For seniors with unfinished applications

A lot of high school seniors are starting their winter vacation today.  And many of them will be up late on December 31st racing to meet college application deadlines, frantically listing their activities, pasting in their essays, and submitting work at the the last minute they know would have been better had they just had more time.  That's a terrible way to finish the application process, and you can easily avoid it.

Starting today, make more time.

You have time.  You have plenty of it.  Starting today, work like your hair is on fire.  Dive into the most difficult of your essays and pretend it's due in 24 hours.  Swear off your holiday fun until you've finished your applications.  Don't let yourself be one of those poor souls who always has to look back and wonder if your applications would have been better if you'd just had more time.

You've still got time.  Start making more of it today. 

Don’t let fear hijack your college applications

We've noticed that a lot of students, particularly the highest achievers, hijack their applications.  They hold onto them as late as possible, claiming they want to make just a few more changes, or add a few more edits to their essays, or show their drafts to just a few more people. 

Most of the time, that's fear talking.  The students just don't know it.

The harder you've worked in high school, the scarier it is to submit an application to a school you really care about.  When you still have your application, nobody's judging you yet.  You're safe.  You're still in control.

But once you submit it, it's out there.  No turning back.  The college has it, they're going to read it, and eventually they're going to say yes or no. 

You might have to deal with rejection. Or you might have to face the reality of leaving home and going someplace new.  The finality of submitting an application can be scary.

But it's important to understand two things when you do something as important as submit a college application.

1)  It's normal to feel nervous. 

2)  Waiting longer to take the last step won't make those nerves go away. 

Taking big steps always come with some nerves.  That's normal.  Don't expect that you're every going to edit and revise your way to a sense of comfort.

Those application hijackers aren't any more sure of themselves one week or three weeks or six weeks later.  Their applications usually don't get any better during that time.  Just older.  

I'm not saying you should rush your applications. Give them the time and attention they deserve.  But at some point, you've just got to acknowledge that you've done everything you can do.  There's no amount of editing or input from outside sources that's going to make your application any better.

The nerves go away within a few days after you submit it.  At that point, you have no choice but to accept that it's out of your control.  But until then, be ready to recognize when you're really done.  And when you reach that point, hit the "Submit" and feel good about it.  Don't let fear hijack your applications.

Making up for our gaffe

If you missed us last night on College Admissions Live for our scheduled show, "How to Make a Great Last Impression:  Improving your chances of admission after you apply," well, that's our fault.  We were there.  We recorded a show.  But we did something stupid and aired it on the channel we set up to test, rather than actually broadcast, our shows.  We're pretty embarrassed about it.  If you tuned in to watch, we're really sorry.  One thing college applicants and their parents don't have a lot of today is free time, and we're sorry to have wasted yours. 

In order to make amends, we have two offers for you. 

First, here's the video we shot.  We had to do it in two parts since the video inexplicably cut out six minutes into the programming (it is becoming glaringly apparent how much more we know about college admissions than we do about online media). 

Part I:

Watch live video from thinkopenroad on 

Part II

Watch live video from thinkopenroad on 

And our second offer is going to be based on the honor system.

Since Arun was in charge of the technology, he's taking the blame for our screw up last night (it was both of us, really, but I appreciate his mea culpa).  If you tuned in for our no-show, here's his offer.

From today until Tuesday, December 14, Arun will answer 1 question per viewer via email, free of charge.  Arun worked as an admissions officer at University of Chicago and Caltech, and was an admissions reader for UCLA.  He's an expert on both the art and science of college admissions, and I encourage those viewers who missed us to take him up on his offer.

But in order for this to be fair to viewers and to Arun, we just have a few guidelines:

1. Please only send a question if you really did tune in to watch.  We've never had more than 50 viewers to our show.  So if Arun gets 400 emails, we'll know something is amiss. 

2. There's a one question per viewer limit.

3.  Please don't ask him to edit your essay or your college application–those aren't questions.  If you'd like him to read your essay and just give you his general thoughts, he'd be happy to do that.

