It’s the time of the year when students all across the U.S. and Canada are trying to cram college applications in with all the end-of-semester projects they have for their classes. Most college application deadlines are between January 1 and February 15, in order to give admissions staff enough time to decide on which students to accept and send out the appropriate letters. Here are some tips for high school seniors who are in the process of completing—or perhaps just starting—their college applications.

Honor the deadlines

There’s a reason these deadlines exist, and it’s best not to call or email the school and ask for an extension. There are hundreds, and perhaps even thousands, of students who get their applications in on time, so why should different rules apply to you?

Start early when collecting transcripts and recommendations

Read the instructions on each application to see how many letters of recommendation you need and if you or your school need to send a transcript. Get your requests in early; your school will appreciate the early mention, and so will the people writing your letters. Ideally, you should have all this in order before winter break.

Be neat

College admissions staff will discredit applications that have misspellings, grammar errors, and syntax problems. Read your application and essays over before you submit them, even if you used a spelling or grammar checker. If you turn in a paper application, write as neatly as possible. Make sure you have a teacher or family member check your application before you submit it; that way you’ll be sure it’s neat and completed correctly.

Be genuine in your essays

Don’t fill your application essays with fluff or try to sound smarter by using big words that don’t come naturally to you. Admissions officers want to see a little bit about who you are beyond your grades and SAT scores, and this is your chance to impress them. They will see through the fluff and thesaurus abuse, so just be authentic and write clearly and naturally.

Don’t have your parents complete your application

This should go without saying, but many high school students do just that. They have their parents fill in their applications and write their essays. By having your parents do the work for you, you run the risk of getting into a school that isn’t right for you, or not being admitted at all if your application was completed fraudulently.

Fill in all the blanks

Even if you all you can put is “none” or “zero” or “n/a,” enter something in each space you are instructed to fill out on the application. Otherwise, you run the risk that admissions staff will see you as lazy or unable to follow instructions.

Avoid submitting your application right on the deadline

It’s tempting to wait to start your applications until December 30 or 31, thinking you have up until 11:59 p.m. on that day. But keep in mind that thousands of other students are thinking the same thing. When all those students submit their applications at the same time, websites can be overburdened, servers can crash, and your application might get lost as a result. Instead, get your application finished early and avoid the rush.

What other tips do you have for college students completing their applications? Please share them in the comments.

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