College Corner: Cracking the code on the application process

Published on Monday, 5 May 2014 18:59 - Written by

Parents of high school students: If the last time you thought about how to apply to college was when you applied 20 or more years ago — boy, are you in for a rude awakening. Even parents who’ve gone through this with older siblings a few years ago are apt to find some surprises with the next child.

That’s because the college application and the submission process itself is always changing. Even though changes are often intended to make the process more student-friendly, it’s still more complicated and time-consuming than many families expect.

Just 11 years ago, my daughter was actually filling out paper forms and snail-mailing them in. A few years later, most universities had gone to online applications. Many schools only accept them online now.

Parents who just went through this two or three years ago will probably find changes, such as which essays, transcripts, test scores or other supplemental materials are needed and how they must be submitted. It’s never too early to start getting your ducks in a row.

The first step is to understand which applications are preferred or required by the universities you are applying to. Most Texas public colleges — and a growing number of private ones — accept applications through Apply Texas ( ), which means you can fill out a general application once and then copy it for use with other institutions. The Common Application ( ) is the same idea, except it works with more than 500 private and public schools across 47 states and the District of Columbia, as well as in Austria, France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom and Switzerland. (By the way, the Common Application officially retired its paper application last year.)

Next, familiarize yourself with deadlines and figure out which ones make sense for your child. Many schools have different deadlines depending on whether you are applying early decision, early action, single-choice early action or regular (rolling) admission. Early decision and single-choice early action programs can offer a sense of security in that you’ll know sooner, but they also can be limiting; be careful when choosing these.

Finally, determine exactly what is needed for each application and start creating a system to organize it. Test scores and transcripts are just the start. Students also may need letters of recommendation, essays, a resume and other supporting materials.

You don’t want to wait until the last minute to prepare. Online systems have been known to crash under the crush of last-minute applications. Or what if your Internet service provider picks that deadline day to go on the blink?

On the other hand, you would never submit a hastily completed application either. Ideally, students work on their applications slowly and thoughtfully over a period of several months, submitting them when they are convinced they’ve done the best they can do. The application process shouldn’t be rushed. It’s just too important.

Donna Spann is CEO of Capstone College and Career Advising in Tyler. A college adviser for 11 years, Donna leads a team of professionals who take a personal approach to advising that helps students navigate through career and college exploration, admissions, financial aid and find the college that’s right for them. Have a question for Donna? Send it to You just may see your question answered in a future column.