good as a second pair of eyes, and they can be great people to ask for grammar and formatting edits, but trust yourself on the content. Parents might be less comfortable with informal language, humor, or topics that might not seem like obvious choices for college essays, but these often make for great essays. Finally, teachers and guidance counselors can be good resources for essay editing, but keep in mind that they’re likely to be swamped by requests for letters of recommendation, or, in the case of guidance counselors, many other students looking for the same kind of help you’re seeking. However, if they are willing and have the time, their knowledge and experience can make them valuable editors.

Regardless of who you choose, request that they double-check that your responses to essay questions fully address all the components of each prompt. This is such a fundamental task that it can get lost in the shuffle of stylistic revisions and frequent trips to the thesaurus, but it’s absolutely critical. If your responses veer off-track at any point, chances are, they’ll be able to tell.

Tip 3: Double-check any “repurposed” essays.

When applying to 15+ colleges, students are bound to encounter similar supplemental essay prompts in different schools’ applications. While it’s less work to copy-paste an old essay — especially under a time crunch — this practice is not advised. Repurposing essays can set students up for confusion, creating uncertainty about whether or not they’ve removed details like school-specific courses and program names from previous essays. You don’t want to be the student who submits an essay to one college with the name of another college in the essay. However, if you did repurpose language in some of your essays, conduct a more thorough review of those essays in particular—copy edit to make sure that you have included the correct college name, and double check the specific programs, faculty members, or student organizations you may have mentioned. Alternatively, if your repurposed essay was too vague and did not include enough specific information about a particular university, consider adding more information to emphasize your deliberate interest in that school.

Tip 4: Triple-check all formatting.

The Common App is not as user-friendly as a word processor. For instance, you’ll need to triple-check that paragraphs are indented properly, quotation marks are used when needed (the website won’t allow you to underline text). Note that the Common App frequently bolds the text that you input, so you will need to go through and unbold, as well as check the spacing, given that the spacing of the output is usually inconsistent. In order to make sure that the formatting is polished and correct, click on the preview button to see a PDF version of your application as it will appear to colleges. It is also worth printing out your application in its entirety so that you can see how admissions officers will actually view it.

Tip 5: Be proactive and submit a few days early.

The Common App is not as user-friendly as a word processor. For instance, you’ll need to triple-check that paragraphs are indented properly, quotation marks are used when needed (the website won’t allow you to underline text). Note that the Common App frequently bolds the text that you input, so you will need to go through and unbold, as well as check the spacing, given that the spacing of the output is usually inconsistent. In order to make sure that the formatting is polished and correct, click on the preview button to see a PDF version of your application as it will appear to colleges. It is also worth printing out your application in its entirety so that you can see how admissions officers will actually view it.

If you have finished all of your supplemental essays, be proactive in the first part of the month; review each of your applications and ensure you have not made any mistakes, and do your best to have each application ready for submission a few days before its deadline. You can accomplish this by setting a specific schedule as well, working backwards from the date you intend to submit, and devoting a particular day to review each of your essays. In the event you’ll need to make some last-minute edits or tweaks, having a few days to spare offers a useful safety net and some breathing room. Application portals and websites are known to crash almost every year, so submitting early will help you avoid this altogether. Additionally, if you’re able to submit your application early, you’ll have time to contact the college’s office of admissions to confirm that materials have been received before the deadline.

If you have checked all of these boxes, you are likely ready to submit!

Once you press the “submit” button, allow yourself some time to relax and celebrate your accomplishment—the college admissions process can be stressful and all-consuming, and submitting is a monumental achievement. While it may be tempting to wring your hands and fret over the looming decision, do your best to resist that urge. Be proud of what you have worked hard to compile and submit. You have done your part, and now you can sit back and let the admissions committee do theirs!