Expert Answers to Your College Application Questions

VidEO: Bari Norman, Columbia Universitys president of expert admission, offers tips.
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High school seniors around the country are beginning to gather material for their college applications. But to score an acceptance letter, the application and essay must stand out from the crowd. Not sure how to help your high schooler's college application shine?

Bari Norman, president of Expert Admissions, a New York-based company that offers personalized college admissions counseling, appeared on "Good Morning America" Thursday and answered viewers' questions about how college admissions works.

Read below for Normans's answers to some of the most common application questions.

You Asked, We Answered

Note: Some questions have been edited slightly for clarity and to ensure anonymity for the submitter.

College 101

Victoria asked: How many colleges is a safe bet to apply to?

Norman answered: How many colleges you should apply to depends on a number of different factors, but if I had to give a general recommendation, I would say six to 10. If you have discrepancies in your academic profile or some other issues or weaknesses, you may want to add a few more, just to be safe.

Donna asked: How important is the need to take AP classes in high school for college admission?

Norman answered: Colleges look quite favorably on AP courses, so if they are available at your high school and the courses are in your areas of strength, then it's a good idea to try to challenge yourself by taking them. Do consider the workload and how well you'll be able to handle the work before making a final decision.

Tackling the Essay

Jeff asked: Bari, how does my son who is not a great writer capture the essence of what he brings to a university or college to get accepted into their highly competitive engineering or business programs? He had a 30 ACT Composite (30 English/ 34 Math), SAT Math/780 Verbal/590. He is a high school competitive swimmer and year long club swimmer who swims six days a week (15-20 hours a week). He has had straight As through grade 11 in an international baccalaureate program. He is taking very challenging courses for his senior year and is extremely focused on doing well, but the essays are not of much interest to him. He doesn't like to talk about or beat his own drum. He believes that action speaks louder than words. Any thoughts or help?

Norman answered: It sounds as if your son probably has a lot of interesting things to share, and it also sounds as if he is struggling with the essay in much the same way that many students do. This assignment, if you will, is unlike any other writing assignment he's probably had to complete. It's difficult, but that should not deter him. I suggest that he work with someone who is familiar with college essay writing who can also help him figure out what story he wants to tell about himself and how to tell it. Be sure that the person you find is someone who has a real philosophy and approach to college essay writing. This essay must come from him, and he needs someone who can tease these things out of him and help him get his voice down on paper.

Kelly asked: My son has to write four essays. He wrote about breaking his hand during the football season for the essay that asks you to write about an experience that made an impact on your life, and he wants to write about being a part of the football team and basketball team for the essay that asks you to write about a community that you belong to that shows diversity. Is it bad to write about sports twice?

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