Kickstart the College Application Process

Submitting college applications can feel overwhelming, especially after a pandemic. This past year, resume boosters like extracurricular activities and volunteer opportunities were cancelled, teens couldn’t find jobs to show career experience, some high schools moved to a pass/fail grading system, causing concerns for the impact it would have on GPAs, and some colleges and universities waived standardized test requirements for applicants, but there is still one constant requirement – the admission essay.

Without all of these traditional ways to show a student’s admission potential, students are left wondering how they write a successful admissions essay. Beyond lists of achievements and activities, the essays allow admissions officers to get to know a student and view further into the type of person they are and want to become by pursuing a higher education degree.

Many students write their essays and submit applications during the summer months when they have more free time; however, not every teen is motivated, knowledgeable, and confident about the application process and may need extra help with planning and applying. Here are a few ways teens can kickstart their college application processes:

Review the Common App website

Over 900 schools now accept Common App and it can help streamline the application process. It’s also a robust search engine. You can search colleges by location, size, setting, or even by requirements (like ones that don’t require essays or standardized testing). There are also free resources and advice about applying to college, financial aid, and scholarships.

And pro tip: while the essay prompts are available, we don’t recommend writing an essay specifically to fit those prompts (unless one prompt really does inspire you!). Why? There’s always a catch-all prompt as the last option (“share an essay on any topic of your choice.”). Instead, start with your best story, then see which prompt works best. If none does, just check that last one.

Demonstrate Interest in Top Choice Schools

Showing authentic interest in top choice schools is one of the most important things teens can do. Beyond signing up for mailing lists, participating in virtual webinars and information sessions, or taking virtual tours, teens should engage with admissions offices, ask questions, and get to know more about the school, campus life and opportunities. Remember not to hound the admission counselor every day with a question just because. Be purposeful. If you have a question, ask it. Otherwise, remember your job is to show up, show interest, and demonstrate that interest through a thoughtful application. If the interest is genuine, demonstrating it shouldn’t be hard.

Use Free Guidance Tools

Created by former college admissions officers and essay readers, the Collegewise Runway program offers underclassmen and seniors a variety of tools that can help with the journey leading up to college. From how to create a school list to a guide to completing the Common Application, testing strategies and information on filing FAFSA, Runway covers all the basics. Learn more and sign up to access these resources for free at

Finally, this tip is for parents. Remember that you cannot manage and control your teen’s college application process. Provide guidance and advice when you can, but pressuring a teen to follow a certain plan, timeline or checklist will only amplify the stress of applications.


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Written by Casey Near

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