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 email or call us if you aren't sure about something.
  • The FAQ page includes important information about the STEPP Program that may be helpful to keep in mind as you go through the application process. It also includes specific information about the application process and criteria that you need to be aware of before applying.
  • This "helpful tips" page also has some important info and pointers that aren't necessarily included in the FAQs or instructions.
  • We realize that this asks you to review a great deal of information before completing your application. However, we have learned from experience that this level of understanding is important for students and families to have at the beginning in order to make this process go smoothly on both sides. 

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

  • If you send items separately, please send Page 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. Mac users, your computer may also try to open the forms in "Preview" instead. The same problems apply to this as to the browser. The forms will not print properly from a browser/Preview, and they also won't function as intended when you enter text. 
  • The reason why this is so important is because these forms are designed to circumvent many potential problems or challenges in filling them out (and also in printing them), and using anything other than Adobe Reader prevents many of those features from working properly. We have worked hard to make these forms user-friendly (and as LD-friendly as possible under the circumstances), and we have learned from experience that most problems students have with the forms are because they are not using Adobe.  

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 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 will 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. The form should prevent you from entering any more text when you have reached the limit of what can be entered in that text box.
  • One helpful feature of Adobe Reader is that it will read the application forms out loud to you. You can activate this feature from the toolbar by clicking View > Read Out Loud > Activate Read Out Loud. (You can also adjust the settings within the Accessibility sub-menus.) In addition to the questions/instructions on the form, it will also read aloud the extra instructions in the pop-up message when you click inside a form field.  

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. We recommend testing this out in your software by filling out a few blanks and trying to save and re-open it. If you can't save with your version of the software, 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!)
  • Be aware that some versions of Adobe Reader will allow you to save a partially-completed form and then come back to it, while others will save only a completed version of the form and will not let you edit it after it's been saved. 
  • If your software allows you to save the finished form, you have the option to either print it and mail it in or to 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. However, only one of your core academic recommendations can come from a CA teacher; the other one must come from one of the other core subject areas.
  • 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 send us two recommendations from the same subject area, be prepared that we will most likely contact you requesting another recommendation.
  • 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.  
  • The application form provides space to list up to seven recommendations (2 core teachers, and up to 5 supplemental). If you run out of lines on that form, then you have reached the maximum number of recommendations to submit. STEPP will not review more than 7 recommendations per applicant

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. STEPP has a General Recommendation Form that can be used by any recommendations who are not teachers. You can download this form here. (Or you can simply give that website link to the person you want to recommend you.) 
  • 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 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 because all faxes print on a public printer in our office, so we cannot guarantee confidentiality of anything faxed to us without notice. 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.

  • The deadline is usually May 15th of each year. Thus, the deadline for the 2019 cohort is Tuesday, May 15, 2018.
  • 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 (although you may want to request tracking in order to have immediate confirmation of whether it has arrived). Again, what matters is when you send it, not when we receive it.
  • 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 often 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
  • Regardless of which test you take, you must take the writing section. You might hear that the writing section is "optional" - but it is required for admission to STEPP and ECU. Your application won't be complete until we have scores for all sections on file. 
  • The writing section is automatically included on the SAT ("Evidence-Based Reading and Writing"), but you must specifically request to add the writing section when you register for the ACT.
  • 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 April, 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. Please 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.
If you have suggestions for other information you would like to see covered in these tips, let us know!
News and Events
Upcoming Open Houses

The STEPP Program hosts information sessions for prospective students and families throughout the year. Check our Open House page for the dates of these sessions and the link to register!

2018 Cohort Update

Admission decisions for the 2018 cohort of the STEPP Program were made in August 2017. All the students who were offered a seat in the program have accepted their offer and have been admitted to ECU. Welcome to the STEPP community, 2018 Cohort!

Applications for 2019 Cohort

Applications for the 2019 cohort are available here. The application deadline for this cohort is May 15, 2018. Stay tuned for updates on the application process!

Read our latest STEPP newsletter

The Winter 2018 STEPP newsletter is now available.

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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