How to Apply for College

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Everything you need to know about college applications is right here.

Most colleges and universities have a fairly standard application process. Typically, you’ll take the required tests, write a personal statement, and then apply to the university. Keep an eye on your email in case a school needs more information from you while evaluating your application materials.

In the sections that follow, we’ll go over the college application process in greater depth. We’ll help you check all of the right boxes and increase your chances of getting into your dream school.

CollegeRanker is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Determine What You Want Professionally

Many prospective students believe that visiting a college campus is an excellent first step in the college application process. Your education and life experiences have taught you how to learn most effectively and where you will feel most at ease in a given situation. As you consider your educational options, you should draw on this knowledge.

Gas Tank Tour of Local Colleges

To begin, put your newfound knowledge to the test. Students in the ninth and tenth grades can learn more about college life by taking a “gas-tank tour” of nearby colleges. The majority of students in the United States live within a day’s drive of at least a few colleges, which are a good place to start your college search.

“Even if you haven’t decided on a major yet, you probably have a good idea of your interests and learning style, which is more than enough to get started on a thorough college search,” the author says.

Make an effort to visit a variety of educational establishments. Consider the distinctions between large and small colleges, schools that excel in specific subjects, and campuses in rural and urban areas. Keep a written record of your impressions of each campus and school’s personality. If you are unable to visit a potential school in person, you can look it up online: Virtual tours, campus photographs, curriculum listings, and testimonials from current and former students are frequently available.

You’ll get a better sense of what kind of college you want to attend as you research your options. You might even find that you prefer a different type of school than you expected; this is completely normal at this point. Finally, don’t be concerned if you don’t know exactly what you want right away. Your family, counselors, and advisors can help you narrow down your list of potential schools as you narrow it down to the best fit.

What Is A Good College?

When evaluating educational institutions, there are numerous factors to consider. The size, location, and culture of the campus are all important factors to consider. Knowing what you want to study can be useful as well, especially if you are extremely passionate about a particular subject. Most larger universities offer a diverse range of majors, but some smaller colleges may have a more limited selection, so keep this in mind when making your choice.

Affordability will be a critical factor in many students’ decisions. You should not rule out more expensive schools outright, especially if you have a strong academic record and the potential to receive a substantial financial aid package. Even so, if cost is your primary concern, you should probably limit your search to public schools in your state and states that have reciprocity agreements with your state.

The quality of instruction and overall student experience will also play a role in your final decision. Look for a school that has a reputation for excellence in its field and offers courses that interest you. What do graduates say about their experiences after they leave school? Do alumni recommend attending the institution? Are professors known for teaching or mentoring? These questions can give you insight into whether the school is worth pursuing further.

Finally, think about the environment you’d like to be part of. Would you enjoy living in the dorms? How would you like the city or town surrounding the school? Does the campus seem safe? Would you like the atmosphere?

What To Compare Between Colleges?

After visiting a few colleges, you should have a better idea of the type of school you’d like to attend. You can then broaden your college search to include campuses outside of your immediate vicinity. A college search tool can provide you with a wealth of information about colleges located throughout the United States of America. These suggestions may lead you to the website of the respective school, where you can take virtual tours of some schools.

Students interested in attending online colleges can also attend college fairs to learn more about the institutions of their choice. College fairs, which are usually held in the spring or fall, bring together dozens (sometimes hundreds) of colleges, allowing you to compare programs, visit campuses, and ask financial aid questions. Make sure to ask your school counselor for a list of upcoming college fairs in your area.

Visits to high schools by a college admissions officer to speak with students about their institution are one of the most effective ways to learn more about college options and admissions. These visits give you the opportunity to ask questions about important issues and speak with an admissions representative.

You should also research the different types of scholarships available at various schools. Scholarships are often awarded based on merit and need. Some scholarships require you to maintain certain grades while others award money based on test scores. For example, the Pell Grant Program awards grants to eligible undergraduate students regardless of family income.

In addition, investigate the costs associated with attendance at each school. Costs vary depending on the kind of education offered, including tuition, room and board, books, supplies and other fees. If possible, find out how much funding you’ll get from federal, state and private sources.

When researching schools, it’s important to remember that no two schools are alike. Each has unique characteristics that make them appealing to prospective students. 

How to Submit a College Application

As your junior year of high school draws to a close, you should finalize a list of colleges and universities to which you intend to apply. Depending on your circumstances, the number of schools to which you’ll want to apply will vary.

It’s always a good idea to have a backup plan when applying to colleges. However, if you are confident that you have the necessary grades and test scores, you may only need to submit one application. If you are only applying to highly competitive academic institutions, you may want to submit 8-10 applications rather than 10. Four or five schools is an adequate number for the majority of students. Even though your list will evolve over time, it’s a good idea to have a solid starting lineup by February of your sophomore year.

Get Your Application Materials Organized

When you’re getting ready to apply to these colleges in the fall of your senior year, double-check that you have all of the necessary application materials. Every college and university requires high school transcripts, which you can obtain from your high school’s records office. Other things to think about as you submit your application are listed below.

