I cannot stress this enough. Creating a good college application is essential and a good application requires time and effort. There are stories of people who write essays the night before the deadline, but that isn't the best way to go. I started my applications as soon as they opened (August 1st) and it was the best decision I could have made. Once senior year started, I was swamped with homework, projects, last minute SAT prep, and just didn't spend as much time on my apps as I would have liked. Though, when I did get an idea or sudden inspiration, I took the time to write it down.
2) Get in touch with your counselors
Your counselors have access to information that can make your application experience a great one. At most schools, counselors hold workshops to help with application essays. They can give you information about how to go about applying to a specific college/university as well, since many colleges have their own set of expectations.
My counselor was really amazing. She has had years worth of experience with the application process and gave me advice for not only applying, but also about financial aid and taking advantage of the opportunities once in college.
So get in touch with your counselors as soon as possible! They're there to help you, but you have to take the initiative and ask about what matters to you.
3) Understand how financial aid works and what you qualify for
There are so many types of financial aid out there and it's easy to get overwhelmed. Look up all the possible options that are there and find out which ones you qualify for. Every college/university has options for those who need extra aid, so look into that as well. Don't give up on the college of your dreams because of it's expensive, because if they want you there, they'll help you make it happen.
This is one area I wish I had paid more attention to (considering that my cousin constantly reminded me of how important a factor it is) While I did look up financial aid options, I assumed most things would fall into place and everything would work out seamlessly. So in other words, dedicating an appropriate time to this very essential element of the college application and decision-making process is a must.
4) Be Yourself
This is easier said than done. The pressure to get into the best college possible is extremely intense and most of us to succumb to it (at least for a moment or two!) I personally had very lofty ambitions when it came to my number one choice; it is a university known to pick the "very best of the best."
Though it was my dream school for the past ten years, I decided I wasn't going to pretend to be this amazing, out-of-this world girl, one who devoted all my time to social justice, girls' education, and the other current issues (causes) of today. I chose to simply be me. Whether that decision cost me my admission, I'll never know. What I do know is that I wanted to be at a college that wanted me for the person I was, am, and plan to be.
Now for those who are very passionate about the causes I mentioned above, that's really great. I admire people who do what they believe in no matter what society feels or thinks of it. People who feel comfortable in their skin and know that they don't have to prove themselves to others to feel complete.