Applying to college requires a plan

By Chandler Holland
Times-News correspondent 

Applying to college requires planning. / Nichole Crawford, Times-News correspondent

With graduation closing in, it’s time to take stock of your future. If your plans include college, you’ll need to tackle the application process. And even if you’re in 9th, 10th, or 11th grade, it’s time to start looking in that direction.
First of all, don’t let everything that needs to be completed overwhelm you. The earlier you start, the smoother everything will fall into place. If you begin by creating a plan, including a written checklist, you won’t be flying by the seat of your pants.
The list should cover everything you need to gather. This includes not only your official transcript, test scores (Advanced Placement and SAT/ACT), and letters of recommendation, but documents that will create a complete picture of you during your high school years.
Use all possible resources including your guidance counselor, parents, the Internet and reference books. You may also choose to use the services of a college admissions consultant. A great local resource is Mary Gratch ( who will help you identify your strengths, accomplishments and interests, then assist with school selection and applications.
   Throughout the process, your goal is to tell a compelling story about yourself, in order for an admissions counselor to grasp how you will fit in and contribute to their school. Don’t shy away from sharing your experiences — specifically when you created, learned, taught, led and volunteered. Create a resume and an electronic portfolio that features your service projects, internships, work, creative endeavors, and club or sports participation. This is the place to let your passion shine through and paint a picture of who you really are.
The popular notion that you should apply to as many colleges as possible is outdated, so let’s flip that concept on its head. The key is to figure out from which colleges you would benefit the most, and which would benefit the most from you.
Seek input from your guidance counselor or a private college admission consultant. They play the role of matchmaker, helping you build a list of potential schools that are a good fit — then narrowing it down to a reasonable length.
A good resource is the book “College Match: A Blueprint for Choosing the Best School for You” by Steven Antonoff. It’s full of short quizzes to help you learn about yourself and identify what you’re looking for in a school. College variables to consider include size, location, cost, majors offered, academic rigor, campus culture, whether they are test optional, extracurricular activities offered, and gap year and early decision options.
Begin by gathering information online and attending local college fairs. If possible, plan to visit each school in which you are most interested. Contact their admissions department and set up a phone meeting. Arrange for a private tour or go to an event for prospective students. While you’re there, meet professors, talk with students, and explore the campus and surrounding community.
A key to gaining admission to the school of your choice is in developing a personal relationship with your college admissions counselor — and it’s never too early to start. If you can’t make it to campus in person, aim for a series of phone calls and emails, as well as a prearranged in-person meeting at a local college fair.
Whether your school of choice accepts The Common App ( or The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success (, pay close attention to cut-off dates. Deadlines are not flexible or negotiable, and you will need to leave adequate time to write and rewrite required essays.
The college application process can be overwhelming, but a bit of planning will remove the anxiety and clear the way for smooth sailing.

Chandler Holland is a senior home-schooler and a Teens & 20s writer. She looks forward to attending Warren Wilson College, and will obtain her NC Environmental Educator Certification during her gap year.

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