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Applying to college can be a challenge, even for the most organized student. However, by taking some time to prepare and familiarizing yourself with the college application process, you can mitigate the most common problems experienced by college-bound students. Before you sit down to complete a college application, make sure you know what to expect so you can send each application with confidence.

Timing your college applications

Most high school students submit their college applications after January 1 for the fall semester. However, some schools offer an early admission option. If you have your heart set on attending a particular school, applying as early admission can be a valuable way to demonstrate your preference for a school and possibly gain you a valuable edge over your peers.

When applying for early admission, be sure to research the potentially binding application clauses attached to this option. Some schools mandate that candidates who are offered a position through early admission accept the offer. If this is a requirement at your prospective school, be sure you definitely want to attend; otherwise you may find yourself locked into a decision.

Doing your homework

College applications are very similar with respect to the information they ask you to provide. This data typically includes personal and academic information about yourself and some questions about your family, including size, number of siblings, and your parents's education. You will be asked to provide information about your academic accomplishments, such as grade point averages, awards and honors, and extracurricular activities.

To streamline the college application process, gather as much of this information as possible before sitting down to complete the application. Keep your documentation organized and easily accessible to avoid potential delays caused by missing or incomplete paperwork.

Completing your applications

Before placing pen to paper or making that first keystroke, be sure you read each form thoroughly. When answering questions, follow the directions provided to the letter, as failure to do so could harm your likelihood of acceptance.

If you encounter a question or section that is proving problematic, return to it later. Ask a parent, teacher or counselor for clarification or contact the college admissions office. Do not leave any required information blank. Proofread all your answers for grammar and spelling and to make sure you have answered the question properly. Presentation is also important, as admissions officials can discern a great deal about you not only by the information you provide, but the way in which you present it.

When it comes to the required essay, try to have one already prepared. Practice writing your essay before you begin your first application, and have a parent or teacher read it over first before committing it to the application. In your essay, be direct and to the point - avoid going off on tangents. It might help to read the essay aloud to a parent or teacher and, as always, proofread it carefully.

When you have completed your application, don't be hasty in your eagerness to send it. Before submitting the application, read through your responses and essay to ensure you have followed all directions appropriately. In addition, make sure that all accompanying documentation, including applicable fees, is submitted. You may also want to have a parent go over your application to ensure that you have not overlooked anything.

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