Let’s not even discuss how nerve-wracking college applications can be. Every student dreads the day they must prepare documents, write letters, and choose colleges to apply to. However, things don’t have to be as complicated as you make them.
First, every student naturally has a bunch of questions to ask. And we mean a lot! How can you choose your college, and when should you apply? What does an application even look like? These are a few of the many questions this article aims to address.
This ultimate FAQ guide will answer most of your prominent college application questions.
What is the College Application Process Like?
It’s often a misconception that the college application process simply involves a form to fill out. While you’re usually required to fill out some basic questions, there are numerous other documents you must prepare.
Those often include your personal essay, letters of recommendation, entrance exam scores, transcript, and maybe even an interview. Remember that while this is the essential list of items, various colleges ask for different requirements. Hence, either check the website or contact the college directly to find the documents required for submission.
Moreover, you often have two forms of applying. The first is doing so online, and the other involves sending your documents by mail. However, remember that even if you’re filling out an online application, your university often asks for the official forms once you are admitted.
If a student is struggling with finance or aiming to establish financial freedom, consider applying for scholarships or financial aid. Financial aid often involves filling out more applications and forms. These will be evaluated, and then you will receive your reply.
Consider the following scenario: you receive an email from your dream college, and you start having high hopes of getting accepted. Such emails are often personalized, but sometimes they’re done for pure support and advertising reasons. Hence, getting an email from a college is not always something to be ecstatic about.
Check the following resource to further understand what it means if a college emails you.
College Application Process Checklist
A much simpler way of ensuring you, as a high school student, are on track is following a college application process checklist. The tasks you should commit to and complete vary according to your year. Hence, follow the below checklist as a guideline:
- Explore your options. That includes participating in events, clubs, and community service. Learn some art and maybe even robotics to figure out what you’re potentially curious about.
- Find help. Ask people who graduated from your high school what majors they chose. This allows you to evaluate their career paths and whether you want to follow in their footsteps.
- Relieve stress. High school is when you get down to the nitty-gritty of your academic life. This is the stepping stone into your future, so start establishing habits that relieve stress.
- Go through some colleges you might be considering in the future. Check out their websites, alumni, and faculties.
- Speak and debate. Learn how to challenge others and speak up for yourself. Active listening is a skill you must learn, but public speaking is yet another one you must establish.
- The average college student establishes only 6-6.9 hours of sleep per night. However, if you’re someone who enjoys their downtime, then consider making it a habit before heading off to college.
- Create lists.When you’re off to college, you’ll often be overwhelmed with the extracurricular activities and a load of your academic life. Find the balance by creating reasonable lists.
- Plan your test and prep.Whether it’s the SAT or the ACT, establish if you require them and when you expect to sit for them.
- Mark a calendar. This year will be quite the eventful one. Whether you’re planning your study schedule or SAT exam time, keeping track of everything in one calendar will keep things straight.
- College list compilation. At this point, you might already have enough grades to establish where you might want to apply. Schedule a meeting with your advisor or counselor, and discuss your options.
- Connect with colleges. Whether you visit the campus or participate in webinars, aim to connect with the colleges on the list.
- Ask for recommendations. You’re about to apply for college, so recommendation letters should be on top of your list. Reach out to teachers you might have connected with, as they often know you better.
- Draft your essay.Reflect upon your past few years. Experiences, lessons, weaknesses, and strengths can all come in handy when drafting your first personal essay.
- Keep grinding. Colleges often accept their students based on their senior year grades. Hence, if you struggle during the fall semester, aim to focus on your weaknesses and enhance them for the following.
- Keep track of deadlines. There are multiple college application deadlines. They will all be discussed in detail in the below subsections.
- Start applying.Once you have polished off your personal essay, fill out your application. Make sure your personal essay is slightly unique to each college, as the same piece won’t apply everywhere.
- Follow up.Ensure the college has all your documents. Moreover, if you received any late documents or grades, ensure that the college gets them as soon as possible.
When Should I Start Applying for College?
