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Applying for college

What do you think?

Before you get started, think about how you would answer the following questions.

  1. What is the best way for you to manage multiple deadlines?
  2. What resources are available in your high school to help you write an impressive personal essay for your college application?
  3. What are some advantages and disadvantages of disclosing your disability in your college essay?

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Application overview

The college application process can occur over the course of a year. Each college has its own application requirements, form, fees, due dates and acceptance procedures. It is important to keep track of this information in a manageable way.

Getting in

Initially, similar to a job application, it is important to look good on paper. Most college application packets will require the actual completed application, your high school transcripts, your college admissions test scores, a personal essay, a few references and your payment submitted by a particular due date.

Most colleges will have an application form to complete online. You will be asked to attach your essay and other information to the application. Your guidance department will submit your transcripts, so it is critical that you allow enough time for the guidance department to submit your transcripts before the due date of your application. Make sure to have a family member or friend review your application to make sure all sections are completed. It is easy to miss or skip a section. Applications must be fully completed to be accepted.

The essay

Each college application will provide guidance and instruction regarding your personal essay. Some colleges will ask you to write on a specific topic or will ask a series of questions for you to answer. Others will have a more open approach, allowing you to write on a specific topic of your choice. The essay is a way for a college to see a more personal side of you in addition to your application. All essays involve choice and your choices will reflect your preferences, values and thought processes. It is recommended that your essay be focused and specific. Your writing can reflect your organizational skills, your power of persuasion and your general mastery of standard written English. For more information, visit the College Board’s Web site.

Expect to write several drafts of your personal essay. This essay provides an opportunity to briefly express who you are, highlight your strengths, ambitions and values, and convince the readers that you would be a good candidate for their college.

Some students elect to briefly disclose (reveal) their disability in a positive way, especially when it has taught them an important skill or value, such as to be creative or “think outside of the box.” You should carefully consider this decision, and talk with your guidance counselor or teacher about including this information. If you decide to talk about your disability, remember to keep it positive and brief, and focus on your strengths and what you can do. Keep in mind that nowhere on the college application will there be questions about having a disability, so unless you tell them, the college will not know. Also, having a disability is not factored into your application review.

Share drafts of your essay with an English teacher or guidance counselor for input. Remember: if you are sending the same essay to a number of colleges, make sure you use the correct college name in the essay. This mistake is common and made by all students applying for college, so remember to proofread your work!

Letters of recommendation

Getting letters of recommendation requires some thought. It is best to ask adults who know you well and with whom you have had a positive experience to write a letter of recommendation. It can be someone from your school (i.e., a teacher, a guidance counselor, a sports coach or a teacher who oversees an after school club). Or it could be adults who you know well that are in your community (i.e., a neighbor you have assisted, an employer or a scout leader). You need to make sure that individuals writing a letter of recommendation know if you want them to include in their letter that you have a disability. Again, this decision is a personal one and if you decide that information about your disability can be included, the information needs to help demonstrate what you have accomplished.

The process of requesting letters of recommendation has some unwritten rules and expectations:

  • Always ask individuals if they would be willing to give you a positive letter of recommendation to a specific college.
  • Ask individuals well in advance of your application deadlines (at least two weeks, or if you are asking a teacher or guidance counselor, check with them about how long they need to get a letter ready for you).
  • Gather all of the information the individual will need and give it to the person at one time — such as a stamped, addressed envelope; the recommendation form or information requested by the college; the program you are interested in studying; and also a summary paragraph of your activities related to this individual to refresh their memory or a sample paragraph of qualities or traits that you feel you exhibit.
  • Send your references a short thank-you note for their time and thoughtful consideration.