The complete college application is actually composed of many parts: The
First Year Application (which includes Essays), Letters of
Recommendation, Secondary School Report (which includes the Transcript
and School Profile/Transcript Legend), Fine Art Portfolio (for music and
fine art majors), the Financial Aid Application, the Mid-year School
report, and the Final School report. It is imperative that you pay
careful attention to each of these categories and their deadlines, since
homeschoolers are in the unique position of providing all the
information the school will receive (with the exception of the teacher
Be Careful with Details
College applications are almost always offered online, which is
preferable to the old-style paper application with lots of whiteout
covering our mistakes. We want a professional presentation and we
increase our odds of success by using the online option.
You will also often have the choice of filling out the school’s own form
or the Common Application. With the Common App, you can apply to
multiple schools with one application. Some schools will request their
own Common Application Supplement, but you still save time using this
option. However, if you have a single school that is your top choice, it
is wise to fill out their own application. This proves that you care
enough to go the extra mile.
When you log on to the school website or the Common Application website
(CommonApp.org) you will need to register with a username and password.
Keep all this information together, as you will be returning multiple
times. If you apply to a number of colleges, it is easiest to write all
the details down in one place: student’s Social Security Number and
Common Application Number, graduation date, GPA (weighted and
unweighted), and all test information for SAT, ACT, SAT subject tests,
AP tests, IB tests, (scores, dates taken).
As you are filling out the application, remember to always follow
instructions! If you can’t do it on a college application, they will
assume you can’t do it in a college class either. Word limits are a
rule, not a suggestion.
Have a Strategy
Most people just start filling the application out, but the wise family
will look over the entire document and strategize a plan of attack. You
must cease being “mother” and become a master marketer. We must
understand what each school values and adapt each application
Please do not misunderstand. We do not fabricate information and we do
not present our student as someone they are not. We can, however, choose
to present the information in a way the school understands and
Look carefully at each section to see what opportunities you are given
to get all your information in front of them. In earlier columns we’ve
mentioned “talking points,” the most important parts of your student’s
candidacy that you want to present. Each college will give you
opportunities in different places. Early in the application you will be
given a form to list activities, academic honors, and academic year
employment. Then there will be short-answer questions, and finally an essay or two. Look at the essay first. Which topic can you
pick that will allow you to present your most important information or
character trait? Then look at the short-answer questions. Will they
allow us to present the next important piece of information? Then use
the forms to fill out numbers and show breadth.
To make this work, you need to be able to present your “talking points”
in either bullet format for the forms, in a short-answer question, or in
a long essay. Each school will give you opportunities in different
places and you must be able to present it well regardless of format. The
short answer questions must be as carefully written as the long essay.
It is important that you form a cohesive presentation of your student’s
candidacy for all documents. In other words, if you list something in
the College Application, there should be back-up information in the
counselor letter, the letters of recommendation, etc. We don’t tell the
same story over and over, but the same story with different anecdotes,
from different vantage points, from different audiences. The story may
wax poetical in one letter to very factual on a form.
The First Year Application
The rest of this column will deal with the First Year Application, or
the first part of the Common Application.
Aside from information like name, address, Standardized Test scores, and
senior year classes, the first part of the application includes
Activities, Academic Honors, Work Experience, Short Answer Essays,
Essays, and occasionally something extra.
How to Fill Out the Lists
The first big part of the application is the Activity Section. Here we
must boil down the one-page résumé (outlined in PHS #86 ) and reduce it
to approximately six lines—the very most important things about the
student. We list things in order of importance (which could change
depending on the school) unless we are specifically asked to do it
For Activities you will be asked to list the interest/activity and check
a box for the grade when it happened (9,10,11,12, and PG—post-graduate).
The more checkmarks the better. Collleges like to see consistency over
time—not serial joiners who have shallow commitment to multiple
activities. They will then ask you approximate hours spent per week
(this includes the activity itself, preparation time for the activity,
and commute time), as well as how many weeks per year. They are
basically looking at how you spend your time and what is important to
you. Be careful though; make sure the hours you list per week in all the
categories don’t add up to more time than is available. This is a common
mistake and makes you look dishonest.
