Helpful Tips for STEPP Program Applicants

Applying to the STEPP Program? These tips will help you navigate the application process.

Before you start your application, take the time to read the following resources thoroughly and carefully:

  • The Application Instructions and the Application Checklist give very detailed instructions. Please follow them closely and call or email us if you aren't sure about something.
  • The FAQ page includes important information about the application process and materials that will help you complete your packet efficiently.
  • This page also has some helpful pointers that aren't necessarily included in the FAQs or instructions.

You can send in your application materials together in one packet or separately in multiple packets.

  • If you send items separately, please send Pages 1 & Page 2 of the Application Form in the very first packet. We can't start a file for you or send you notifications without those.
  • We highly recommend sending items separately if some of your required materials won't be available until close to the deadline. The earlier we receive the bulk of your application packet, the more time you will have to fix anything that is missing or incorrect before the deadline.
  • Your teachers can send their recommendations separately or give them to you to include in your packet. The same goes for your transcripts and anything else that comes from your school.

It's really important to download the forms and open them in Adobe Reader before printing them or typing in them.

  • On the webpage with the links to the application materials, you should see instructions for how to download the blank PDF forms and save them to your computer. Please follow these instructions carefully.
  • Although your internet browser will probably let you print the form (either completed or blank) directly from the browser window, it's very important not to do this. We have learned from experience in previous years that some of the features of the forms are disabled or print incorrectly from a browser. Instead, be sure to open the forms in Adobe Reader before completing them.

All of the application forms can be completed by typing directly into the PDF form and printing it out or can be printed out blank and completed by hand.

  • When you view the forms in Adobe Reader, you should see blue shaded boxes in most of the blanks, along with drop-down menus in a few blanks. The boxes and arrows will disappear when you print the form. If you've typed in answers, those will show up without the shading behind them. If you don't type in any answers, the form will print completely blank so you can write in your responses by hand.
  • Many of the blank boxes on the forms include additional instructions that will pop up when you hover your mouse cursor over the shaded box. Some of them just say the same thing as the form itself, but others explain in more detail what we're asking for in that box. If you're not sure what to enter in a blank, see if its pop-up message clarifies what you should write. Remember, even if you're writing in your answers by hand, you can always open up the PDF file on your computer to refer to the pop-up instructions.
  • As you type in your responses, the text in each blank should shrink to fit what you've written into the available space. Make sure all of what you've written is visible on the form - if you can't see it on the screen, it won't print. Please also double-check that your entire response for each blank is visible and large enough to read when you print the completed form.

Different versions of Adobe Reader / Adobe Acrobat will give you different options for saving and editing your responses in the forms.

  • If you have the free Adobe Reader software (this is what most people have on their computers), you will be able to type directly into the blanks and boxes on the application forms. However, with some versions of Adobe Reader, you will not be able to save the information you have typed into the form. Your best bet is to make sure you have all the necessary information ready before starting the form so you can complete it in one sitting and then print it out immediately. (Print more than one copy, just in case!)
  • Some versions of Adobe Reader will allow you to save a completed version of the form. To do this, first fill out all of the fields on the form. Then click on "Sign" (which can be found either in the upper right-hand corner of the window or as an option under the "View" drop-down menu). Click on "Done Signing" under the "I Need to Sign" menu. Confirm that you want to merged your text into the PDF and save the updated version of the file to your computer. Then you can either print the form and mail it in, or you can email it to us instead.
  • If you have the full Adobe Acrobat software installed on your computer (instead of just Adobe Reader), then you should be able to save the form regardless of whether it is completed or not and then come back to finish it later. Once it's finished, you can print it and mail it in, or you can email it to us instead.

Not sure who to ask for a recommendation?

  • The best people to ask for recommendations depends on your individual experiences, but here are a few tips and guidelines that can help you decide.
  • First, the two required teacher recommendations must come from high school teachers who have taught you in a core academic class within the past three years and who are very familiar with your academic abilities. Examples of core academic classes include math, science, English, foreign language, and social studies. STEPP also accepts recommendations from curriculum assistance teachers as fulfilling the core class requirement because CA teachers often know their students very well and support them in multiple core academic subjects.
  • The Advisory Board likes to see a broader range of subject areas in recommendations, so we caution against submitting two recommendations from the same subject area (e.g., both your biology teacher and your chemistry teacher).
  • If you have a teacher who has taught you in more than one course or who has worked with you in both a classroom setting and an extracurricular setting, s/he may be able to provide a more in-depth recommendation for you, which may be beneficial.
  • Remember that you are welcome to submit additional recommendations beyond the two that are required. Many students submit extra recommendations, so keep this option in mind if you have any non-core teachers or other individuals (like a tutor, coach, club advisor, psychologist, employer, etc.) who would be a strong reference for you.  

Your teachers have several options for completing and submitting their recommendations.

  • You need to give each teacher a copy of the Teacher Recommendation Instructions and a copy of the Teacher Recommendation Form. The Instructions page gives them detailed info on the options for filling out and sending in their form. It also provides an overview of STEPP to help them target their recommendation towards this particular program (and also so you won't have to explain our admissions process to everyone you ask for a recommendation!)
  • If you're asking anyone who is not your teacher for a recommendation, you still need to give them copies of the Instructions and Form pages. We strongly prefer for all of your supplemental recommendations to fill out the standard form, but they're welcome to send a letter along with it if they want to share information that's not included on the form.
  • If any of your recommenders want to type in their responses instead of hand-writing them, the Instructions page you will give them includes a website address where they can download the forms. That site is different from the one where you download your application so the recommenders don't have to navigate through all the other materials that they don't need.
  • Your teachers can either give their completed recommendations back to you or they can send them directly to STEPP. Don't worry about the timing if a teacher prefers to send the form directly to us - if we receive a recommendation before we have an application on file for you, we'll just hold onto it until the rest of your application arrives.

If you're not sure whether to submit a freshman or transfer application, call or email us.

  • The "Apply to the STEPP Program" page includes guidelines for which students should submit freshman applications and which should submit transfer applications.
  • If your situation is not covered by any of those guidelines, check with us about which application to submit.
  • Please pay close attention to any additional materials you are asked to submit along with your application. The additional items listed under each student category are not on the application checklist. Thus if any of them apply to you, we recommend jotting a reminder down on your checklist to ensure you include them.

We accept application materials by mail or email.

  • We usually recommend sending in most of your application by regular postal mail (a.k.a. "snail mail"). Since there are a lot of pieces to put together, and some of them might be hand-written pages or photocopies of documents, sending in paper copies of everything is usually the best way to make sure you have all the pieces together.
  • However, we do also accept some materials by email. If you're emailing us, pay close attention to the info on the Application Instructions sheet, as well as to the info about being proactive in keeping up with your application status below.
  • As the Application Instructions sheet indicates, we generally do not accept application materials by fax. We occasionally make an exception to that, but please be aware that you will need to contact us first, before you fax us any application items. Here's why: All faxes sent to STEPP print to the STEPP office's main copier/printer. Every computer in the office is networked to that copier/printer - including all the staff computers, all the STEPP laptops that students use, and many STEPP students have their personal laptops set up to print to it as well. As a result of that open access for everyone in the program, we can't guarantee the confidentiality of any information faxed to us. If you absolutely have to fax something to us, contact us so we can set up a specific time for you to send it. That way we can have a staff member intercept the printout as it arrives to avoid your personal information being picked up by anyone else using the printer.   

The application deadline is a postmark deadline, not a "received by" deadline.

  • As long as your application is postmarked on or before May 15th, it will be considered on time.
  • You can send your materials by standard postal mail. In most cases, there is no need to pay extra for priority or overnight mail.
  • However, it's still a good idea to get things in early! (See below.)

Submit your application early if you can!

  • A lot of students send in their applications between May 1st-15th. Getting yours in before that usually means it will be processed faster and sent to the admissions committee for review sooner.
  • More importantly, it means that you will have ample time to be notified about any missing or incorrect items and to send those items in before the deadline.
  • Please be aware that if you mail your application packet on May 15th and it turns out that something is missing or incorrect, your application will be considered late because you won't be able to send the remaining materials by the deadline.

We must have your SAT (or ACT) scores by May 15th...but don't panic if you're not happy with those scores.

  • It does not matter which test you take - we accept both the SAT and the ACT. But if you take the ACT, make sure you take the "optional" writing section. It's required for ECU and thus for STEPP.
  • We cannot waive the SAT or ACT requirement, but we do take into consideration the fact that it's very common for students with LD to struggle with standardized testing. We have never rejected an applicant solely on the basis of low SAT/ACT scores. The scores may factor into the decision, but we make decisions based on a broad view of all the student's application materials.
  • Many students aren't happy with their first set of SAT/ACT scores. You might want to consider taking it once during the winter of your junior year to guarantee that you'll have scores available in time for the STEPP deadline. Then you can plan to do some test-prep activities in the spring and take it again in May or June. There's a good chance your scores will go up because you'll know what to expect the second time and you'll also have another semester of math and English coursework under your belt. You won't have the second set of scores in time for the deadline, but you will be able to send them to us before we make final admission decisions over the summer.

Don't let the Essay / Writing Sample requirement of the application packet stress you out.