Take Your College Entrance Exam

Some schools have recently dropped the requirement that students take a college entrance exam, which is common at many institutions. The two most common college entrance exams are the ACT and the SAT, both of which are designed to assess what you learned in high school. Despite their similarities, there are some significant differences between them. Almost every college that requires test scores will accept results from either the ACT or the SAT, so you have a choice — you can even take both tests.

The ACT and SAT are typically taken during the second semester of a student’s junior year, allowing them to retake the tests in May, June, or later in the summer if necessary, before the start of their senior year. Many students enroll in test preparation classes or use free online resources to prepare for the ACT or SAT.

Some colleges may also require you to take SAT subject tests, which assess your knowledge of specific subjects you studied in high school. If you are required to take these by a college, it is best to do so at the end of your junior year.

Grades and test scores tell a college what you’ve learned, but nothing about your personal experiences and perspectives. Colleges frequently require students to submit letters of recommendation from their teachers, which provide a more comprehensive picture of the student’s character. These letters help the college get a better sense of your personality.

Get Letters of Recommendations

Most colleges require 1-2 letters of recommendation from teachers who worked with you in an academic subject in 11th or 12th grade in order to be considered for admission. Requesting letters of recommendation from teachers at the end of 11th grade gives them time to gather their thoughts over the summer months before submitting them. It is critical to select a teacher who is familiar with your work; if you are just another name on a list, they may struggle to paint an accurate picture of your work while you were in school.

You can also request letters of recommendation from other adults who know your character. For example, you could request a letter of support from a coach, a supervisor or manager at your workplace, a pastor, rabbi, or other religious leader at your church, or another adult mentor from outside the school system.

Write Your College Essays

In addition to receiving letters of recommendation from others, most colleges will want to hear from you. He or she is curious about your thoughts and interests, as well as your seminal experiences, points of view, challenges you’ve faced, and future goals.

The majority of students begin working on their essays during the summer between their junior and senior years. Keep in mind what colleges want to know about you as you prepare your essay, and work with an adult who can provide feedback and suggestions on your writing as you go. This may take some time, but the end result will be well worth it. Always have someone else proofread your essay before submitting it!

Meet With A College Advisor or Admissions Officer

In order to be considered for admission, some colleges will also require you to meet with an admissions officer or speak with them over the phone about your college plans. Because not all colleges require interviews, you should take advantage of any opportunities you have to speak with those that do.

In addition to your application, some colleges will accept a short video or a portfolio of your work. A video is an excellent way to integrate college into your life, whereas a portfolio allows you to show prospective employers examples of your professional, educational, and artistic achievements.

Get Organized To Apply For College

Make a list of the colleges you’d like to attend. What is its dimensions? What is the facility’s address? Aside from studying, what activities would you like to engage in during your free time on campus? What are the other students’ personalities like? Is it a short distance from your house? Which of these factors is most important to you, and why?

Use this information to conduct an online college search, and then learn more about a couple of colleges that piqued your interest by visiting their websites. What additional information about these institutions would you like to know? – What sources did you consult in order to gather this information?

Speak with your professors to learn more about college. What became of them? What was the purpose of their visit? What would they do differently if they could do it all over again?

When you visit a college or university campus, ask the same questions of a couple of students. What do their responses reveal about the path you should take in your college search?

And keep the following in mind at all times: You are the one who is most knowledgeable about your educational goals. What you imagine as your ideal school may differ from what your parents, teachers, or peers envision, which is perfectly fine.

When it comes to college applications, finding the right fit is critical.

The most important thing to remember is to make time in your calendar to complete all of your application requirements. Candidates should ideally submit their applications by the end of August, well before the start of their senior year. So you won’t have to worry about applying to colleges while also attempting to keep up with your schoolwork.

Alternatively, try to set aside 1-2 hours every weekend to work as much as possible on your college applications. You will be able to focus on your studies during the week while still completing your college applications on time on the weekends.

Frequently Asked College Admissions Questions

When should I start applying for college?

The best time to begin is the summer before your senior year. The majority of students complete the majority of their application work during the fall of their senior year.

What does it mean to apply to a college?

It means to ask for admission to colleges or universities by filling out and submitting applications.  

How do you apply online for college?

Students must follow the steps below to ensure a smooth flow of the online admission procedure. Begin the registration process by logging into the online admissions portal. Choose the program to which you wish to apply. Fill in the blanks with your name, educational background, and entrance exam information.

What month do you apply to college?

To meet regular decision deadlines, the majority of students apply to college in January or February of their senior year. They receive feedback in April and must select a college by the national response deadline of May 1.

What is a good score SAT?

While there is no “good” SAT score, it is best to aim for at least 1200. More importantly, aim for a SAT score that is within or above your school’s middle 50%.

What is the deadline for college applications ?

College deadlines are typically set between November and February. Early admission entails submitting your application earlier in your senior year. Regular decision-making allows you to devote more time to college essays and exams.

What do you do after applying to college?

Make a copy of your application. You should keep a record of your application ID and a summary of your application for future reference. You should update your application. Log in to your application to review and, if necessary, update your phone number, email address, mailing address, or various test scores. Await the decision.

How many colleges should I apply to?

The majority of students should apply to 12–15 colleges. Although there are no guarantees that you will be admitted to your desired school, you should have a general idea of your chances of admission to each school.