Submit your question via email to Arun at: He'll accept questions until Tuesday, December 14 at 5 p.m. PST.

Again, we're really sorry to have let anybody down who turned in to watch.  But we hope we can make up for our gaffe by giving away even more great advice. 

How to improve your admissions chances AFTER you apply

Seniors can still do a lot to improve your chances of admission even after you submit your applications.  That's the topic of our next College Admissions Live, our free online show

How to Make a Great Last Impression:
Improving your Chances of Admission After You Apply

With Kevin McMullin of Collegewise and Arun Ponnusamy of Open Road Education

Tuesday, December 7 at 6 p.m. PST. 

We'll talk for about 30 minutes and take questions for 15 minutes.  We hope you'll join us.

Read what you’re signing before you sign it

It's just good business sense to read any document carefully before you sign it.  But on college applications, a lot of students don't read the fine print in the signature section.  They just sign and send.

It's important to understand what you're agreeing to when you sign anything.  Here's some of the text from the signature section of the Common Application: 


I certify that all information submitted in the admission process-including the application, the personal essay, any supplements, and any other supporting materials–is my own work, factually true, and honestly presented..I understand that I may be subject to a range of possible disciplinary actions, including admission revocation, expulsion, or revocation of course credit, grades, and degree should the information I have certified be false.

Based on this agreement you're signing, if a college were ever to find out that you lied on your application, even a little bit, they could take back your admission.  They could kick you out of college.  They could invalidate classes that you've taken.  And if you've already graduated by the time they find out, they could take away your college degree.  No refunds, by the way.

Considering the possible consequences, it should make it easier to answer the question about whether or not it's worth fudging the truth a little bit on your app.  I don't think it is.

It also says…


I affirm that I will send an enrollment deposit (or equivalent) to only one institution; sending multiple deposits (or equivalent) may result in the withdrawal of my admission offers from all institutions.

Later this spring when acceptances arrive, a lot of students are going to refuse to make up their minds by the May 1st deadline.  They (with their parents' knowledge in most cases) are going to plunk down deposits at multiple schools just to buy a little more time to come to a decision.

But once you sign your Common App, you've verified your understanding that if you place multiple deposits at more than one school, all of the schools that accepted you can withdraw their acceptances.  Again, it just doesn't seem like it's worth the risk to me.

Once you sign the document, you can't claim later that you didn't know the rules.  Read it–and understand it–before you sign. 

What does your outgoing voicemail say?

If you list your cell phone number on your college applications, make sure your outgoing voicemail message is something you'd be comfortable with an admissions officer or, more likely, a college interviewer hearing.  I'm not saying you need to be as formal as a Fortune 500 CEO, but you might want to play it straight and generic for a few months.

How to show interest in a college

There are two reasons why telling a college, "You're my first choice" doesn't mean much to most schools.

1. It's too easy to say it without really committing to anything. 

2. It's often not true. 

Sometimes that statement is true. Many other times, a student is just feeling the college admissions pressure, reacting to the message that expression of interest in a college can improve your chances of admission. 

Expression of interest can be important at some schools.  Colleges all feel pressure to make sure their freshman dorms are filled.  So when they get the sense that an appealing student might actually enroll if admitted, they know they won't be wasting the admission on someone who passes it up to go someplace else.  But some expressions of interest are much more effective than others.

Here are five ways to demonstrate interest in a school, and all five are a lot more effective than just saying, "It's my first choice."

1.  Thoughtfully answer the questions about why you want to attend.  By "thoughtfully," I don't mean generalities like, "It's a great school" or a recitation of facts and statistics you pulled from the website.  I mean showing that you've done some college soul searching, describing what you've looked for in colleges and why you looked for them, and why you think you've found those things at this particular school.

2. Don't give your application an "Insert name of college here" feeling.  Giving an application a lot of time and attention is the best way to show love to a college.  I'm all for recycling essays when the prompts are similar.  But when they're not all that similar and you try to wedge in an essay you wrote for another school, the readers can tell.  Really take the time to read and answer each portion of a college's application.  Show them that you took it seriously by writing essays that clearly address their prompts.  And follow the application's directions very carefully (ignoring them usually doesn't go over well). 

