Every college has its own application requirements, but many ask for similar materials: the application itself, college entrance exams, high school transcripts, a personal essay and letters of recommendation. Check with the admissions department at your school to find out exactly what is required.
When Should You Start?
The best time to start your application is the summer before your senior year of high school. This will give you plenty of time to meet the fall early application deadlines. It will also mean you have enough time to have your guidance counselor or a trusted teacher look your application over once the school year starts up again in September.
How Should You Apply?
Each school has its own application requirements, so carefully check the admission website for every school you’re considering. Not all schools will accept either of the two primary standardized applications – in fact, most don’t.
The Common Application is the most popular standardized application. It is accepted by almost 700 colleges around the United States. Every year, almost a million applicants use the Common Application to apply to college.
The Coalition Application is accepted by almost 100 colleges and universities in the U.S. The application gives you a private space where you can collect and organize all of your application information before submitting it.
Even if the college you are applying for accepts one of these applications, you should still be sure to check if there are any additional documents that you need to submit directly to the university’s admissions office. You will also still need to pay individual application fees for every college and university that you apply for.
Of course, every college also allows you to apply directly through them.
Submit Your High School Transcript
Your transcript is a record of all the classes you took in high school, along with the grades earned in those courses. Work with your high school’s guidance or college counselor to have your transcript sent to your colleges.
It can take a few weeks for your request to process, so don’t wait until the last minute to submit your request.
Send in Your Standardized Test Scores
You are first given the option of providing those schools when you register for the test. Later, you can log into your online account and request that your test scores be submitted to additional colleges.
Ask for Letters of Recommendation
Most applications will ask for one or more letters of recommendation. These should come from teachers, high school advisors, and your guidance counselor. It’s best to pick someone with whom you have a close relationship and has gotten to know you as a person as well as a student.
Give people plenty of time to write the letter. If your application is due in November, make sure you ask for the letters in June or July. Let them know what it is the letter should address, for instance, your accomplishments, positive personality traits, and your grades if applicable.
Write Your Essay
All college applications will ask for either a personal statement or an essay on a specific topic. This is where you show your personality. This is where you stand out from all the other applicants and where you go beyond your transcripts and test scores, so think very carefully about what topic you want to write about and what skills and accomplishments you want to highlight.
Brainstorm with people, look up some ideas for past essays that people have written, but be yourself. It is also very important to have your English teacher or trusted adults read over your letter for you. They can help to make sure you don’t send in an essay with spelling or grammar issues that you may have missed.
Prepare an Extracurricular Résumé
Some colleges may ask for a résumé. Even if they don’t, it’s good to include a summary of the activities that you take part in outside of school. If you play sports, participate in community service, have a part-time job, or take classes outside of school hours, these should all be included in your application.
If you are an artist, you should put together a portfolio of your work if it is applicable to the college you are applying to. If you are a writer or poet, include a sample of your work. This is also a good place to list your extracurricular accomplishments like MVP for your track team or awards for dance competitions.
A résumé will give the college a better idea of how you will perform in a stressful college environment and displays your ability to manage your time well.
Applying for college is a long and sometimes arduous process, but once it’s all completed and the acceptance letters come rolling in, you’ll be glad you took the time and put in the hard work to get to your dream school.