How to Apply to College

Have you been told you should get moving on your college application, but don’t know exactly how to apply to college? If so, this post is for you!

The exact application process can be a little different for each school. (For some reason, colleges haven’t been able to agree on a standard process.) But there are some aspects of the college application process that most colleges share.

The Application Form

The cornerstone of the college application is the application form. These days, the application form is online—you could even fill it out on your phone! Be prepared to provide information such as:

  • Personal contact information
  • Parental or legal guardian contact information
  • Information from your high school transcript
  • Standardized test scores (e.g. ACT or SAT)
  • Your academic interests
  • Extracurricular activities (both inside and outside of school)

Don’t worry if you can’t fill everything out at once. You can always save your application and come back later if you run out of time or don’t have all the information you need.

The Common App

If you plan to apply to several colleges, check to see if they accept the Common App (at some schools, it’s the only application form accepted). The Common App lets you fill out a college application once and send it to multiple colleges; plus, it’s free. Pretty sweet!

Tip: The Common App website has a handy Requirements Tracker worksheet to help you keep track of the different requirements at the schools you’re applying to.

Once you submit your application, you can check its status online.

High School Transcript

Most colleges will require your high school transcript. Ask your guidance counselor to send this directly to the colleges where you’re applying. Colleges do not have time to wait for your final high school transcript to make a decision, so they’ll likely review a transcript of your academic progress through junior year.

Note: If you were homeschooled and do not have a diploma from a high school, check with the admissions office about this requirement. You may need to submit a homeschool transcript listing the courses you’ve taken and/or GED test results.

Test Scores

Before applying to a school, ask the admissions office which standardized test it requires. You can look at the college’s average composite test scores, usually posted on the school’s website, to get an idea about how competitive you’ll be for admission.

You can indicate which colleges you want to receive your test scores when you take the test. If you change your mind later, you can ask the testing company to send a copy directly to the college (unless the scores are already on your transcript).

The (Dreaded) Essay

Many schools require an essay to get to know you better—and make sure you can express your thoughts coherently on paper. Other things the admissions committee is looking for are your preferences and values and what you’ll bring to the campus.

Why do you want to go to college—and why to this specific college? These are questions to consider before sitting down to write your college essay.

The essay is particularly important if your grades and test scores alone won’t make you a solid candidate for a given college. Be yourself and write from your heart (while still using proper grammar!). It’s also a great idea to make sure someone gives you feedback before you submit it.

Recommendation Letter

Colleges refer to this letter in different ways, for example, “Admissions Recommendation,” “Educator’s Reference,” and “Teacher Report.” This is an opportunity for your favorite teachers to gush about you to the admissions committee. Make sure to pick your teacher (or teachers) carefully. Ideally, you did really well in this person’s class or you got to know this teacher through extracurricular activities.

Application Fee

More and more colleges are waiving the application fee, especially if you apply online. This is worth looking into, particularly if you’re applying to a lot of schools. Those application fees can add up! The good news is that many great schools have dropped the application fee, so you can save the money for books when you arrive on campus!

Reminder: Every college has slightly different requirements, so be sure to visit specific admissions websites to get the scoop. Good luck!

Young woman using laptop to find out how to apply to college.

{ Return to Inside College Admissions for more posts. }

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