Any application to any school, college, university, graduate school, or place of potential employment is nothing more than an empty stage on which you are being invited to perform for your future. Although it has been designed to be warm, welcoming, and inclusive, do not be deceived: It is serious business! Consider the following points before taking on the challenge of representing yourself on the record.
First, remember that the completed application becomes a permanent record of your personhood on the day you sign and date it. Give every response adequate thought, because those who will review it will assume that you have done your best work.
Second, avoid presenting yourself in any way that may be embarrassing or limiting to you in the years ahead. A nose ring or any reference to drugs, for example, will be impressive, but not in the way you may intend. And it may keep hurting you for years.
Third, don’t try to present yourself as master of the universe. Describe your real strengths and interests in detail, and show your depth in a few areas, rather than your shallowness in many. (If you don’t advocate for yourself, who will?) Application readers are trained to know the difference!
Fourth, most schools and colleges are not allowed by law to ask for a photograph, but you are allowed to include a good photograph with your application, if you wish. Take full advantage of that option; a picture truly is worth a thousand words, especially if it is a good picture.
Fifth, begin your communication with the institution well before submitting your completed application, whenever possible. For example, write to the department head with a good question or two well before you apply. That document will make its way into your admissions file and serve to support you as a sincerely interested candidate.
Sixth, never wait until the last day to submit or mail your application. Your application will almost always be date stamped by the admissions office upon arrival. If you are being considered along with another equally qualified candidate whose materials arrived two months ago, who will be considered the better bet?
Seventh, when asked to submit references, remember that a few great letters will be far better than tons of mediocre ones. “I don’t know this kid well, but his father sure is a great guy.” An old saying in the admissions fraternity says it best: The thicker the file, the thicker the kid.
Enough said. Good luck.