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Must-Know College Application Tips for 2024 from an Expert Consultant

By Laura Whitmore

As the season for visiting and applying to colleges kicks off, I bring you some valuable insights on the college application process. Today, I’m excited to share advice from Ashley McNaughton, founder of ACM College Consulting. Ashley has helped students around the world with their college applications, essays, and extracurricular activities. Her expertise will guide you through strengthening your applications and increasing your chances of getting into your dream colleges. Let’s dive into her top tips for navigating the college admissions process.

Want a break from reading? Watch my YouTube video instead!

Tip 1: Score Choice vs. Sending All Scores

One of the common questions we get is about Score Choice versus sending all scores. Ashley explains that currently, Georgetown is the only school that requires all test scores to be sent. However, she advises not to be afraid to share all scores since most schools super score, which means they take the highest scores from different test dates to present the best version of you. It's essential to stay updated on which schools require all scores by checking resources like

Tip 2: Navigating Test-Optional Policies

When applying to test-optional schools, it's beneficial to submit your test scores if you can. Data shows that students who submit their scores have a higher chance of admission. With some schools returning to test-required policies, like Harvard and Stanford, preparing for and taking the SAT or ACT can be a crucial part of your application.

Tip 3: Early Action vs. Early Decision

Many students wonder if applying early increases their chances. Early Action, which is not legally binding, offers a slight advantage. However, Early Decision, which is binding, significantly boosts acceptance rates because it helps colleges with their yield. For example, Brown University accepted over 50% of their students through Early Decision with a 14% acceptance rate compared to 4% for Regular Decision. Before committing to Early Decision, use the net price calculators available on college websites to estimate financial aid.

Tip 4: Crafting an Effective Essay

Your personal statement is a chance to showcase who you are. Ashley emphasizes being genuine and sharing unique aspects of your story. While it’s best to avoid overdone topics like sports injuries, if it’s a significant event in your life, tell it in a way that only you can.

Tip 5: The Role of Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities can differentiate you from other students with similar academic profiles. Focus on the quality of your activities rather than just filling up spaces on your resume. Show meaningful involvement and contributions. Ashley helps students shape their extracurricular resumes by identifying opportunities for improvement and ensuring they reflect genuine interests and passions.

Tip 6: Securing Strong Recommendation Letters

For recommendation letters, it’s important to provide your resume and a list of schools to your recommenders. Choose teachers who know you well and can speak to your strengths and growth. Request letters before senior year to avoid the rush. This ensures your letters are detailed and personalized, making a stronger impression on admissions committees.

Tip 7: Making the Most of Campus Visits

Campus visits are essential in making an informed decision. Visit during the academic year to get a true feel of the campus environment. Engage with students, attend information sessions, and explore campus facilities. This firsthand experience helps in understanding the atmosphere and deciding if it’s the right fit for you.

Tip 8: Handling Deferrals and Waitlists

If you get deferred or waitlisted, follow the college’s instructions and send any required updates. Demonstrating continued interest through a letter can keep your application active. Maintain contact with your local admissions rep or the general admissions office to ensure your information is up to date.

Tip 9: Understanding FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)

The FAFSA is a crucial part of the college application process, as it determines your eligibility for financial aid. Usually available on October 1st, there were significant delays and glitches in the system last year, causing stress for many applicants. This year, it’s expected to be up and running smoothly by October 1st. Completing the FAFSA accurately and promptly is essential for securing financial aid packages. Make sure to gather all necessary documents and information ahead of time to avoid last-minute issues.

Applying to college can be a complex process, but with the right guidance and preparation, you can navigate it successfully. For more personalized support, explore our Self-Paced Digital SAT English & Math Courses available at Self-Paced Digital SAT Courses.

Good luck with your applications and happy prepping!


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