The college application process encompasses your entire high school career. You’ve crafted the perfect transcript, achieved the standardized test score you want, committed passionately to your extracurricular activities, researched schools, and identified your best-fit colleges.
It’s time to show off all that work on an all-star application. Here’s what you need to know to get started on your college apps and stay organized:
You will most likely complete your college apps online, either through the Common Application or on a school’s website.
The Common App makes it easy to apply to multiple schools with just one form, but each college will have different requirements for essays and test scores. Read the application instructions for the colleges of your choice carefully.
You will be asked to list basic information about yourself, your school, and your family, as well as your GPA, standardized test scores, extracurricular, and any awards you earned in high school. Some schools may ask you to submit a high school resume.
If you start to fill out an application and realize you need more information from your school or parents, you will be able to save an in-progress application and return to it before submitting.
Usually $30–$60 for U.S. applicants and higher for international applicants.
Many schools offer fee waivers for applying online, by a certain date, or a student’s circumstances.
High School Transcript
You will need to request official transcripts from your high school for each college where you’re applying.
Some colleges require that transcripts be mailed directly from the high school.
Some colleges require you to collect your transcript in a sealed envelope and submit it with any other paper application materials.
Remember that the administrators and counselors at your high school are helping all the other seniors in your class at the same time, so be polite–and patient.
Senior year grades still count!
SAT or ACT Score Report
When you take the SAT, ACT, and SAT Subject Tests, you can request that a score report be sent directly to your prospective colleges. You can also decide later whether colleges see one, some, or all of your scores.
Schedule your test with enough time first to receive your scores (2–8 weeks for the ACT, about 3 weeks for the SAT) and then to request reports for the colleges on your list. Both ACT and the College Board offer rush or priority report options, for a fee.
Confirm the test policy at every college on your list. A school may consider:
all test scores from all dates;
your highest overall score from a single test date;
your super score, in which case you’ll submit all your scores and the admissions committee will consider only the highest score on each section; or
test scores may be completely optional.
Letters of Recommendation
Most colleges require two or three letters of recommendation from high school teachers or school counselors.
Pick someone who knows you well and can speak to your strengths.
Some schools may ask for one recommendation to be from someone who can speak to your character over your academic work, like an employer or family friend.
Request your recommendations—politely—about two months prior to the application deadline
Give your recommenders all of the information they need to complete the recommendation, whether it’s a website with login information or stamped envelopes with hard copy forms. Don’t forget to say thank you!
Your college essay will probably be the most time-consuming part of your application—start early.
Use your essay as an opportunity to tell admissions counselors what makes you unique and what you can bring to a given campus community.
The essay prompt will be provided in the application along with length guidelines (usually 300 to 500 words).
Ask a teacher or guidance counselor for feedback on your drafts.
Revise, proofread, and repeat!
Be aware that applying for admission and applying for financial aid are two separate processes.
Complete and submit your FAFSA as soon after January 1 as possible.
Check every school’s financial aid policies—some will require additional forms like the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE®.
Research student loan options thoroughly before borrowing.
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