7 Application Mistakes We Can Help You Avoid


An article in Business Insider this week gave some advice to seniors applying to college. They outline seven key mistakes that students make in the application process, all of which Hughes College Prep can help you avoid committing. Consider Business Insider’s tips in combination with our advice on utilizing the Common Application this season.

Here’s a rundown of what they advise:


  • Don’t forget to proofread. Double check your essays, but don’t forget to reread every part of your application, including activities and scores. Once an application is submitted, you can’t revise it! So make sure to get it right the first time and have a peer, parent, teacher or advisor look over it with you.
  • Fully explain your activities. On most universities’ applications, you get a few lines per activity to explain what your responsibilities, duties, and hours are for each club, sport or leadership activity. Make sure to be concise but give yourself full credit for each — this is the place to explain just how many hours you put in as editor-in-chief of the school newspaper or as the fundraiser coordinator.
  • Don’t send low test scores if the school doesn’t require them. If you take the ACT or SAT multiple times, send in your highest scores. Schools will not see your scores unless you submit them. You don’t need to submit the scores every time you take them, and some schools will allow you to superscore (which means you take the highest score from each section of the test). On the Common Application, report your highest overall score and leave off any lower ones. Some schools might make you submit all your scores for every test you’ve taken, so check individual websites before applying.
  • Turn your applications in early. We recommend students apply Early Action — a non binding early application —  if possible for most of their schools which helps with organization, financial aid priority and hearing back sooner.
  • Show interest in colleges beyond just applying. According to Business Insider, Colleges have started to look in other areas to prove the demonstrated interest of applicants, including looking at students’ social media pages. They notice when students “like” their Facebook page and follow them on Twitter and Instagram.”
  • Request letters of recommendation early. Get on your teachers’ good sides and ask early! You’ll get first priority and insure that your teachers have enough time to write you the thoughtful and detailed letter that you want colleges to read.

Here the full article here. Contact us to get started with your advisor before the fall.



5 Things to Know About the College Coalition Application

  1. The College Coalition is an organization of over 90 schools that aims to provide increased access for students to college admissions. The College Coalition states their goal as a “shared commitment to providing students with the best possible college experience, beginning with the college application process. Coalition schools offer an affordable education, promising low-cost, in-state tuition for residents of their state (for public schools) or meeting the full, demonstrated need of admitted domestic students (for private schools).” (http://www.coalitionforcollegeaccess.org/faq.html).  The College Coalition Application is the organization’s alternative to the Common Application, which allows students to apply to multiple institutions with the same basic application (in addition to individual supplements).


  1. The College Coalition App uses a “locker” system. This is a storage place on the application where students can upload documents or videos like essays, performances, artwork, or other supplemental material but also access information about college admissions they might not otherwise have access to.


  1. The essay prompts are different. Here are the College Coalition application prompts:
  1. Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
    2. Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.
    3. Has there been a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?
    4. What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?
    5. Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.

Find the Common App essay prompts here.


  1.  Not every college involved is planning on using it as their primary application. According to an article published on Inside Higher Ed, “a few dozen members of the coalition (which is now up to 93) don’t plan to use the application during the next admissions cycle.” This means that students who are applying for the fall of 2017 won’t have access to the application for certain colleges this fall and winter. The article explains, “Coalition leaders say this isn’t a big deal, but some high school guidance counselors disagree… officials said they were taken aback when they heard at coalition presentations that as many as 40 colleges might be opting out of the new application this year.”


  1. Hughes College Prep recommends you use the Common App if given the choice.

Why? You can choose both. Nearly all of the schools on the Coalition are also offering a Common App option. The Common App is accessed by over 400 schools and will help you stay organized on one main application, rather than juggling several. Finally, since this is the first year for the Coalition, we want our students to avoid any technical difficulties. The Common App is now open, and allows student to roll over their accounts and materials from year to year. Even if you’re a sophomore or junior, you can become familiar with the Common Application and take some of the mystery, and therefore anxiety, out of the mix.
Read more about the Coalition Application here, here or here.

Maximize Your Potential as an Engineering Applicant

This week, an article published online by US News Education highlighted some excellent tips on how to maximize your odds as an engineering applicant. Undergraduate engineering programs often have stricter admissions standards and individual procedures that might differ from general admission to the same school.

