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Applying to College

Applying to college can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Planning ahead will save you a lot of stress and prepare you to have lots of choices when it comes to deciding which college you want to attend. Here is a checklist of all the necessary steps to apply to college.

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Key Takeaways

  • Consider the following points when applying to college and start with the Common App
  • Make a list of schools, get your transcripts and complete necessary tests
  • Make sure you review application deadlines and appyly for FASFA and potential scholarships

College Application

1) Create a Common App profile

    • Save time and costs when applying to schools
    • Apply via Common App to use one application for 900 colleges
    • Note that not all schools accept the Common App

College applications can be expensive and time consuming, and for students who are applying to 6-8 schools with application fees of around $50 each, the costs add up quickly. Completing the Common App application allows for students to complete one application that is accepted by nearly 900 colleges and universities. This will save students lots of time and money. However not every school accepts the common app, so it will be helpful to make a list of your desired schools and note which ones you can apply for through the common app, and which will require their own application.

2) Compile a list of schools

    • Identify your top 6-8 schools
    • Have a backup list to apply via Common App

It is recommended to apply to around 6-8 schools, but this can vary. However, students should certainly compile a list of schools to submit applications too- labeling their top choices as well as backup schools if they aren’t admitted to their top picks. Additionally, with the use of the common app, students can make a list of backup schools they can apply to with one application, and save the more tedious applications for their top choice schools.

3) High school transcripts

Generally an official transcript will need to be sent directly from a students high school to the college. Students will usually submit a transcript request to their schools counseling office to have the documents sent over to their desired colleges.

4) Standardized tests (SAT etc.)

Most schools will require SAT or ACT scores. After completing the exams, scores will be sent to the students desired colleges directly from the testing companies. The testing companies allow for scores to be sent to 4 schools free of charge, with each additional school costing $12-13 each. Learn more about the SAT and ACT, and what else you may need under Academic Requirements.

5) College admission essay

    • College essays are a difficult part of the application process
    • They are personal statements and writing samples
    • Make time to leave a good impression and get accepted

Most schools require students to submit one writing sample, this is sometimes referred to as a personal statement. The college essay is considered the most difficult part of the application process, as students should take time and give a lot of thought to their essay. It is recommended to start writing in the summer before starting senior year, when school work isn’t taking up as much time. This is the one piece of the college application that students can let their personalities shine through and make a good impression to have a better chance of getting accepted.

6) Recommendation Letters

    • Ask for 2-3 recommencation letters from your teachers
    • Ideally someone who knows you academically, athletically, and personally

A typical aspect of a college application is having 2-3 letters of recommendation. Students should seek out recommenders early on, as it may take time for them to complete them. Recommenders tend to be teachers or counselors of the student, who not only know their academic abilities but their personal qualities and other achievements as well.

7) Application Deadlines

  • Early Decision (ED) deadlines (often in November), will give students early admittance decisions (often in December). However these admittance decisions are binding, meaning if a student is admitted through early decision, then they must enroll in the school. Students should be very certain the school is their first choice and the right pick for them before submitting for an early decision. Generally speaking, this is not the best choice for athletes who are still in the recruiting process, so they can keep their options open for other scholarship opportunities.
  • Early Action (EA) is another type of deadline that tends to be in November or December, here students will also hear back from the school much earlier than the regular deadline. However, different from early decision, this deadline is not binding.
  • Regular Decision deadlines are the most common for applicants, with deadlines typically starting in January. Students will usually hear back from schools around mid-march or early April.
  • Rolling Admission is when schools accept applications and submit decisions on a continuous basis until enrollment is filled. Generally there is no deadline and they will continue accepting applications until enrollment is capped.

8) Complete FAFSA

Paying for college can be one of the biggest barriers for students and their families. It is important for students applying to college to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) paperwork, this will help students see the kind of financial support they can be offered when receiving acceptance letters from school, and can then evaluate affordability to different schools. You find more information on how to pay for college in our Scholarships section under Financial Aid.

9) Find Scholarships

Outside of financial aid there are many scholarships offered by schools to help students and their families afford college. Students should seek out such scholarships on university websites and submit applications for ones that may apply to them. Read more under Paying for College.

10) Apply as Student-Athletes

There are additional application requirements for student-athletes during the recruiting process. We recommend using the following resources as well as the Recruiting Checklist to keep on track.

Additional Resources

11) Research Application Costs

A large majority of schools charge a fee to submit an application. At most universities that fee is around $50, but some schools, like Ivy League Colleges, require a larger application fee of up to $90. Given the fees associated with every application, it is advised for students and parents to work together to make a condensed list of schools to submit applications too.

Using the Common App can be a big help in reducing these application fees. The common app is accepted by over 900 schools, 371 of which don’t charge any application fees for domestic students and 379 of those schools don’t charge any application fees for international students. While the remaining schools still charge their normal application fee, using the common app will save students lots of time while submitting the same application to multiple schools.

Schools that use the common app don’t want the costs of applying to college to be a barrier for students and families, so they have implemented a fee waiver program for eligible students.

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