There are no specific time requirements for college. However, most students start finalizing their papers and applications during the fall semester of their senior year. While that’s a great time to complete everything, we recommend you get a head start on the process during the summer before senior year.
However, keep in mind that the deadlines will vary, and colleges often offer multiple options for students to choose from. Those deadlines will be discussed below.
However, let’s focus on the ideal time to start applying. Below is a brief summary of what to expect throughout your high school last year and what each part entails.
Summer (Before Senior Year)
- Start touring campuses or joining online events and webinars. This allows you to create a list of potential colleges you want to attend.
- Starting ahead of everyone allows you to set up the initial steps on various applications. For instance, The Common Appis a website that will enable students to explore the requirements of multiple colleges. While it often opens around August 1st, you can always set up your profile and fundamentals beforehand.
- Starting during the summer before your senior year enables you to prepare for what’s to come. That includes the potential interview, exam prep, and required documents.
Fall (Senior Year)
- Ask for recommendation letters now if you haven’t received them yet.
- Start reflecting on ideas regarding your financial ability when heading to college. You might qualify for state, institutional, federal, or other types of financial aid. Most schools have some sort of a priority deadline. So get ahead of everyone, as many are based on a first-come-first-serve basis.
- In the fall semester, you’ll often stumble upon two deadlines. The first is the early decision, and the second is early action. Both often require you to submit your complete application between October and November.
- Polish off that personal letter. Before the last semester of your senior year hits, the fall semester is the freest you might be that year. Hence, ensure you’re done with your letter to put your mind to ease.
If you’re struggling with your writing samples, we have the ultimate paper on how to write a letter to a college admissions office.
Winter (Senior Year)
- More often than not, you’ve already missed the first round of early decision and action once the winter semester rolls around. However, many schools offer a second round of these deadlines.
- Regular decision deadlines are often found to be in January. However, it will always vary according to the school. Check your dates, as it could be as early as December and as late as February.
Spring (Senior Year)
- Regular decision applicants will hear about their results around this time of the year. If a regular decision was your choice, then now is the most important step: choosing your college.
- If you’re struggling with making the decision, reach out to an advisor. Moreover, get in contact with the admission or the student board from the colleges for further inquiries and questions.
Important College Application Deadline
When considering a college application deadline, remember that there are often various options. It’s not limited to one deadline. These include regular decision (RD), early decision (ED), and early action (EA). Some also offer an option known as rolling admission (RA). The first three often have a deadline you must abide by, while rolling admission is more flexible.
Below, find out each decision and how to know if it’s the right fit for you. For instance, early action often restricts the choices of universities or colleges you can apply to. On the other hand, an early decision is considered a binding agreement that you enroll if you get admitted.
Forget your relaxing winter break if you’re considering the regular decision option. The deadline is often January 1st, while some colleges push it till January 15th. However, while this is a general guideline, multiple schools have changed their policies and deadlines. Some are much earlier, while others are later on in the year.
Most students opt for the RD option, as it’s the easiest one. Moreover, it doesn’t put much stress on you during your junior year. Instead, you can start preparing your papers and documents at the beginning of your senior year.
For RD, you will most likely get your results back around March or April. Moreover, there are no restrictions or limitations to the number of schools you can apply to with RD. Hence, send your application to as many colleges as possible.
Instead of waiting until January, early action (EA) offers you the chance to apply early during your senior year. That often spans the dates between November 1st to the 15th of the same month. The advantage of doing so is receiving a response as early as mid-December, avoiding the hassle of being in the same pool with most other students!
Check out the extensive list of colleges that offer early action through the following source.
Another advantage is that instead of simply getting accepted or rejected, you might have the option of being deferred. That’s when the school pushes your application into the regular admission pool. Hence, you’ll still have a standing chance to get accepted there.
Some of the top schools in the US, including MIT and Harvard, have a restriction on your EA application. It’s known as restrictive/single choice early action. These colleges do not allow you to apply anywhere else using EA. Hence, you would have to decide to choose only one.