We’ve curated some key pieces of their advice here:

  • Ensure you’re aware of every extra requirement. This might mean meeting a calculus requirement or taking SAT Subject Tests in addition to the SAT/ACT. US News recommends that you “call or email (each school) if any part of the process is unclear, such as where to send exam results or how your admission to the university as a whole affects engineering admission.” You can also check each engineering school’s website for extra admissions requirements or separate applications.
  • Take advanced coursework that admissions committees will be familiar with. “If your school does offer AP or IB courses, consider making these a high priority. Competitive schools especially may expect that students have taken on the greatest level of rigor available to them, so this can be a great way to show you’re committed to the work.”
  • Take extra science and math courses when possible, but maintain good grades in all your core classes. “Strong preparation – for example, in the form of rigorous high school science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, courses – can help immensely in demonstrating your readiness. Your classes will be on your high school transcripts, but take every opportunity throughout the application process to address the content and rigor of your academic background.”

    – Finally, highlight extra work or projects you’ve completed as a high school student. Your Common App essay or campus interview is a great place to mention these. They say, “mention any special projects that you have worked on. If you completed a science fair project, mention this in your personal statement or when speaking with an admissions officer.”

Read the full article here. Contact Hughes College Prep for more advice on applying to engineering programs.

New Element Added to First Year Orientations: Parents


An article highlighted this week in the Sacramento Bee outlined how many schools across the country are catering to parents during first year orientation and student drop offs instead of just the incoming students.

According to “Countdown to College: Parents’ Orientation,” it’s more about providing parents with logistics all in one place, and less about hovering for longer. Students attend course registrations and meet their dorm mates, while parents “register for classes and parents learn about campus safety, meal plans, credit cards, health insurance, etc.” While some universities offer “concurrent workshops that students and parents attend dealing with: study abroad, leadership opportunities, clubs, Greek life, career services, outdoor opportunities, diversity and multicultural affairs, performing arts and first year seminars.” Parents might gain more insight into the logistics or financial aid support for some of those activities if they attend these workshops or discussions.

The article gives parents some tips that Hughes College Prep endorses, including taking note of financial information and available resources for you and your student. Pay attention to opportunities your student might be too distracted or nervous to take not of, like access to a writing center or free transportation.

But finally, as Shulman Bierer notes, “Give your student some space. Let them meet their roommates and call the shots. Don’t linger! It’s hard to say goodbye, but just do it.”

You can check your student’s future college’s website to find out if they offer opportunities for parent orientation. If you opt out and find you can access most of the information online, help your student unpack their room and let them start their adventure with your support.

Read the full article here.

How to Stand Out on Your Supplemental College Essays

There’s lot of advice floating around about the main Common Application essay, including our own, but most students don’t spend as much time or energy on their supplemental essays. These essays can often have just as much weight in your application, and need to be tailored to each individual school. This means they’re an entirely different beast than the main Common App essay, and often require more research and preparation before writing that first draft.

Where do you find the supplemental questions? On the Common Application, each school has more specific questions and options when you click on their tab. If there are extra essays required (not all schools have supplemental essays), you’ll find them here, under the writing section. The good news? Most (but not all) prompts are available and updated now, or use the same questions year-to-year. Start a document with each essay and don’t forget to check their recommended word count — you don’t want to give a 250 response to a question that requests 600, or vice versa.

Our biggest piece of advice? Tailor each essay to the school as specifically as possible. Show that you’ve researched not only the school but their departments, courses (the catalog is a great place to start for this) and majors. Make sure to use the right names and details. Admissions counselors will recognize this effort and know that you really are interested in components of their health science or dance program and not just those programs regardless of school.

Another effort? Make them narrative and detailed — try to tell a story, even if it’s just the story of your interest in the school or how you hope it will help you get where you want to go. Try to make the supplemental essays as engaging and creative as your main Common App essay. It will pay off later! You can often reuse basic essay structures, but making sure that you carefully consider why you’re applying to that school in the first place.
Planning ahead for these might seem difficult, but making a list of traits and specific programs you like in a school can help you narrow your school list. Another nice perk of the supplemental essays? Writing about why you’re choosing that school, in the midst of a long and sometimes arduous process, can reignite your passion for it and remind you what made you want to apply there in the first place.

