Applying to College

You can do this!  As you get started, remember that most colleges accept most students –the average acceptance rate for US colleges is 65.8%. There is no perfect school but there are many places where you can be successful.

Finalizing Your College Application List
You should apply to a set of no more than 9 schools that you really want to attend.  Make sure the colleges are a fit for you. 

Know what’s important to you – is it a special major? A location? The size of the school? A particular activity?  Narrow your list based on what colleges fit you best.

Consider cost – Many private schools cost less than their list price. Some out of state public schools offer reciprocity or special scholarships. Read the websites and ask your parents to use the colleges’ Net Price Calculators to help get a realistic idea of what a college might cost you.

Understand your likelihood of admission – Parchment has a tool that will use your grades and test scores to give you a red, yellow, or green indicator of your admissions chances.

Include no more than 3 stretch schools – go to Parchment for an idea of which schools are stretch schools for you (yellow or red).  Limiting the number of stretch schools will ensure that you have plenty of good options in the spring. 

Get Organized
There is a lot to do and you want to get it all done on time.

Create a spreadsheet with application deadlines and requirements.  All of this can be found on the admissions website for each college. Note which application the college uses.  If you have more than one college on your list that uses the Common App or Coalition App, that could save you time. Track the completion and submission of each item.

Create a calendar with targeted dates for completion of each application that are a week or two ahead of the college deadline so you have time if something goes wrong.

Essay list - make a master list of all application essays you’ll need to write. Sometimes a single essay can be used multiple times and that’s easier to determine if you see the essay questions listed together. Not all schools require an essay.

Activity and Awards list or Resume – compile all your activities and awards from both in and out of school onto a single document.  It will be very helpful as you complete applications.

Athletes – If you are considering Division I or Division II athletic scholarships, register with the NCAA

Get Started!
It’s ideal if students can finalize their list and get organized in mid-summer and begin the application process in August.  Most college applications are available by August 1.

Applications – Once you’ve determined which applications each of your colleges use, create an account and start by completing the basic information portions of the application. 

Common Application –

Coalition Application -

College specific applications – found on the colleges’ admissions websites

Essays – Not every college requires an essay.  Some require 3 or 4. This can be intimidating!  Remember that colleges want to get to know you, the real you. More about essays below.

Transcript Request Online Form  PLEASE NOTE: College transcripts take at least 3 (working) days to be processed and teacher recommendations take up to 3 weeks so please ask your teachers early.

Letters of Recommendation allow colleges to learn more about you from your teachers and counselor.  If you need a letter, it can take up to three weeks, so plan ahead and complete the required information form. 

Types of College Application Deadlines
Each college offers a different set of deadlines. Always check admissions websites for the most accurate information and detailed requirements for the deadlines. 

Rolling Admission schools review applications as they’re submitted and make decisions throughout the admission cycle (usually within four to six weeks of submission of the application).

Early Action means that you send your application by an early deadline (often November 1) and the college sends you its decision earlier, sometimes before the end of December.  Some colleges do have additional restrictions on their early action programs, though, so make sure to read carefully the instructions from each college.

Early Decision deadlines require you to commit to attending the college if you are admitted.  So, students who choose this option should be certain that the school is their first choice.  It’s an appealing option because sometimes the admission rates are higher with Early Decision. 

Regular Decision means that you turn in your application by the college’s deadline, and they let you know by a specified date.

Priority Deadline is an option that some schools offer. It’s often connected to scholarship or honors program opportunities.  Colleges may offer another deadline option along with the priority deadline or they may not. 

More about the essay
The college essay is a source of a lot of stress for seniors.  It’s important to note that not all colleges require essays.  Essays give the admissions officers more information about who you are as a person.  Often colleges that practice holistic admissions will require one or more essays. Some essay tips:

Be you!  The college admissions officers want to get to know you.  You want to go to a college that fits for you.  Relax and be you.  

Tell a real story (it doesn’t have to be exciting!) about you that conveys something about your core qualities, talents, values or skills.  The most ordinary stories can make the best essays!

Break the rules! This isn’t the time for a perfect 5 paragraph essay or a rigid adherence to beginning, middle and end.  Start in the middle!  Admit you don’t know how it ends!  Break. The. Rules.

Show them your strength and determination.  Life is challenging in big and small ways.  College can be tough.  Don’t be afraid to talk about a time when things didn’t go well, but you persevered.  That makes for a great college essay. 

Read some good personal essays, not necessarily just college essays.  Don’t copy their themes or ideas, but get a feeling for the genre.  These essays sound a bit different than other things you may have read.  Reading a few good ones can help you find your voice.

Some great college essay resources: