Let’s be real.
The college admissions process can be an overwhelming process for most students. After all, it can be highly competitive. Plus, the college you choose to attend has a tremendous impact on your future.
Luckily, with the right know-how, you can master the college admissions process and gain acceptance into a school that checks off all your boxes.
Let’s take an in-depth look at the college admissions process and what it means for you.
Planning for College
For most, planning for college starts in high school. Most students in their junior or senior years have begun to start thinking about college, even if they aren’t sure where to start.
It’s a good rule of thumb to assume that everything you do in your high school career will have some impact on your admission into college. Let’s dive into the most important aspects of your high school resume:
Grades and Test Scores
Your grades and test scores, including SAT scores, tell your story to college admissions officers. In fact, these metrics are some of the simplest ways that you’ll be compared to your peers applying to the same colleges. That’s why it’s essential that you focus your time and energy on making sure these scores are as high as possible.
Standardized tests such as SAT subject tests and state-required benchmark assessments are essential to your college acceptance. The standardized test scores on your high school transcript can make or break a college application, so spending plenty of time studying and preparing for these tests is essential.
An easy way to make your college application stand out is by participating in extracurricular activities. Showing interest and dedication toward a targeted subject shows colleges that you’re tenacious in pursuing your passion.
- Athletic participation
- Leadership experiences
- Internships or part-time work
- Volunteer experiences
Earn College Credit
You might be surprised to learn that you don’t have to wait until you’re accepted into college to start earning college credit. Taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses in high school and passing them helps you secure the college credits you’ll need to eventually earn a degree in your desired field.
In order to score the college credits on your high school transcript for AP classes, you’ll need to earn passing AP test scores that demonstrate your understanding of the subject matter.
Finding the Right College For You
Before you can start sending college applications, you’ll need to pick the right college for you. This is a very important part of the college admissions process.
College-bound students must consider whether they’d like to attend a university or a community college and which schools offer the best programs related to their desired career field.
There are many ways you can narrow down your search:
Attend College Fairs
Attending college fairs is a great way to get some exposure to your options in an easy and efficient way. Colleges send school representatives to college fairs to help educate high school students, typically in their junior and senior year, on what they can expect while attending the applicable college.
Visit College Campuses
Once you have narrowed your search to a few target schools, consider taking a tour of each particular school. When you visit campuses, you’ll have the opportunity to learn more about the culture at each school you’re interested in.
If you plan to live in a dorm, you’ll also be able to take a look at where your new home will be.
Most schools have private tours that can be scheduled so that you can see it all.
Talk to Your Guidance Counselor
Whether you’re having trouble choosing the right school for you or you need some pressing questions answered, your guidance counselor can help. Guidance counselors are responsible for helping you make the right decisions that will positively impact your future.
Remember to use all of the resources at your disposal to ensure your college application process is as pleasant as possible.
Select Target Schools and Safety Schools
It’s almost time to start applying for colleges! But first, it’s a good idea to designate which schools you feel are the best fit for you. The colleges on your “target schools” list are considered your first choices.
However, it’s always a good idea to be prepared for the worst. Designated “safety schools” are colleges that you apply to just in case you don’t gain acceptance into your first-choice schools. You’ll want to apply to those as well.
The College Application Process
Applying to college is an exciting step in the career of high school seniors. There’s no doubt that the application process can be daunting, but there are a few things you can do to make it more digestible.
Gather Application Forms
First, gather all the application forms from your desired target schools and safety schools. Then, carefully review the requirements of each. For example, you’ll likely need a copy of your official high school transcript for each application. Many schools also require other documentation, which will be indicated within the application.
Some schools require an application fee. You’ll want to account for these costs when deciding which schools to apply to.
Collect Letters of Recommendation
An easy way to help your application stand out is by including letters of recommendation from your high school teachers and counselors. Make sure to request these from teachers who can attest to your positive academic abilities.
You’ll want to do this as early in the process as possible.
Apply to Multiple Schools
It’s never a good idea to only apply to one college. Remember: most colleges comb through thousands of applications per year. That means even if you have a stunning application, you could still get denied. Applying to multiple schools gives you a better chance of getting accepted.
Securing Financial Aid
You might be wondering how you’ll pay for college tuition, books, food, and other things you’ll need for your college career. If you don’t have a college savings account or expected family contribution to rely on, securing financial aid is a good solution.
Understanding Financial Aid Packages
Understanding what financial aid packages are out there is essential if you’re considering using them. For example, many types of federal student aid packages are available to low-income students. Some, called grants, don’t even need to be paid back.
However, it’s vital to read the fine print before signing anything to make sure you understand what your responsibilities are under the contract.
Applying for Financial Aid
Applying for financial aid is easier than you think. Your school counselor is always available, as well, to help answer any of your questions or concerns along the way. You’ll need to gather your personal financial information as well as the income details for your parents or guardian. This information helps financial aid providers determine what you’ll ultimately be eligible for.
The final part of the college application process is acceptance. Once you receive admission to a certain university, you’ll want to look at your package and review any financial aid offers. If you decide this is the school for you, you’ll decline other offers, give final acceptance, and prepare for freshman orientation.
Depending on the type of application you submit, the admissions process can take anywhere from weeks to months. Taking advantage of opportunities such as early decision school options is a great way to cut down on this timeline.
It’s a good idea to start the college application process the summer before your senior year. This ensures you’ll have plenty of time to gather the required documents and to provide thoughtful responses to the requirements of the application.
Aside from submitting a formal application, many colleges have additional requirements, such as submitting letters of recommendation or writing an essay that can help them determine whether you’d be a good fit for their school. Some colleges even require an interview process before sending out acceptance letters.
While there are no hard and fast rules for how many colleges you should apply to, a safe number usually falls somewhere between five to eight college applications. For most prospective students, applying to this many colleges is adequate to secure a letter of acceptance to one or more universities or community colleges.
Bryce Welker is an active speaker, blogger, and regular contributor to Forbes, Inc.com, and Business.com where he shares his knowledge to help others boost their careers. Bryce is the founder of more than 20 test prep websites that help students and professionals pass their certification exams.