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Articles / Applying to College / Tackling Paper College Applications

Aug. 1, 2003

Tackling Paper College Applications

Question: How does one fill out paper applications? Is a typewriter required? We don't even own one! Is it okay to fill out some parts online and then send others (resumes, essays, etc.) separately through the mail?

Even back in the olden days when The Dean was applying to colleges, and typewriters were more prevalent than televisions, students and parents were still in a quandary over how to neatly write within those nasty little lines and spaces on application forms. The solution, however, is simpler than one might think.


For starters, you can certainly mail the different components of an application separately. Rarely will a college request that everything to be sent together, and most expect quite the opposite. The key is labeling. Each document (and, in fact, every page of every document) should contain the applicant's name along with another identifying detail (school, social security number, etc.) Thus, you should feel free to do part of an application online and send whatever else is necessary via snail mail.

On the other hand, don't overlook another good old-fashioned option. Paper applications can be completed by hand. It actually humanizes the process and admission folks don't mind at all--assuming, of course, that the penmanship is not so illegible that it strains tired admission officials' eyes in the wee hours. Essays and resumes can still be produced via computer and then enclosed (except for Brown, where hand-written essays are required!). Make sure you say, "See attached" at the appropriate spots on the application form, and remember to label everything--not only with the student's name, but also clarify what the attached document is (e.g., "Short-answer question #3"), whenever you're not writing directly on the form.

When filling out paper applications, the most assiduous applicants often make a photocopy first (or download and print out a spare) in order to practice and/or avoid goofs. Don't fret, however, if a mistake is made on a paper application. The occasional cross-out or blob of Wite-Out will never turn an "admit" decision into a "deny."

Finally, if you own a scanner, it's also possible to scan paper forms into your computer and then complete them electronically, print them, and mail them, but that's probably more work (and less fun) than is necessary.

Whatever you decide, there's plenty of work ahead when it comes to completing application forms, but do relax. You have more flexibility than you may think.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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