Remarks on the College Application Process

I’m going to focus my remarks on the actual college application process.  Some of your students may not be at this point, and may still have some work to do in research and planning.  Every student applying to college will eventually need to take these steps, and it is a piece of the process that parents can help with.  What I’m going to go through is addressed to your sons and daughters, but if you know it too, you can help them through what, at many places, seems like a labyrinth.

In General

Your son/daughter should:

  1. Maintain a challenging academic program in the senior year and maintain solid grades in those subjects.
  2. Find out about the colleges to which she or he is applying – Make sure to have sufficient information about the college and show an interest in the college or university on the application.
  3. Use the application as an opportunity to assume control over the flow of information from him or her to the college.  The student gets to choose what she or he wants the college to know, what kind of an impression will be left with the committee.  That impression should be an honest reflection of his or her interests and talents, no lies or exaggerations.

Completing the Application

Your daughter or son should:

  1. Read the whole application form and all the instructions before starting to fill out the form.
  2. File the application before the deadline, not on it.
  3. Submit financial aid information at the same time that s/he submits the application.
  4. Make sure that SAT and ACT scores are sent directly from the test source.
  5. Know what is required in terms of support materials to the application so requests can be made well in advance of due dates.
  6. Request a high school transcript using the procedure we have developed and do it in a timely fashion—minimum of 20 school days.
    1. Authorization to Release Records Form
    2. Transcript request form
  7. All forms are available in the Counseling Office and will be on our website.

Requesting Recommendations

Recommendation from Teachers

Your son/daughter should:

  1. Choose teachers who know him/her well and are enthusiastic when asked for a recommendation. Sometimes not the teacher where you have an A, but where you’ve shown a turn around or progress is the better choice.
  2. Approach the teacher at a convenient time for the teacher and allow the teacher sufficient time to do a careful job.  Make sure the teacher is aware of all deadlines.
  3. Follow up with thank you notes, and also by letting the teacher know what the college decisions are.

Recommendations from Relatives and Alumni of the College

  1. Follow the same basic rules as with teachers with one addition.  Make sure that what this person says really adds to the completeness of the impression you are creating.  A fat file is not necessarily the best file.

Recommendations from Counselors

Counselors at Blair make lots of effort to get to know all their students, but kids can help. They should:

  1. Take some initiative in making sure their counselor has the information s/he needs, by doing a good job on the checklist and self-evaluation form, and by keeping the counselor informed about what is going on with them throughout the application process.
  2. Parents can assist counselors to know about their children by meeting with them in college conference and/or writing out comments on the parent information form for the counselor that might provide information or insight.

The admissions process is a highly subjective process of people evaluating other people, and nowhere does this come across more forcefully (or with more anxiety on the part of the student) then in the preparation and writing of the college essay.

Preparing and Writing the Essay

Students should:

  1. Use books, pamphlets and other materials available in the career center, library, outside libraries and bookstores to get background about college essay writing.
  2. Use the essay as an opportunity to show the dimension and character of himself or herself to demonstrate the qualities that make him or her unique.
  3. Say something about his or her values, opinions and talents in a creative, upbeat lively way.  The essay should be real and written by him or her in his or her own style.

The next step is choosing topics and writing the essay—a step-by-step process guided by the senior English teachers.  Students should review their essays, re-write and update as necessary, or begin anew with a different topic following the same process.


Your son or daughter should:

  1. Recognize that everything he or she does has some importance/from sports to babysitting to creating computer graphics—it all contributes to the picture.
  2. Stress not only the activities she or he enjoys, but why they are enjoyable to him or her.
  3. Realize that in general, depth of involvement is better than being involved in a large number of activities.
  4. Not just list activities but give additional details, maybe even pictures of a special project.
  5. Provide additional information on special talents as an athlete, musician or artist to complement the application.

Helpful Tips

  1. The first draft should not be the final effort. Be careful and be neat.
  2. Make a copy of all materials submitted before mailing.  Colleges have been known to lose all or parts of applications.  Be on the safe side.

I’d like to finish up this section with some thoughts from an admissions director. I spoke with a while back. We were talking in the context of submitting supplemental information from counselors, teachers; additional letters from influential alumni and legacies and so forth and she said to me, “You know, parents and applicants need to remember that the person who is most influential on the admissions decision is the applicant himself.  What counts is a strong record of matched potential and achievement and a well-conceived essay, not who knows whom in the admissions office.”