Tips for Applying to College

Applying to college is more than just writing turning in an online form. It involves a comprehensive approach by the applying student. This application process includes securing financial aid, knowing when to apply, taking college entrance exams, and crafting quality essays. Without these aspects in your approach to college applications, you could miss out on the school of your choice.

Taking College Entrance Exams

Aside from a handful of commuter universities and community colleges, most universities require you to take either the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), the American College Testing (ACT) exam, or both. Usually taken during high school students’ junior year, both the SAT and ACT test skills in math, reading, and writing, while the ACT adds in a science section. The advantage of taking these tests during your junior year is that it allows you to take the exam again as a senior if you don’t get the marks you desire.

Typically, the ACT tests a slightly broader amount of mathematical concepts. If science and math aren’t your strong suits, you may want to consider taking only the SAT or at least plan to try both. That’s not to say that one is easier than the other, but it’s always best to play to your advantages.

Even if you’ve taken the ACT and SAT, that’s not necessarily the end of your testing. Both Advanced Placement (AP) tests and College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests enable you to receive college credit if you’re able to pass the tests, saving you money and putting you on the path to early graduation.

When to Apply

Once you’ve taken all the necessary tests, it’s important to know when to apply. In most cases, you have two options. The first and most popular choice for college application submissions is in the spring or winter prior to the fall that you want to attend your school. The earlier you apply to most colleges, the better chance you have of getting into the school, as many are on a first-come, first-serve application basis.

If you want to apply even earlier, you have two plans: early action and early decision. However, it’s important to know what each one means before you apply. Early decision plans mean that you can apply early, but if accepted to the university, you must attend. Early action allows you to apply early, but it’s not binding. This means that you don’t have to accept or deny your invitation to the university until May 1.

Crafting a College Essay

While your grade point average, extra-curricular activities involvement, and standardized test scores are important to your college acceptance, a carefully crafted college essay is equally as important. For most colleges, this means that you’ll write one of three essays:

  • You Essays: These essays focus on questions involving you in some capacity. The key to these applications is to focus on just a handful of aspects that tell a unique story about yourself.
  • Creative Essays: This type of essay gives you the chance to showcase your critical thinking and creative writing skills. One thing that you should remember is that it’s still academic writing, so don’t lose focus on grammar, structure, or spelling.
  • Why Us? Essays: The other most common type of essay is the “Why us?” format. These essays require applicants to explain why they chose particulars schools, or what their goals or plans are while at school.

How you answer these essay questions may not get you admitted to a university, but your ability to write compelling essays will help you improve your chances of acceptance.

Securing Financial Aid

If you don’t have the money to pay for schooling outright, you need to secure financial aid as soon as possible. For government financial aid, you can apply as early as Jan. 1 of the year you plan on attending college. If you’re going to school after July 1 of a certain year, you can apply for financial aid on Oct. 1 of the previous year.

The reason that it’s important to file early is so that you don’t miss deadlines. In addition, you’ll want to know just how much financial aid you’re approved for, so you can pick the right school. If the school you want doesn’t give much in the form of grants or scholarships, you may want to rethink your choice, unless you don’t mind incurring heavy student debt.

Although applying for college seems like a stressful situation, it should also be fun. Finding out where you’ll spend the next four years of your life is an exciting choice. By following these steps, you can assure you have a fighting chance of getting into the school you want.