When it comes to getting into the college of your choice, your college application is the single most important tool you have in your hands. A great application can zip you to the front of the line, while a bad one can land you at the bottom. Keep these six tips in mind when you are going through the college application process and you’ll be on the road to admission!

1. Be Prepared
When you first receive the application, carefully look over all the questions and requirements. If it helps, keep a notebook exclusively for the application process.  Dedicate a page to each college with a checklist of everything you’ll need to submit, such as transcripts, recommendations, the essay, copies of awards/certificates, etc.

Also, before you apply, request a copy of the college’s handbook. It will list the basic application requirements students, including GPA and test scores.

2. Be On Time
Former Records Technician, Carmen Huff, says the best thing potential students can do is to get their applications in early—or at least by the deadline. Colleges and universities receive so many applications that they don’t have the time to accept late ones. “The more time you give the college or university to process your application, merge all the documentation, and get you into the system, the more time you’ll have to deal with any issues or problems that might arise,” Huff says.

3. Watch Your GPA and Test Scores
This is the first thing that most universities look at. The importance of maintaining a high GPA, however, depends on how competitive the school you are applying to may be. For example, most four-year colleges don’t have a GPA requirement, but top Ivy Leagues usually only accept students with a 3.5 or higher GPA. However, if your GPA is weak, don’t refrain from applying. Instead, be sure to emphasize your other good qualities such as extracurricular involvement, any awards you’ve received, or community involvement.

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4. Write an Amazing Essay
A great essay can help tip the balance in your favor if the admissions officer has narrowed it down to a few students, including you. It can also land you in the “Accepted” pile right off the bat. So, take the time to think your essay through carefully and to tailor it to fit the college you are submitting it to. If you are applying to several colleges (and I hope you are!), think carefully about each essay so that it fits within the guidelines and is edited to complement each college accordingly. Many colleges require two essays, one short and one long. What you write not only shows how literate you are, but also provides the reader with an impression of your values and beliefs. They want to know if you will be a good fit.

Most important? PRACTICE. In this case practice really does make perfect. Take the time to write it out, have someone else look it over and offer feedback, and then rewrite it if necessary. Be sure to double check for spelling and grammar typos.

5. Challenge Yourself
Are you motivated? Do you take easy courses or ones that require a lot of work on your part? Are you serious about college? Are you taking AP classes? Do you participate in extra-curricular activities? And if so, are you able to maintain good grades at the same time? All of these are factors that the person reading your application is taking into consideration. They want to know if you are proactive about learning and if you can handle the work load.

6. Community Service
Colleges want students who are active in their community. They want to see students who are motivated to apply what they’ve already learned and use it in real-life settings. Being active in your community also tells them about your character and shows them you are socially responsible. Colleges want to train leaders and help prepare them for making a difference in our country and our world.

To read more about filling out college applications, check out this step-by-step guide by University Language Services.