What to Put on Your College Application

While all colleges are different, colleges generally look for smart, ambitious, and passionate students. Your college application should emphasize your best, most impressive qualities and represent who you are. A college application should also show how you best match each school’s persona and, if asked why you would like to attend this school (through a supplemental essay), show your sincere interest in that college. Make sure to explain exactly how you became interested in the school and why you think it’s a good fit for you and your goals. Be specific!

Overall, the basic point of a college application is to make you stand out from other applicants in a positive, memorable, and unique way.

Most College Applications Ask for the Following Basic Information

Personal Information

Your name, email address, phone number, high school, college credits already earned, and citizenship information. Enter your social security number if you are going to apply for financial aid, even if you know you are not going to qualify. Many schools want to have this on file.
You can identify your religious preference and demographics, such as African American, Hispanic. This section is not required, but if you are applying to a religious affiliated college, it may be helpful for you to identify what yours is on your application.

Some applications ask for family information, such as names, addresses, if they attended college and, if so, where they attended and what year they graduated. This can be helpful for legacy affiliation. What does this mean? If you are applying to a college that one of your parents have attended, this may provide you an edge for gaining acceptance. Why is this? This is because the statistics say that if a parent has attended a certain college the likelihood of that student accepting to attend as well are significantly higher than students who didn’t have a parent attend.

You can also list your GPA and rank, but the majority of time I don’t have my students complete this section because this information is on your transcript. In addition, I want to be sure that the information the student lists matches their transcript. If you’re a salutatorian or valedictorian, then go ahead and list where appropriate.

Extracurriculars & Activities

With the Common App, you can list up to 10 activities. You have up to 150 characters, with spaces, to describe each activity and with the Coalition Application, you have a few more characters to do so. Explain what you’ve done and accomplished with each activity, and how much time you devoted to it. Every word counts since you have so few to relay that information onto the admissions officer who is reading your application. In addition to traditional extracurricular activities, remember to include part-time jobs or other obligations, like taking care of siblings, summer activities including summer jobs, internships, or other enrichment opportunities.

Academics and Honors

Include your academic honors and awards from high school. List the languages you are proficient in.


Your primary essay, sometimes referred to as your personal statement, is included. There are some schools that don’t require this, but most do. Personal statements can be up to 650 words.
There may also be a single or multiple supplemental essay questions for each school. They are typically shorter than your primary essay, but more specific – and sometimes more important to the school – than your primary essay. Make sure you do your research, especially for those “WHY our college” essay questions! Be specific about each school. Make sure they know why you want to be admitted to their school, and why they should want you!

School Specific Application Information Requirements

There are multiple parts to every college admissions application, and each college requires something slightly different. Some colleges have their own unique application. Others use the Common Application or Coalition Application, which can save you a lot of time by allowing you to apply to multiple schools through a single portal.

Unique School Questions

When you apply to college on the Common App, once you complete the general portion of the application (everything outlined on the COMMON APP tab) you can then add all of the colleges/universities that you’re applying to. Note that each institution has some school-specific questions, so remember to respond to all of the questions. You won’t be able to submit your application without doing so.

Applying to a Specific College within the University

Be aware that for some schools there may be a specific college within the university, for example, engineering, business, nursing, that you will need to apply to, selecting your major within that school. Be sure you tick the correct box for the major and college you want to apply to, if appropriate. Each college within a university may have its own acceptance rate and some are more difficult to get into than others, such as gaining acceptance to their engineering or business school.

If you are applying undecided, you typically apply to the arts and sciences college within a university. There are many schools where you just apply to the college in general and not to a specific major, even if you note one on your application. Your acceptance is not for a specific major but to the school, as a whole. This means that you can select your major at any point in time and not have concerns about the requirements to transfer into that major.

Application Fee

Most schools require an application fee. There are some schools that will waive their application fee, which will be noted within the school specific questions. There are also schools that have no application fee which you can find in the COLLEGE SEARCH section of the Common App and defining your FILTERS). If the cost is too high, speak with your guidance counselor or the college’s financial aid office. Fee waivers are sometimes available so that you can submit the applications at no cost.

Final Thoughts on Drafting Your College Application

As you apply to college remember that details count. Watch the spelling, be honest, and don’t exaggerate.

Essays are important. Start early, take your time, proofread and proofread again.

You may still get into your dream school even if your resume isn’t perfect and you haven’t checked off all of the boxes (actually, most schools don’t want you to check off all of the boxes!).

Schools are looking for passion, intellectual curiosity, and a willingness to challenge yourself. Now is the time to put your best foot forward! Given this, a B in a hard course where you challenged yourself is more impressive than an A in an easy course.

Looking for help with the college admissions process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.
Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students through Zoom, over the phone and by email.

Do you have questions about the college admissions process or the above information? Don’t hesitate to contact me at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946.