It’s a scary thing to sit down at your computer and fill out your first college application. It’s a huge step in your life and a decision that should not be made lightly. Here are a few hints to help you master the admissions process:

1. Narrow your list. It’s very time-consuming – not to mention expensive – to apply to 15 different schools. During senior year, your time is at a premium. Make a solid list of schools to apply to, but limit yourself to a few schools that have exactly what you want and need.

2. Sharpen your résumé. Your application will ask what you’ve been doing during your high school years. Don’t try to list every organization you’ve dabbled in. Pick the ones you’ve been dedicated to and have meant the most to you. Your commitment to a few activities looks better than being a sometimes member of a hundred different groups.

3. Apply early. Many schools, Gannon included, admit students on a rolling basis. This means that once your application is received, it is processed immediately. There’s no formal deadline, but the sooner you apply, the sooner you’ll know the school’s decision. Also, many schools offer scholarships on a first-come first-served basis so if you apply too late, you’ll miss out.

4. Don’t be late! Be sure that your completed application is submitted before the school’s cutoff date. If your application is late, schools may not even consider you for admission.

5. Include a personal statement, not an essay. Admissions offices read through thousands of applications while making their decisions, so make sure you stand out. Emily Kleps, associate director of admissions here at Gannon, says that the inclusion of a personal statement instead of one of the essays is a definite boost to an application. Use the space to write about why you want to be a nurse or a lawyer and show your passion for the subject. These statements can show your true personality better than an essay and will help determine if you’ll fit in on campus.

6. Visit. You never really know if you’ll like a school until you actually set foot on campus. Visit on a major-specific day or during an open house. Take time with a friend or parent to explore the campus and surrounding area and try to visualize living there. A school might look pretty in pictures, but you never really know until you see it for yourself.

7. Talk to a current student. Students love to talk about their school. Strike up a conversation with someone you meet on a visit, your tour guide or even a student blogger. They’ll be able to answer any questions you have about classes, groups and real life on campus. You just have to ask.