If you’re a high school student curious about how to apply for college, this guide is for you. While some high school students think they have plenty of time, the process requires a ton of research, documentation, and writing. The more you know about things like the Common App, college application deadlines, and scholarships for college students, the better.
Some universities are highly competitive schools and accept only a small portion of applicants, and knowing how to apply for college is half the battle. By educating yourself on the process, you can give yourself ample time to put together your application materials and improve your chances of getting accepted.
College Application Requirements
The college application process does not vary much from school to school. Most schools require that you take some tests, write a personal statement or a personal essay, upload an updated resume, and submit an online application. Common requirements are a high school transcript, a minimum GPA, SAT or ACT scores, and letters of recommendation.
Common College Admission Requirements
- Fill out an online application with your personal information.
- Submit your official high school transcripts and any college transcripts from other higher education coursework you completed.
- Submit ACT or SAT scores, or complete a placement test.
- Submit a college essay, letters of recommendation, and an updated resume.
- Pay the college application fee or an application fee waiver.
- Apply for financial aid options.
- Await a decision from the undergraduate admission team or admissions officer.
College Application Deadlines: When to Apply for College
Most colleges and universities have strict application deadlines, which vary from school to school. Usually, applications for Fall enrollment are due sometime during the late Fall or early Winter of the previous year. Applications for Spring and Summer enrollment are due at different times. Some schools have rolling admissions, meaning you can apply throughout the year.
How to Apply for College
While the college admission process varies, the entire college application journey usually consists of the same basic steps. These include applying, paying an application fee, and providing transcripts. For specifics on how to apply to the college of your choice, you should check the requirements on the school’s website.
Complete an Online Application
Some schools have their own applications, but over 900 schools in the United States use the Common App. Regardless of your college choice and application options, you can find the application form on the school’s website. Remember that the application process at some schools is highly competitive, so you should have at least one backup school to apply to.
Submit Your Official Transcripts
Almost all schools require prospective students to submit their high school transcripts. Some require electronic submission of unofficial transcripts, and others require official transcripts to be printed and mailed to a specific address. Either way, each school’s admissions office clearly lays out the expected procedure on the application itself.
Submit Standardized Test Scores or Complete Placement Tests
Many schools require that you submit your standardized test score for the ACT or SAT. Some schools have minimum score requirements, while some schools don’t require ACT or SAT scores at all. In other cases, schools require prospective students to take a placement test that determines their readiness for the program.
Submit Your Personal Essay
An admissions essay is usually required when applying. How long the personal statement should be depends on the school, but they are typically between 200 and 500 words. The topic of the essay involves detailing your academic goals and discussing why you want to attend the school and program you are applying to. Make sure to answer the prompt and stick to the word count.
Pay the College Application Fee
Many schools have application fees that must be paid at the end of the application process. There are often college application fee waivers for those unable to pay, and a few schools do not charge an application fee at all. As always, college websites are the place to go for information on college admission applications and their fees.
Apply for Financial Aid
Most schools are eligible for funds awarded to students through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process. Filling out a FAFSA form gives you access to federal funds, including scholarships and grants, that help to cover the cost of your college education. Many schools also provide their own scholarships and grants through their financial aid offices.
Finally, some private organizations offer scholarships and grants. Private scholarships and grants are harder to find and have stricter eligibility requirements, but good options are available to anyone with enough patience to do the research. Regardless of your financial situation, you should do everything within your power to secure funding for your college degree program.
Submit Proof of English Proficiency (lnternational Students Only)
If you are an international student and a non-native English speaker, you will need to prove your English proficiency to apply for college in the United States. Examples are the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the Test of English Proficiency (TEP). Check each school’s website to see which ones they accept.
Await a Decision on Your Application
Once you have followed all the school’s application steps and submitted your application, the waiting game begins. An admissions decision usually comes by email, so make sure the email address you provide on your application is one that you check often. If you grow tired of waiting, you can always email the admissions department to request an application status update.
Tips on How to Apply for College
If your college plans include getting your bachelor’s degree, there’s really no way to avoid the application process. Below are some tips that address the topic of how to apply for college in a bit more detail.
How to Write a Personal Statement
The personal statement is your chance to tell the admissions officers why you are a good fit for the school. To write a good statement of purpose, succinctly describe your academic interests and connect them to your relevant academic accomplishments and extracurricular activities. In your conclusion, explain how attending the school will help you achieve your professional goals.
What Is a Good SAT Score?
According to College Board, the average SAT score in 2021 was 1060. What constitutes a good SAT score is subjective, and it really depends on your academic and career goals. Anything over 1300 will put you in the top ten percent of all test takers. Anything over 1200 will make you a competitive applicant for all but the most prestigious universities in the country.
What Is a Good ACT Score?
The current average ACT score in 2022 is 20.6, meaning a composite ACT score of 21 or higher is above average. Many schools list the ACT score ranges of their accepted students, so it may be a good idea to check those out and see whether you need to improve your ACT test scores by studying more effectively.
What Makes a Good Letter of Recommendation?
A good letter of recommendation speaks to your best personal qualities and most impressive academic achievements. It addresses your strengths, personality, and areas of interest. You want your recommendation letter to give detailed examples of how you engage with peers and faculty, how you perform when challenged, and how you have worked to achieve your goals.
