The Do’s and Don’ts of the College Application Process

Picture of Adeeba Jafri

Adeeba Jafri

Adeeba is the author of several books including The Baby Garden, A Zoom with a View and Show Yourself.

The college application season is one of the most daunting tasks that your child will ever have to deal with, that is, until they have to apply for internships, graduate school and jobs. For many students, college is the defining factor that helps a kid decide what path they will take in life. It’s not easy to figure out at 17 years old!

After speaking to some seasoned mothers of college-age children, I compiled a list of do’s and don’ts for families to consider when going through the process. Obviously, we are mothers whose children did not feel the impact of Covid-19 when our children were applying. Nonetheless, all of us are weighing our decisions as we enter the second year of a worldwide pandemic.

  • Do proper investigation of university and majors
  • Do consider universities that are not well-known but have reputable programs at lower costs
  • Talk to alumni for feedback
  • Look at strength and weaknesses of each school
  • Don’t withdraw applications as soon as you get an acceptance. You never know what can go wrong, especially considering visa applications

  • Do keep your options open.
  • Apply to a variety of schools in different areas.
  • Don’t limit yourself. The last thing you want is to have your child attend a school that they no longer feel great about.
  • Don’t wholeheartedly trust your child’s choices. They are young and sometimes naive, so do your own research.

  • Do your own research and make a tentative list of schools that your child should look into.
  • Do encourage your child to enroll in college outreach programs in the form of weekend workshops or summer pre-college programs.
  • Do call and ask questions, rather than send an email.
  • Keep a notebook and jot down questions that your child should ask.
  • Don’t have your child apply to schools that are way beyond your budget.

  • Do think about college applications early in high school.
  • Do build a well-rounded profile with lots of volunteering, extracurricular activities. Utilize your summers.
  • Do your research about all the universities you’re thinking about. Use spreadsheets and calendars to keep track of all the application requirements and deadlines.
  • Don’t leave your essay until the last minute. Have multiple eyes look over your drafts.

  • Do read course content to ensure that the programs offer what you’re looking for. Check admission criteria before applying.
  • Reach out and get feedback from students already enrolled in the school.
  • Make college visits and compare facilities in terms of labs and resources.
  • Be honest in your personal essay.
  • Don’t limit yourself to 1-2 colleges.
  • Get a recommendation from someone who really knows you.

  • Do weave all achievements and extracurriculars into one common theme / passion for your personal statement, and make it relevant for your choice of major for each school.
  • Give yourself prep time for the SAT exam, as well as subject tests. Start studying at least a year in advance.
  • Read up on potential professors and incorporate that information into your essays.
  • Don’t procrastinate. Give yourself time to review and redo parts of your application.

  • Do consider schools that are close to family members, but weigh your options when it comes to commuting to and from university.
  • Always have a Plan B. Most schools in the U.K. give conditional acceptances, so make sure you have a back-up school, just in case.
  • U.K. universities want you to brag about yourselves, so keep track of all of your achievements and plan ahead.