Anatomy of a College Application

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Anatomy of a College Application

Starting your college application process can be daunting, but knowing the basics of the process can help. Let’s dissect the typical college app and look at some dos and don’ts so you can avoid getting passed over by admissions offices.


Typical acceptance rate of a college or university in the U.S. (1)


Percentage of teenagers who submitted seven or more college applications last year (1)


Percentage of schools who had an increase in applications from the previous year (1)


Average number of sheets of paper used by a student applying to college. Over 200 colleges and universities have now gone paperless. (2)

Breaking Down the College Application

What You’ll Need (3)

  • Your basic information, including Social Security number
  • Extracurricular activities information
  • A completed FAFSA
  • Money for an application fee, typically anywhere from $35 to $70
  • Your high school transcript
  • Admission test scores—ACT, SAT
  • Advanced Placement (AP) test scores
  • Your entrance essay (see school website for specific questions/prompts/requirements)
  • Recommendation letters (if required)
  • Auditions/portfolios for art or performing art school entrance

A Good Entrance Essay (3)

What makes for a good entrance essay/personal statement for a college application? Though each prompt is different, universally effective essays contain the following:

  • Examples that show a student’s abilities instead of just listing them
  • A unique title and attention-grabbing introduction
  • A first-person story or account that shows a student’s narrowed, academic focus
  • Knowledge of the school the student is applying to
  • Polished writing that is free from grammatical errors and misspellings

Things to Avoid (3,4)

  • Don’t miss deadlines!
  • Check every application for typos or misspellings.
  • Get a professional-sounding e-mail address that includes part of your name. Don’t apply using “”
  • Don’t let your parents or friends write your applications or essays for you.
  • Don’t forget to sign your applications, digitally or physically, lest they sit in admissions labeled “incomplete.”
  • Delete inappropriate social media comments or photos (but remember, they may still be out there)

Standing Out

Worried your well-prepared app might go unnoticed? Here are some tips for ensuring your application stands out among the rest. (5)

  1. Write vivid and original entry essays that are detail oriented.
  2. Show in your writing that you’ve done your research about the university and its programs.
  3. Include supplemental materials like writing samples, newspaper clippings of activities, or proof of volunteer work.
  4. Don’t go overboard with extra material, but enough to show you’ve put in effort.
  5. Make an attempt to regularly check in with the school’s admissions office so that they recognize your interest.



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