Life after high school: What constitutes a completed application? |

Life after high school: What constitutes a completed application?

Katy Watts
Special to the Bonanza

Public or private. Small or large. Urban or rural. You have searched the Internet, perhaps visited some schools and narrowed down your list of colleges to a really great handful.

Now the fun begins — completing and submitting your application before the deadline (please, let’s not wait until 11:59 p.m. before the deadline to hit “submit”).

So who does what? In general, you are responsible for completing the application, paying the application fee and paying to have your SAT or ACT test scores sent directly from the testing company to your colleges.

Your high school counselor should have procedures in place for requesting transcripts and how to request letters of recommendation. Be sure you know these procedures and to follow them.

Now, let’s get specific on three very distinct sections of a college application.

1. Activity/Awards list: Include all activities; summer experiences, employment, internships, volunteer work, awards (academic, artistic, leadership), clubs, theater, music, etc. Be sure to complete how many hours per week and how many weeks per year you have participated in these activities. Be honest. Universities will not call you to confirm how you have spent your time, but they will raise an eyebrow if you indicate you won a silver medal in Curling (unless you really have…). Colleges are trying to figure out what you are involved in, how you spend your time and what is meaningful for you. They may also be looking for leadership potential and how in depth you have been with an activity. Having an actual resume to highlight depth of commitment and leadership could work in your favor.

2. Academic: At the very least, you need list your senior classes (including AP, Honors and/or IB classes) and at most, you will actually have to list every single class, grade and credit hours for every high school year (University of California system, I am looking at YOU!). For the schools requiring you to do this “self-report” make sure you have a copy of your transcript when you are entering in your grades and classes from the freshman year to the senior year. Colleges are trusting you to be honest with this reporting feature and if you are accepted and choose to attend the university, they WILL require a final transcript and they WILL compare it to your original application. Any discrepancies could result in a rescinded offer of admission.

3. Essays/short answers: A well-crafted essay shows the admission representative something about you that they would not glean from the rest of your application. It’s not “what does admissions want to know?” it should be “what do I want to tell the admissions?” Once your mega, 650 word essay is completed for the Common Application, move on to the short answers. These are crafted specifically by that university to understand how you will fit on their campus. The “why do you want to attend our university?” is often superficially answered. If you cannot get past the ranking, then perhaps you should continue to look around. Colleges know when they are highly ranked and have the “best business programs.” Look at the specific program of interest and go really deep.

Remember to save your application log in and passwords. Write them down in a safe place. Take your time on your application and follow the instructions your high school counselor has for assisting you with the application.

Know your deadlines, the documents required, and make a plan of action. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, but remember, this is YOUR application and no one can or should complete it for you.

Once you submit your first application, you are going to feel great. Now, just do it!

Katy Watts is the college counselor at Tahoe Expedition Academy. She holds a Masters in Counseling with a Pupil Personnel Services Credential and is entering her 14th year as a school counselor. She may be reached for comment at

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