More people than ever are applying to college, which means you need to work hard to make sure your application stands out. Make it rise to the top of the pile by becoming familiar with the college application process and learn how to make your final decision when the acceptance letters start coming in.
The key to surviving the college application process is getting organized and staying organized. A lot of moving parts go into applying to college – tests, essays, recommendation letters, transcripts – and each element has a deadline attached. Make careful note of deadlines for each school you’re applying to and don’t miss them!
There are a ton of schools out there, but applying to too many colleges is a common mistake. Submitting your application to between five and eight colleges is suggested. Of that list, you should be sure to include a variety of dream schools, safety schools and possible schools. Dream schools are colleges you know will be a challenge to get into. Safety schools are colleges you know are a sure thing. Possible schools are the colleges you have a good chance of getting into. Applying to colleges in each of these categories will increase the chance that you get accepted into at least one, or ideally more than one, giving you the ability to choose.
Early Decision and Early Action are both options that allow you to apply to a college early and receive the admissions department’s decision in advance of traditional applicants. Many colleges now offer early-admission programs because they present significant advantages to both the applicants and the school. One important benefit for applicants is increased consideration since colleges tend to admit a higher percentage of early applicants than they do normal applicants. Some other benefits for applicants include advanced peace of mind if accepted and more time to plan for the move to the college location. Colleges enjoy the benefit of enrolling students who really want to go to their school and meeting enrollment goals early.
While there are obvious benefits to early-admission programs, there are also some restrictions. Early Decision, for example, is a binding early-admission program. If you submit Early Decision to a college and they accept, you must attend that college. You will also not be able to apply for more financial aid after this point. Early Action, on the other hand, is not binding. You can submit Early Action to a college, get accepted and have until the following spring to decide whether or not you want to attend.
For just about every college application you submit, you’ll be required to pay an application fee. It’s important to keep this in mind going into the college application process as it may affect the number of colleges you want to apply to. Most college application fees range from $35 to $70 and are nonrefundable. One way to avoid application fees is to apply online: the fee is often smaller or nonexistent. Students from low-income families may also request application-fee waivers, which are available through most college admissions offices.
Writing a good college essay is a critical part of the application process. The essay can often be a distinguishing factor for an applicant, so you want it to be well-written. But before you get nervous, consider the most important element of a college essay: it’s about you. Even if a topic is already chosen for you, a college essay is really just a way for admissions advisors to get to know you more intimately, hear your perspective and relate to you on a personal level. This is one area you know a lot about, so just remember to infuse as much of "you" as possible into your essay and follow the tips on our College Essay Checklist.
A college interview is an opportunity for you to make a personal impression on an admissions officer, and – when handled correctly – for you to increase your chances of acceptance into a college. Most colleges don’t require an interview; however, the advantage of having that face-to-face interaction with an admissions officer can prove invaluable come application review time. It’s a way for you to differentiate yourself from others and show your personality in a way that you can’t on a piece of paper. The secret to doing well during your college interview is a little practice and preparation. Follow the step-by-step College Interview Checklist to find out more.
After all the hard work that goes into the application process, finally receiving your admission notifications can be exciting. Most colleges start notifying students in early spring, either by email, or traditional letter, or both. Upon receiving your notifications, you only have a few weeks to decide which school you will attend, since most colleges set May 1 as the deadline for committing to a school.
The difficulty of your final decision depends on how many schools you got into and whether you got accepted to your dream school, possible schools or safety schools. If you have been accepted by ALL of the colleges you applied to, ironically, your decision could be more difficult. To help, review the research you did on each school and your priorities. By re-evaluating what’s most important to you, you will find the right fit. If you have been accepted to only some of the colleges you applied to, your decision will actually be a bit easier. Use the same criteria to find the school best suited for you.
If you have not been accepted to any of the schools you applied to, don’t lose hope! You still have options. Though colleges rarely reverse an admission decision, you can try calling the admissions department to see what their policy is on an appeal. Appeals are usually only considered when you can prove there was information missing, overlooked or that something was entered incorrectly on your application materials – such as your guidance counselor submitting the wrong grades. Another option is applying to a two-year community or junior college. Such schools typically have fewer admission requirements, often have rolling admissions (applications are accepted for a longer period of time), are less expensive and can help get you into a four-year school in the future by way of a transfer. Or lastly, if you’re willing to wait a little bit, you could try to improve your application by retaking the ACT/SAT for a higher score and then reapply next semester. Taking the PSATs early helps you improve your score. Just make sure to check the schools’ reapplication rules.