Tough Junior Year? Here’s the Best Way to Come Back Stronger


An article in the US News college blog called “4 Ways to Bounce Back from a Subpar Junior Year” advised students on how to bounce back from an academically disappointing junior year. Many students are faced with test scores, grades or leadership that isn’t in line with their goals for college, but it’s not too late. US News recommends first acknowledging that you didn’t succeed where you would have liked to, but to “set aside your mistakes and assume a positive attitude. Otherwise, it is nearly impossible to make progress when you dwell too heavily on your mistakes.”

Their advice?

  1. Acknowledge but don’t dwell on your poor performance
  2. Determine degree of necessary progress
  3. Creative a short term plan for summer
  4. Create a long-term response plan

Hughes College Prep recommends meeting with one of our advisors, in person or online, in order to figure out exactly where you are and how to get you where you want to go next fall. Realistic expectations combined with a dose of optimism and a lot of hard work can help you find colleges that see all your strengths, regardless of one tough year.

Pinpointing the areas that need improvement going into your senior year, particularly in test prep or with your grades, can be the most crucial step. The US News college blog explains that “If your junior-year grades were your principal disappointment, commit to reviewing material for your senior year courses and building on the material you have already learned, such as with math. If your standardized test score was your deepest woe, spend the summer studying more intensively. Set a minimum number of hours per week to study for the ACT or SAT, and then stick to that plan.”

Another strategy we recommend? Seek outside help. If your math grade suffered because of a difference in teaching-learning style, find a tutor or join an after-school math program, and help out both your future math grades and your ACT/SAT score. This can be just as useful with leadership or volunteering. Hughes College Prep can help you determine exactly what your leadership and grade goals should be to align with your college list, and can guide you through a better senior year.
Read the rest of the US News college blog’s advice here, or get started on turning your summer and senior year around and contact us.

5 Tips for a Stress Free Common Application


The Common Application allows you to apply to multiple colleges with the same general application, in addition to supplements from each individual school. Over 700 public and private colleges and universities use the Common Application, and Hughes College Prep recommends it over any other general application tool.

1.  Write many (many) drafts of your primary essay. Hughes College Prep can help you with the essay process, and it is a process. Don’t assume that your first draft is ready to go just because you hit the maximum of 650 words. Have a peer editor to make sure it sounds like you, have a mentor or advisor line edit it, and be tough with yourself on making it detailed, descriptive and interesting. If you don’t feel confident on the tenth or fifteenth draft, keep going until you do – maybe change topics to ensure you’re writing about something that really matters to you. The essay isn’t only useful for getting you into college, you can also use it later in the fall and winter for scholarship applications.

2.   Don’t forget to check for supplementary essays. Once you’ve assigned your final list of colleges on the application, make sure to check that there aren’t extra “writing” tabs under each school. Most colleges will require at least one extra essay, specific to them, and starting on that supplement early will help you personalize the Common Application for your dream schools. Don’t forget that the same admissions counselors are reading both the primary essay and the supplement, so try to write about different aspects of yourself as a student and person to give them as full a portrait as possible.

3.  Create a resume ahead of time to document (and prioritize) your activities. Having an academic resume is incredibly helpful on a number of levels: your recommenders can use it for talking points, you might be able to use it for scholarships and other applications down the road, and you can organize your activities (and descriptions of activities), test scores and class rank before putting them down on the Common Application. Since the Common Application only allows you ten activities, if you’ve gone above and beyond in activity participation, you can decide ahead of time what you’ve dedicated the most time to and what you most want the admissions committee to see. List the most relevant activities at the top, and spend time on your descriptions. Run the descriptions by other people and make sure it’s clear and concise.

4.  Start early. Pro tip: The Common Application open August 1st and now your application rolls over from year to year—so you don’t have to worry about starting over in the fall of your senior year. The last thing you want is to be filling out the Common App the night before the deadline, only to realize you need information you can’t get your hands on. Some of the sections will require information from a parent/guardian, so make sure to ask them ahead of time to save yourself panic later.

5. Double check everything. Don’t enter your 34 ACT as a 24 or leave out your most significant leadership activity accidentally and then only find out after you’ve submitted. It’s not a race! Take your time before the deadlines (we recommend submitting at least a week in advance, but not so many months that you don’t enter new scores, activities or significant accomplishments that could come in fall of your senior year), but also be aware of every school’s deadline.

Hughes College Prep has advisors who have been working for years with students on the Common Application, and we can help you put your best Common App forward. Contact us today to set up a meeting.