Many students choose to apply early, but the competition has never been higher. More and more students are getting anxious. So, we have prepared an individual piece that answers all your EA questions to find out when early action results come out.
As the name suggests, using the early decision route requires you to make up your mind early on in the process. Hence, you must settle on one specific university that allows EA, and getting accepted, there is a binding agreement. That entails the need to withdraw applications to other schools if you get accepted into the EA college. Moreover, you’re obliged to attend that place.
Some drawbacks of EA include the inability to determine whether you’re getting financial aid. Moreover, making such a significant decision in the first semester of your senior year can be pretty taxing. However, it’s almost a dream come true for students who are determined to attend a specific college.
A critical college application deadline is the rolling admission. While a limited number of colleges offer this route, it often encourages students to apply whenever possible. The entrances are evaluated and considered on a rolling basis. Moreover, it’s usually open for applications for a few months, sometimes starting as early as September.
However, even if you choose to apply to an RA school, set yourself a deadline. Sending in your application early still ensures that you’re enthusiastic and looking forward to being part of that community.
How to Stand Out in My College Application?
We have our own special college admission tips for first-year students that can be reviewed through the following source. However, for a brief yet informative summary of how you can stand out, read through our top 5 tips listed below.
Choose Your Standardized Test
The two most common standardized examinations are the SAT and the ACT. While both are usually part of multiple college applications, remember that each tests its students on distinct skill sets.
For instance, the SAT is tailored toward students focused more on quantitative values, reasonings, and evidence. On the other hand, ACT focuses on language arts and excelling in them.
Choose your test wisely, and sit for the examination as early as possible. This allows you to retake the exam to increase your score if necessary.
While everyone loves sports, being part of a school team doesn’t make much of an impact. However, if you’ve won tournaments, received awareness, or even participated in leagues, it’s definitely worth mentioning.
Moreover, aim bigger. Instead of learning various small skills, hone your skills on one specific activity and strive to master it. That could include starting your own blog, small business, or even raising money for a cause.
Let’s assume you mentioned a skydiving license in your application. While that’s quite an impressive achievement, you might be asked about activities like that. Hence, if you write stuff simply to impress the admission officer, you’re almost guaranteed to get in trouble or be denied later.
While you might be excited to share every single detail of your life, avoid over-exposing yourself. Writing a wrong paragraph often bores the reader.
Social Media Statistics
While this might come as a surprise, a study by Inside Higher Ed shows that approximately 36% of admission officers check their candidates’ social media accounts. While that might be scary, such insight often is a window into someone’s personality and way of life.
Do Colleges Care About My Test Scores?
A standard college application FAQ is whether colleges care about test scores. One set answer to the question doesn’t exist, as the evaluation process varies entirely from institute to institute.
For instance, some top universities, such as Ivy Leagues, will definitely have a specific focus on your grades. They aim to accept the top of the top, which means your grades will be a definitive reflection of your academic life.
However, something that is often consistent across all boards is that officers look at the GPA consistency over the years. That allows them to evaluate whether you’ve been working on increasing your grades or plateaued somewhere along the line.
On the other hand, some college admissions have more of a holistic approach. Instead of simply reading you through your scores, they consider it a more minor part of a bigger picture. The picture includes all the various activities, your personality, dedication, personal letter, and passion.
What Should I Major In?
One of the most challenging steps any student must take is settling on a specific major in college. You might be a person who has a wide variety of interests and finds it difficult to simply choose one. On the other hand, you might find yourself zoning out of all those traditional career paths. Hence, what should you do?
There is no specific answer, as not everyone can study the same topics. However, below is a list that will guide you through the process of choosing the ideal major for yourself:
- Gain experience through high school. While we do not recommend trying out 100 skills and learning all of them, we do recommend immersing yourself in various occasions. Whether you’re interning, working, or volunteering, those experiences have a way of shaping you and helping you settle on a major.
- Don’t choose a major for its credentials. Families often push their kids to become lawyers, doctors, or engineers. While they’re all respectable careers, students should never choose their path simply for the name earned or out of pressure.
