8 tips for Alabama students working on college applications from college admissions experts

With college application deadlines just around the corner, admissions officials say the holidays are a good time for high school seniors to tick some final assignments off their checklist.

“At this time of year, students have to be extra mindful of deadlines,” said Kathleen Stallings, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Every school needs different things at a different time and it’s really important that students know what’s due and when.”

Most colleges will accept applications for fall enrollment by January or February, but other financial aid or scholarship requirements may be due sooner.

For students who have been putting off that personal essay or haven’t had a chance to fill out the required forms, here are some tips to keep in mind as college application season comes to a close.

Fill out your application completely.

Most colleges have online portals to help you organize your application, and sites like the Common App and the Common Black College App make it easy to apply to hundreds of colleges with a single application.

Read more Ed Lab: Common app opens for University of Alabama, Auburn

Don’t forget to include documents such as test scores and essays if needed, and let your school counselor’s office know your application deadlines so your transcripts don’t arrive late. Transfer students will likely need to submit more than one transcript if they have enrolled at multiple institutions.

“This may seem trivial, but colleges receive numerous incomplete applications every year,” said Sherre Padgett, an education consultant who provides college prep services statewide.

Create a tracker to stay organized

Stallings said she also recommends creating a shared calendar with parents or guardians to keep track of various deadlines.

Here’s a template for a handy tracker from Get Schooled that also includes several bite-sized articles, guides, and videos that break down the application process in easy-to-understand language.

You can also text #Hello to 33-55–77 to get free college application advice from Get Schooled.

Make sure your essay is an honest representation of who you are.

Some colleges require an essay or personal statement as part of the application. The Common App also requires applicants to fill out writing prompts.

When writing personal essays, Padgett says, it’s important to be authentic — and limit “fluff.”

“Don’t just give out school information to prove you know about your prospective school,” she said. “They already know who they are; they want to know about you.”

Other experts recommend writing multiple drafts, finding a colleague to edit your draft, and avoiding one-liners or too much humor. The best essays are those that answer the question directly, but also have a strong opening, deepening and reflecting on a personal experience.

“It’s always, always best for a student to go deeper into their experiences rather than cover an essay with all the things they’ve done,” Stallings said.

Choose your referrers wisely.

Choose people you know well, both inside and outside of the classroom. This can be a counselor, coach, teacher or mentor outside of school. Experts say the best referrers are people who can validate your growth, not just your success.

And don’t delay the recommendation until the end, Stallings said.

Now—the fall before you want to go to college—is the perfect time to reach out to referrers if you haven’t already. The sooner the better.

It is best to personally reach out to the referrers whenever possible and provide the necessary resources – such as: B. a link to the postal address or to the application portal of the school. Gather all the information in one place to avoid confusion or mistakes. Also, consider sending a thank you note or a small gift after you apply to show your appreciation.

Check if you are eligible for fee waivers.

Alabama Possible, a nonprofit that aims to improve college access in the state, says most of the questions they get about college have to do with affordability and how to pay the application fees.

Students can verify their eligibility for financial aid by completing the Free Student Aid Application or the FAFSA. This is the basic document most institutions use to determine grants.

Many Alabama colleges will accept FAFSA applications by December 1 if you haven’t already completed one through your school (remember, FAFSA is required to graduate from an Alabama high school!). Here is a guide from the Department of Education on how to fill out the form.

Read more Ed Lab: What should Alabama students know about college finance and student loans?

Prospective students with limited financial resources may also be eligible for fee waivers, which allow applicants to submit college applications for free or at minimal cost.

Here is an example of the Admissions Fee Waiver from the National Association for College Admission Counseling and instructions on how to complete it. Some colleges also automatically waive fees when a student is eligible for a free or discounted lunch.

Alabama students can also apply for free to several historically black colleges and universities through the Common Black College app. Alabama Possible has put together a guide to help users navigate the site.

Last-minute test-takers or juniors preparing may also be able to waive the test fees for entrance exams such as the ACT or SAT, but be aware of the deadlines.

For more information on financial aid, see the College Board FAQ.

Keep copies of everything

Keep a copy of any applications, letters of recommendation, and any other materials you worked on in case anything is lost in the process.

Also, as the deadline approaches, it doesn’t hurt to contact each of your colleges to make sure they’ve received your materials.

Ask for help!

The Alabama Goes to College Help Desk can assist Alabama students with any college application, FAFSA, or other college admissions questions.

Text or call (334) 316-6155 and a representative will get back to you.

College admissions offices and application programs, like the Common App, also typically have hotlines or people who can answer questions about admissions. If you are a transfer student, check if your institution has a transfer advisor or recruiter who can help you.

Believe you belong.

Padgett said it can be common, especially among minority groups or first-generation students, to worry about fitting or succeeding in some college environments.

If you doubt yourself, experts say it’s best not to fight those feelings. Once you acknowledge them, try to make a list of your past accomplishments or skills that you can bring to bear. Then you better approach your application calmly and confidently.

“Students need to feel like they belong wherever they apply,” Padgett said. “Students should apply to college with confidence and an attitude that says they will achieve their goals regardless of who says no.”