The 3 Most Important Words in College Admissions

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Lori McGlone is the founder of Tractus Insight, a tool that helps families manage the college process.

Early in my career I was a public high school counselor learning the ropes of the college search and application process. An experienced colleague would share her wisdom with families each year: “Want to know the 3 most important words in college admissions? Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines.”

It was funny to most, but it is an incredibly important point to drive home. Here are some reasons why, and the lessons to be learned:

1. Technology ain’t all that (yet). Last year, the Common Application website had so many glitches and technical problems that many of the 500 colleges who accept the Common App had to push back their deadlines. This isn’t the first time an online application program has faltered, either. There have been notorious system-wide problems with online application platforms on the days leading up to major application deadlines in the past. And already this fall, counselors have been experiencing problems with sites like Naviance. We have come to rely on technology so much that when it slows down or  breaks at a critical time, there can be serious consequences.

Lesson: Don’t wait until the last moment to submit your applications (for college or financial aid). Plan ahead and aim to submit several days in advance. Save your work. Print hard copies. Back up your computer.

2. You can’t control other people’s calendars. Applying to college is a team sport. In addition to your own portion of each application, you need the assistance of teachers (to write recommendations), school counselor (to complete school report, send transcript), parents (to complete their portion of the financial aid applications), and testing agencies (to send official test scores). Colleges set deadlines for all of the necessary information to be in their office. You need to give people time to fit their work in, and approaching them too late could mean your application, as a whole, is late.

Lesson: Demonstrate respect. Give people ample time to complete their tasks, and understand that if your application is late for any reason, it’s ultimately your problem, not theirs.

3. This is not a test. Most colleges turn away at least some of their applicants. They are in the business of educating adults and one of the ways they can make smart decisions is to select the applicants who are most likely to succeed in college. Missing deadlines is a red flag, and some colleges won’t even consider late applications. Meeting deadlines is a great signal that you are serious about the opportunity and ready for the challenge.

Lesson: Don’t procrastinate. Get it done, click send, and good luck!