All recommendations are based on over a decade of experience in college preparation and application assistance. Each section should be addressed by students in the order presented. Parents may consider hiring a college application professional to assist their children in completing all elements included in this article to improve chances for admission and reduce stress.
- Work with your guidance counselor throughout your high school experience to ensure that you enroll in courses that fulfill your graduation requirements and align with your interests.
- Enroll in Advanced Placement courses in subject areas that you are interested and successful in, as the completion of each course and passing its accompanying test will lead to college credit.
- Take standardized tests in your junior year. The SAT and the ACT are the most commonly accepted examinations.
It is important to keep in mind that colleges and universities typically weigh standardized tests as heavily as your grade point average, that is, your academic achievement throughout your entire high school experience. Therefore you must prepare for these tests and perform to the best of your ability on them. There are resources to help you do well such as classes in school, classes offered by private companies, individual tutors, and written and computer bases study guides. You should also consider taking SAT Subject Tests for classes that you enjoy and are successful in. Once testing is completed, it is time to start thinking about what type of college or university you are interested in attending.
- Begin to research colleges and universities no later than the summer preceding your senior year. Take into account factors that are important to you such as academics, location, size, qualifications, diversity, athletics, and cost.
- Choose approximately 6-10 colleges to apply to. Choose colleges and universities that have GPA and standardized test score requirements that match your ability closely, those that are more challenging, as well as those that you meet all requirements for.
- If you are interested in a specific major, ensure that it is offered by all colleges you are applying to. Visit as many prospective colleges and universities that you can.
After you complete your college application list, you need to get organized. Use a system that works for you; it should be formatted well and easy to check daily. A simple computer-based database is a good choice. You need a record of submission deadlines for all material required by each college on your list and a timeline to complete each element. Transferring important dates to your paper or electronic planner makes tracking your progress easier and lessens the chance of missing important deadlines. We all have different organizational styles; ensuring that your college information is in an easy-to-use format is essential. Common elements of applications include transcripts, standardized test scores, personal statements, and recommendations.
- Arrange to have your transcript and test scores sent to each college or university you apply to if required. In some states, public colleges and universities use the honor system and will allow you to type your grades and scores into their online applications.
- Request recommendations from teachers/counselors/employees at least one month in advance if required by any schools you are applying to. Several colleges require their own paper forms be filled out, signed, and sent. Provide these forms upon making the request. Request them from people who you are confident will recommend you most favorably.
- For colleges that require a personal statement, submit exactly that. Your statement should have enough personal information to give an admissions committee a perspective of who you really are and who you want to be in the future. Have it proofread by at least two individuals. College counselors and English teachers are good choices.
- Send or submit applications only after you are sure that you do not have any errors in spelling, punctuation, or grammar. They must be 100% complete, including all required elements. Some schools send requests for additional information when needed; others will automatically dismiss incomplete applications.
It is time to think about how to pay for your education. The good news is that there are many federal, state, and private sources of financial aid. You may be eligible for grants that are based on financial need and do not need to be repaid. You may also be eligible work-study, which is a specified amount of money per semester that you can earn by working on campus. Loans are monies that will need to be repaid in the future. There are also scholarships available to students that may require research, applications, and/or essays. They do not need to be repaid.
- Fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) regardless of your financial situation and in as timely a manner as possible. You can file your FAFSA starting on January 1st each year. Awards are first come, first served. Although the federal deadline is at the end of June, you must check your state for individual deadlines. For example, in California the FAFSA for applicants planning to enter college in the fall of 2012 must be received by March 2, 2012. This date is subject to change yearly by each state.
- Some colleges and universities also require that you submit a form called the CSS Profile and/or other college specific financial aid forms.
- Research, locate, and complete applications for college scholarships you are eligible for.
Once you receive your acceptance [and/or rejection] letters, you are ready to choose the college or university that you will attend. Ensure that you utilize all assistance available to you. It is important to speak with your parents and/or other significant people in your life in addition to reaching out to your guidance counselor. As aforementioned, many families choose to employ a college application professional to guide them through the entire process. A student with assistance from the right person will likely be admitted to more colleges and experience less stress. Whether you have professional assistance or not, I hope that the above guidelines result in admission to the college or university that is the best for you. Good luck!