Admissions officers generally want to understand who you are, what makes you tick, and whether you can make the grade once you’re in college. A solid recommendation letter from a trusted teacher, boss, or mentor helps determine your value to the school.
What Is the Common App?
Common App is a non-profit organization committed to improving and simplifying the college application process for as many universities and applicants as possible. It has helped to create better standards and more clarity for hundreds of colleges and universities around the globe.
Common App’s greatest legacy is its contributions to diversity. By removing systemic barriers to higher education and using data to support its members, it helps to make the dream of a college education a reality for students everywhere. Without Common App’s financial aid and college counseling resources, thousands of potential applicants would be left out of the process.
Important Components of the Common App
- Creating a Common App account
- Exploring member colleges and applying to the ones on your list of schools
- Accessing a free counselor, and enlisting parents, teachers, and other supporters in the recommendation process
- Keeping track of the unique academic requirements for each of the schools on your list
- Planning your essays and answering the Common App prompts
- Submitting each of your applications through Common App’s online portal
What Schools Use the Common App?
More than 900 academic institutions use Common App’s resources. There are member schools located in 20 countries worldwide and all 50 US states. Any student who wishes to study in one of these locations or at one of these schools can use Common App to apply.
Schools That Use the Common App
|Schools That Use the Common App||Fall Application Deadline||Main Campus Location|
|Arizona State University||January 15||Tempe, AZ|
|Boston University||January 4||Boston, MA|
|Carnegie Mellon University||January 3||Pittsburgh, PA|
|Drexel University||January 15||Philadelphia, PA|
|Eastern Michigan University||Rolling admissions||Ypsilanti, MI,|
|Florida State University||December 1||Tallahassee, FL|
|Georgia State University||April 1||Atlanta, GA|
|Harvard University||January 1||Cambridge, MA|
|Indiana State University||June 1||Terre Haute, IN|
|Johns Hopkins University||January 3||Baltimore, MD|
Are There Any Schools That Don’t Use the Common App?
Yes, there are many schools that don’t use the Common App. In general, religious and military schools do not use the Common App. These academic institutions prefer to use their own college application platforms. Berea College, Georgetown University, James Madison University, and the University of California are examples of schools that do not use the Common App.
The Best Scholarships for College Students
The easiest way to apply for scholarships for college students is by filling out the FAFSA form, which issues grants, scholarships, loans, and other types of aid mostly on the basis of need. The options available to you beyond FAFSA will depend on your school and academic program. Make sure to do your research.
Academic institutions usually have their own scholarships, which are awarded on the basis of specific eligibility and application requirements. For example, some schools offer scholarships for first-generation college students. An example of this type of scholarship is the Coca-Cola First Generation Scholarship, whose recipients receive $20,000 to pay for their education.
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There are also school-based scholarships designed for international students, students of color, women, military veterans, and residents of a particular area. If you can’t find anything on the school website that you’re eligible to apply for, there are third-party websites and other online resources that help college students find scholarships and grants.
How to Apply for College Scholarships
Fill Out the FAFSA Form
Most universities and colleges accept FAFSA, which is a federal program that dispenses financial aid to students in need, including scholarships. You should submit a new application every year you are in school because your eligibility for certain types of funds may change.
Check Eligibility Requirements and Deadlines for Other Scholarships
After you’ve completed your FAFSA form, you should check the school and other organizations for scholarship opportunities. Each scholarship comes with its own eligibility requirements and deadlines, so pay close attention. If you miss the deadline or come to find out that you were ineligible, it would be a huge waste of time and effort.
Assemble Relevant Documents
Various documents are required for most scholarship applications, including letters of recommendation, transcripts, and proof of eligibility. Letters of recommendation can be time-consuming to procure, so make sure you request them well before the deadline.
Write Strong Scholarship Essays
Writing a strong essay for each of your scholarship applications is critical. Make sure to adhere to the word counts and to keep each essay on topic. It’s also a good idea to get a teacher, parent, or classmate to proofread them and provide you with feedback before you submit them.
Submit Your Applications
Once you have gathered the required materials for each of your applications, you may submit them all. Your applications will be evaluated by scholarship committees, and they will notify you as soon as they have made a decision.
When Is It Too Late to Apply for College?
It is too late to apply for college when you have missed the application deadline. Even if you do miss a deadline, however, you can always apply next year. If a school has rolling admissions, which means it accepts applications throughout the year, it is never too late to apply.
How to Apply for College FAQ
Yes, you can apply for college anytime if the school you’re applying to has rolling admissions. Rolling admissions means you can apply anytime. While many community colleges and small public schools have rolling admissions, most big four-year institutions have strict deadlines.
The easiest way to apply for college is through official school websites. In many cases, you can apply for multiple colleges at once through application platforms like Common App. In the age of the Internet, application processes tend to be simple and streamlined.
It can take anywhere from a couple of days to several months to apply for college. The process is different for everyone. It depends on the time it takes to assemble the required documents. Letters of recommendation and college essays are usually the most time-consuming elements of a college application, so you should get started on these as soon as possible.
No, you are not guaranteed acceptance if you apply for college. Most universities have strict admission criteria and only accept a small percentage of applicants. Even if you are applying to a college with open admissions, there are minimum eligibility requirements that you have to meet before you can enroll.
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