News flash: there is no magical, foolproof formula to a winning college application. 

The success of your application has everything to do with how well you keep the purpose of the application process in mind.

What’s that, you ask? The purpose of your application is to demonstrate your personal and unique fit with the school to which you are applying.

Your entire application, from the essays to the information about your family’s education, paints a picture of you as an applicant. Make sure that the way you present yourself will excite an admissions committee about having you on campus.Don’t paint an unrealistic, overly perfect, or sloppy picture!

Some overall tips:

Start early. 

The sooner you begin thinking about your schools, your essays, and your overall narrative, the more time you will have to refine and polish your work.

Rewrite everything. 

In general, essays only get better the more you rewrite them. With each successive version, you’ll emphasize the most important parts and cut out the waste, redundancies, and clichés.

Be specific. 

Use detailed examples to illustrate your values and priorities in your essays, and stay away from vague general statements. 

Some practical advice:

Select Schools Methodically. 

Don’t haphazardly choose which schools you’re going to apply to. If the purpose of your application is to demonstrate your fit, you will have a better chance if you choose schools that are actual fits for your academic interests, abilities, lifestyle, and preferences. Take some time to figure out what these are, then research schools’ average GPAs and test scores, campus organizations, surrounding town, athletics, Greek life, and any other aspects of the college experience that are important to you. Rank your results and apply to no more than 10 schools (otherwise, you’ll be stretching yourself too thin). 

Maximize all the elements of your application. 

Do what you can to improve your grades, and challenge yourself with difficult classes. Start proving your passions by getting involved with school or town organizations. Make sure your test scores accurately reflect your abilities and disciplines. Build relationships with your teachers to ensure that you have good recommendations lined up. Prepare for your interviews on your own and with an adult you trust. Make sure your essay conveys a compelling and memorable portrait of you, and get feedback from as many trusted sources as you can.

Follow directions and proofread. 

Answer the questions that are asked, pay attention to the details of your applications, and don’t go over the word limit. Spelling mistakes, typos, and thrown-together answers will tell the admissions officers that you are lazy, careless, and disorganized (ie, not a person they want in their school).

Some pointers on attitude:

Be honest. 

Own your mistakes, failures, and shortcomings, but don’t draw unnecessary attention to them.

Show consistency. 

If you talk about a passion in your essay, make sure there’s an item in your activity list that attests to it. If you say you’re interested in studying science in one part of the application, don’t say your intended major is literature (unless you can explain the connection).

Check yourself for arrogance and over-humility. 

You have to be humble when describing your talents and accomplishments, but be careful not to self-deprecate. Talk to friends and trusted adults to get an honest opinion of how you come off in your application.