  • Many applicants ask how long their essay should be. There is no right or wrong length for the essay. However, in case you're wondering, most of the essays we receive are approximately 2-4 pages double-spaced or 1-2 pages single-spaced, but some of them are shorter, and some are longer. Focus on the content of the essay, and take as much or as little space as you need to thoroughly address all the prompts.
  • Almost half of the students in STEPP have a learning disability in the area of writing. As you might guess, that means STEPP provides a lot of support for writing. Since a lot of our students struggle to accurately express their thoughts on paper, many of them also dread writing assignments. If that sounds like you, then please know that we truly don't want the STEPP application essay to be a source of stress or anxiety! For us, the most important aspect of the essay is that it lets us directly hear and understand your perspective on the essay prompts in your own words. The second aspect that we want to see is your writing process and approach to the task - which is why we have you send in all your drafts and describe the support you used.
  • Remember that you don't have to do this alone - you can get help with your essay! We want the finished product to represent your ideas and your writing process, but as long as you don't lose the essence of your own writing then you can use any assistance you want. In college, you'll be able to use support on most of your writing assignments. (There are often restrictions on the types of help you can get, or at what stages you can get help, but the assignments where you can't get any help at all are pretty rare in our experiences within STEPP.) So if you usually have support in writing, please don't hesitate to use those supports on your application essay too.
  • The bottom line is that we want you to take the essay seriously and submit something you feel is a good representation of you; but we know that writing is not a strength for every student, and the Advisory Board naturally keeps that in perspective while reviewing applications.

Read the 'Campus Safety Questions' on page 7 of the application form carefully, and answer them fully and honestly.

  • As the form indicates, answering 'yes' to any of those questions is not automatically a deal-breaker for admission to STEPP and/or ECU. However, we must have accurate and honest answers to all of those questions in order to make informed admission decisions.
  • If you answer 'yes' to any of those questions, please make sure that you attach a statement describing the situation. If it's already been resolved, tell us what happened. If it's still ongoing, tell us the current status and then send us an update as soon as possible when anything changes.
  • The STEPP Program works with the Admissions Office and the Dean of Students Office to determine what impact, if any, the incident(s) listed will have upon a student's application. Students applying to STEPP are subject to the same Campus Safety Review guidelines and procedures as students applying through the traditional admissions process. However, since our admissions process occurs before the traditional application timeline, we must have all of the information needed for these reviews before we make our admission decisions.
  • It's very important to note that although answering 'yes' to these questions may or may not have a negative effect on a student's application, answering these questions inaccurately or failing to report related incidents will result in a student's application being denied or withdrawn or in dismissal from the university. 

You need to be proactive about keeping up with your application status.

  • STEPP sends notifications by email or postal mail and keeps a record of all notifications sent. Once we send a notification, we are not responsible for whether a student receives and/or reads it.
  • The STEPP Application Form asks you to indicate whether you prefer to receive your application status updates via email or postal mail. Here are a few key points related to those notification options:
    • Please double-check that your mailing address and email address are both complete, accurate, and up-to-date before you submit that form.
    • Your final admission decision notice may be sent via postal mail, even if all of your other notifications are sent via email.
    • If you choose the postal mail notification option, please be aware that sending and receiving mail through the university mail system often takes 1-2 days longer than the usual postal timeframe.
    • If you choose the email notification option, STEPP will send all of your application status updates to your personal email address that you listed on page 1 of the application. (We send the notifications to you, not to your parents.) Make sure you list an email address that you check on a regular basis so you'll see our emails.
    • If you choose the email notification option, we strongly recommend adding and to your email account's "safe senders" list and regularly checking your spam/junk folder for any messages from STEPP.
    • If you have submitted application materials and have not received a response, you need to contact STEPP to verify whether we received them. Allow several weeks for us to receive a packet, process it, and notify you.

Other Miscellaneous Tips & FYIs

  • The Application Form includes a question asking how you found out about the STEPP Program. Please note that your answer has no bearing on your application process or admission decision. We collect this data from all applicants to help us learn the most effective ways to reach potential students.
News and Events
Open House

The STEPP Program welcomed 14 families to our information session during ECU's Fall Open House. The next ECU Open House will be held in Fall 2016.

Meanwhile, STEPP is looking forward to hosting several information sessions for prospective students and families during the Spring 2016 semester. Check our News & Events page for updates on the dates of these sessions and how to register!

Admission Decisions for 2016 Cohort

Admission decisions for the 2016 cohort of the STEPP Program have been made, and decision letters were mailed out to all interviewees during the week of Sept. 22nd.

Applications for 2017 Cohort

Applications for the 2017 cohort will be posted on our website in early 2016. The application deadline will be May 15, 2016. Interested students are encouraged to attend one of the upcoming STEPP information sessions, which will be held Oct. 24, 2015 and in March or April of 2016.

STEPP Program represented at the 2014 Learner Profile

STEPP Program participants, Marell Cook (2011 Cohort) and Justin Decker (2013 Cohort) participated in the 2014 Learner Profile Convening on August 15 in Chapel Hill sponsored by the Oak Foundation Learning Differences Programme and their partner organization Public Impact. more...

Connect with STEPP on Social Media

To stay up-to-date on STEPP news and events, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Helpful Tips for Project STEPP Applicants

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