Apply to College Online

Great news, these days you can apply to college online! Exciting, huh?

Well, it's not as easy as it may sound. Sure, the Internet has made everything from communicating over long distances to buying books and concert tickets easier, but the college application process has always been complicated. And just because you can apply to college over the Internet doesn't mean that you don't have to deal with the same headaches as before: essay requirements, endless blank spaces to fill in, and that pesky "List any academic honors you have received" section.

Before you begin . . .

Before you get started, here are a few general things to keep in mind when you're working on your online college application:

  • Don't get distracted by all the other stuff on the Internet. You've got a job to do. Your favorite gaming Web site can wait.

  • In some applications, you can't use the Back button of your Web browser. That doesn't mean something can't be fixed; it just means you have to save everything and go back to the start.

  • The best information about deadlines and applications is from the college itself. Don't hesitate to call the college or university directly if you have any questions.

  • The ease and quickness of the Internet has spawned a new age of sloppiness and inaccuracy. (Just look at a few of the e-mails you've received and marvel at the typos, lack of punctuation and capitalization, and so on.) While many of the Web sites offer spelling and grammar check, don't use them as your only means of quality control: Spell-check is not always correct. Ask another pair of eyes to check your application materials carefully for spelling and grammar errors.

  • Check, double-check, and triple-check the accuracy of all the information in your application. One misstep, such as typing your Social Security number incorrectly or transposing the numbers in your parents' combined yearly salary, could spell disaster.

  • Make sure the Web site uses a secure site for transferring your personal information over the Internet. You don't want your personal information, like your Social Security number, falling into the wrong hands. If the site doesn't use a secure connection, use the old-fashioned method of sending in your application: Paper, envelope, and overnight mail.

Despite all the Internet hype, online is not always the preferred method of application for all universities. If the school you're applying to prefers to receive your application on paper, then you should submit it that way.

However, if they've upgraded their admissions process to accept online applications, keep reading.

Find the application online

Visit the Web sites for the colleges you want to attend, go to the Admissions page, and get all the application information there.

If the school has its own online application system, click through the whole application, printing the pages as you go. It'll be much easier for you to fill out the paper printouts with all the information first, and then after your paper application is complete, go back to the online form and input your information.

If the school accepts only an outside service like Collegeview.com, go to the site, click through the whole application, print out all the pages, and fill in all the information on paper before filling out the online form.

Collect dates and data

Make sure you make your requests for teacher recommendations and transcripts early enough to give you plenty of time to receive them. You'll probably have to mail separately copies of recommendation letters, transcripts, and other paper materials to the school directly, so make sure you have the correct mailing addresses.

Look through the application and collect any info you don't have, such as exact dates of old jobs, date you're going to take the SAT, and so on. Have your parents double-check any information you have to provide about them, such as Social Security numbers, birth dates, job and salary details, and so on.

Write any essays for the application in a word processing program before you go back to the online form, and print out your essays and have one or two other sets of eyes take a look at it (preferably your English teacher or guidance counselor).

Make a master list of all the information you need, and cross off each item as you collect it. Mark important dates on a calendar, so that deadlines don't sneak up on you.

Fill out the application

Transfer all the information you've collected on the printed out version of the application to the online version, carefully comparing what you type in the online form with your printed copy.

Copy and paste your essays from your word processing documents into the online form. Give the essay one last read for any errors before continuing on.

Your goal should be to complete filling out the online application form in one sitting; you don't want to have to return to it the next day and try to remember where you left off. If you've done all the necessary work ahead of time, you should be able to finish it in a couple of hours.

Ready for takeoff . . .

Before you hit Send, print out the whole application and check it again for accuracy, grammar, and spelling. Make sure it's absolutely perfect.

Hit "Send."

You should receive a confirmation e-mail from the school; print it out and file it away with your records for future reference. If you don't receive a confirmation e-mail, wait a few days and call the college admissions office to confirm that they have your application.

Don't get nervous, but remember this is one of the most important documents you'll ever fill out. Do it right the first time, because carelessness might mean the difference between getting into the college of your choice or settling for your backup.