3. Visit the campus if it's reasonably close.  If you choose not to get on a plane to go see a college before you apply, most schools won't take that as a sign of a lack of real interest.  But if a campus is one that you could easily drive to on a weekend and you haven't visited, it's hard for that college not to wonder just how interested you really are.  

4. Apply to the right schools in the first place.  If you picked schools based on their name brand reputation alone, it's hard to give a detailed answer about why you're applying.  But if you took the attitude that this is going to be your college experience, that you want to end up at a place where you'll be engaged both in and out of the classroom, a place where you can be happy and successful, then you won't have a hard time showing that you're interested.  You are interested.  It will show.       

5.  Just be authentic.  Colleges understand that it's hard to pick schools.  You're seventeen, you've never been to college, and this is a huge decision you're trying to make with limited information.  So they don't expect you to necessarily have a ranked list of choices with carefully planned expressions of interest in each.  Just be yourself.  Pick schools that really are interesting to you.  And if you can't articulate why you're interested, sometimes that's OK as long as you're not faking it.  I worked with a student once who wrote in an essay, "I really can't explain my attraction to Lewis and Clark.  All I know is that there's chemistry between us."  She was admitted.   

As is the case with most parts of college admissions, the more you try to strategize, the worse off you'll be.  You should care enough about where you'll be spending the next four years to apply to schools that really are interesting to you.  If you're doing that, all you have to do is relax and be yourself.  The expressions of interest will happen on their own as you learn and become more drawn to colleges that fit you.

45 minutes of free college application advice

In case you missed our regulararly scheduled programming, here's a link to last night's episode of our online TV show.  We talked for 30 minutes about college applications, then did 15 minutes of Q and A. 

We'll be back on air Tuesday, December 7 at 6 p.m. PST.  You can join us at our channel.

"How to Revive Lifeless Applications"

with Kevin and Arun

Watch live video from College Admissions Live on 

Last call to join us online tonight for free college application advice

We'll be live online tonight for:

How to Revive Lifeless College Applications
with hosts Kevin McMullin and Arun Ponnusamy
Wednesday, November 3
Live @ 6 p.m. PST 
For free, at our online channel

We'll discuss…

•    Why sharing fewer activities and awards can tell a college even more about you.
•    How successful applicants inject personality to make their applications memorable (without resorting to gimmicks).
•    Why resumes, extra letters of recommendation, and samples of your art or music sometimes hurt your chances more than they help.

We'll talk for 30 minutes, then you ask questions for the final 15 minutes (via the channel's chat function).

How to watch
Just visit our channel tonight, November 3rd at 6 p.m. PST. (What time is that in my time zone?)

We hope you'll tune in to join us!

Join us for “How to Revive Lifeless College Applications”

Arun and I had a lot of fun doing our first episode of "College Admissions Live" (our experiment with online TV–you can watch the first episode about college essays here).  And while we did prove that we knew more about admissions than we did about good video quality, we're working on the latter and are excited to announce our next episode.

How to Revive Lifeless College Applications
with hosts Kevin McMullin and Arun Ponnusamy
Wednesday, November 3
Live @ 6 p.m. PST 
For free, at our online channel

What we'll cover
Even the most accomplished student can look dull when reduced to a dry listing of grades, test scores and activities. How can your college applications tell a compelling story of you and your high school career?  Join us to learn:

•    Why sharing fewer activities and awards can tell a college even more about you.

•    How successful applicants inject personality to make their applications memorable (without resorting to gimmicks).

•    Why resumes, extra letters of recommendation, and samples of your art or music sometimes hurt your chances more than they help.

We’ll talk for about 30 minutes, then take questions from the audience for 15 minutes.

How to watch
Just visit our channel on Wednesday, November 3rd at 6 p.m. PST. (What time is that in my time zone?)

No reservations required. Just drop in at the start time.  And if you'd like us to send you an email reminder the day of the show, just register here.

We hope you'll tune in to join us!