- Do not follow your passion.This is often a controversial opinion, as many parents support their kids by encouraging them to find and follow their passions. However, there is a vast difference between purpose and passion. Passion is susceptible to change. However, the purpose is when you find out what you want to do and accomplish for the rest of your life.
These are simply pointers towards helping you settle on one specific major.
So, we’ve written tons of guides to help you navigate the college experience and figure out which major or minor is right for you. Check them out below:
- Best Business Majors for the Future
- Best Majors that Don’t Require Math
- Fun College Majors that Pay Well
- Most Useless College Majors
- What are the Most Difficult Engineering Majors?
- What is the Most Stressful College Major?
- Can You Double Major?
- How Many Majors Can You Have?
- How Many Minors Can You Have?
What Scholarships are Available for Me?
There are various methods by which a student can earn a scholarship. These include:
- Merit-based: exceeding expectations and minimums set by the college.
- Financial aid: financial aid caters to those who struggle financially and require some financial support.
- Women scholarships: there are scholarships worldwide catered toward women. These encourage women around the world to pursue their academic lives.
- Military families: as the name suggests, you might find a scholarship based on whether you come from a military family or not.
However, many students wonder if you decide to defer for the year or take a break, will your scholarship still apply? For an answer, we recommend you read through our guide on how to write a letter of continued interest.
Now, let’s discuss how you can find available scholarships. There are multiple free online resources, including:
- Federal State Aid S. Department of Education
- References and suggestions from your school advisor
- Ethnicity-based organizations
- Religious, civic, and business groups
- Contacting the financial aid officers at your target college
College Interview Preparation: 5 Tips
There is no limit on the number of interview preparation tips we can provide you. However, we aim to establish our top 9 tips in the following list:
1. Pay attention to your outfit: you don’t want to misrepresent yourself in front of your interviewer. Hence, know what to wear to a college interview through the following source.
2. Prepare questions to ask:while it’s not mandatory, asking your own questions increases the chances of acceptance. Make your questions enjoyable, as that will make you stand out.
3. Prepare for common questions:specific questions are repeated throughout almost every college interview. Those include questions about a failure you faced, extracurriculars, personality, contributions, and why you want to attend this specific college.
4. Aim for a conversation, not an interrogation: stop focusing on the clock, as that will give you the impression that the time is passing by at a prolonged rate. Instead, try to have an informal talk with your interviewer.
5. Bring all your documents: you might need a notebook, pen, notes, questions, resume, grades, exams, or even directions.
Find the complete list of what to bring to a college interview to be more than amply prepared.
7 College Application Mistakes to Avoid
While you might be intensely focused on providing every detail of your academic career, you might have accidentally made an error. Hence, go through the below list that works as a guide of mistakes to avoid in college applications.
Accidentally letting slip that piece of paper or a copy of your passport might be why you get rejected.
Not Paying the Application Fee
Usually, you can only submit your application after paying the application fee. However, many still ask you to pay after you submit the application. Please keep an eye on small details like that.
As soon as you miss the deadline, you’re out of the pool unless you had an emergency the college was aware of.
Submitting Close to Deadline
Sure, you haven’t missed the deadline, but many colleges start rounds of review early on during the application process. Hence, by the time you apply, you might’ve simply missed any available spots!
Using Cliches and Generic Answers
“It’s always been my dream” or “I’ve wanted this since I was a little kid” is often overused in every piece of academic writing. Avoid using such phrases. It makes it supremely impersonal, even if it’s true.
Even though it’s not technically an academic essay, missing some punctuation marks or making spelling mistakes often has negative connotations.
Do you think your extracurriculars aren’t relevant? Well, think again. Not mentioning such activities will often be much more harmful to your application result.
Wrapping Things Up: Key Takeaways from College Application FAQ Guide
Submitting a college application might be one of the most dreaded tasks as a high school student. However, staying authentic and genuine to yourself allows you to be honest, trustworthy, and colorful. Don’t try to fake who you are. Instead, find inspirational experiences and points in your life from which you can draw some ideas.