It is also important to fill in all the boxes they give you. Break down
some activities if needed. For example, instead of listing debate
tournaments, awards, and debate leadership all together, you can list
the competitive debate separately from the leadership element of your
Finally, you will list positions held and honors or letters received in
each activity. This is also the place to list your leadership—numbers of
people reached, numbers of classes taught, etc. Always fill up the space
allotted to you.
The secret of filling out these forms is to keep typing to see how much
room you actually have. The little boxes on the form are horribly
deceiving and make it appear you only have room for one or two words.
Often you will find you can write a good-sized paragraph to describe the
activity. To be successful in getting everything in, literally count the
characters you have and keep trying until you can get the right fit. Use
numbers instead of words, a hyphen, sensible abbreviations, whatever it
takes. Also, be aware that many online form boxes these days can be
“stretched” by dragging out the lower right corner, giving you lots of
additional space. This is another reason to use an online format. Paper
formats do not give you the extra space.
Academic Honors will give you room to list the honor, the grade in which
it was awarded, and a description. Work Experience asks for the specific
nature of the work, the employer, approximate dates, and number of hours
Personal Details to Share—or Not
Sometimes you will be given the opportunity to list favorite things like
books, movies, websites, keepsakes, etc. This appears to be a
no-brainer, but needs to be handled carefully. These unique questions
give the college a window into your life that the rote forms do not.
While you should be honest, you should also be cautious. Most colleges
are still a bit suspicious of homeschoolers and we need to always keep
that in the back of our minds. We never know what type of person our
admission officer is going to be and we risk coming off poorly if we
ignore the fact that many do not see the world through our unique
Let me give you some examples.
One of my clients wanted to list a survivalist handbook as his favorite
book. While it was innocent enough (he was a Boy Scout after all), put
yourself in the shoes of the admissions officer. The assumption could
have been that this kid was a gun-toting survivalist nut. However unfair
such biases and profiling might be, realize that in these post-Virginia
Tech days admissions officials are extra jumpy about such things.
You must also decide how you will handle your faith. Some people want to
be all out there and make it the focus of their application (which is
fine for a Christian school). There’s nothing wrong with that at any
school, but be aware that it may be a point of discrimination against
you in a secular environment. When the Lord has called Christian kids
into aggressively secular campuses, I have advised them to keep their
application sanitized of Christian buzzwords. If your lists of favorite
things includes Christian music groups, Christian books, Christian
movies, and keepsake crosses, they think they know exactly who you are
and might decide that you will not be a good fit for their community.
My family sees it like this—we are missionaries in a hostile country. We
have to move slowly, learning the language, understanding the culture,
and being a true friend. Eventually the Lord will give us the
opportunity to share our faith. If we go in under the banners of a
crusade decked out in Christian t-shirts and fish paraphernalia, chances
are we’ll never have the opportunity at all.
After several weeks of careful editing, thoughtful analysis, and looking
at our application through the eyes of our chosen college, it is ready
to go. But first, always do a print preview. This will show you exactly
what the college admissions officer will hold in their hand. Go over it
with a fine-tooth comb. Let it sit overnight. Only hit the “Submit”
button after every proofreader in the family has carefully reviewed it.
Jeannette Webb has worked with high school students for over 25 years
helping them develop public speaking, leadership, and interview skills,
as well as prepare effective scholarship applications. As Oklahoma State
University’s first Truman Scholar (the American equivalent of the Rhodes
Scholar), she went on to receive a B.S. in Human Development and an M.S.
in Family Economics. She spent a decade with the OSU Cooperative
Extension Service as 4-H and Youth Development Specialist and Resource
Management Specialist before she became a home educator in 1993. A
former OCHEC Trustee, she has also been a support group leader and
conference speaker. In 2005, Jeannette received a Presidential Scholar
Distinguished Teacher Award. Jeannette teaches “Homeschooling Through
High School” seminars and is a college coach dedicated to helping
homeschool students matriculate to America’s top colleges. She can be
reached through aiminghigherconsultants.com. And yes, she’s the mother
of homeschooled academic superstar Austin Webb!
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