Which college you attend can have a huge impact on your entire adult life, so choosing the right college is one of the most important decisions you’ll make in high school. After conducting an extensive college search and narrowing your choices to your top few schools, the college application process begins. With so much riding on whether you get in, applying for college is stressful. Understanding college applications and the admissions process can help you feel more confident and be sure that you are putting your best foot forward as you begin the journey toward a successful career.
After you’ve settled on your dream school or schools and a few good backup plans, you’ll likely find you still have a lot to keep track of, including admission requirements, application materials, and the items you’ve received from each college. Create a system to organize digital or paper copies of each item, as well as a list of each college’s deadlines, requirements, and unique features that are relevant to your application.
Your fall semester of your senior year is when applications are typically due, and deadlines vary from school to school but tend to come at you quickly. Learn what’s required early and make sure you’re able to make all requests for supplemental items like transcripts and letters of recommendation well in advance of when they’re needed. Also, if you are applying for scholarships from the schools you plan to attend, you may also need to submit scholarship applications around the same time as your application for admission.
Most schools will have a paper or electronic application you need to complete, which may involve one or more essays and possibly letters of recommendation or other supporting materials. In addition, virtually every school will require high school transcripts and official score reports from standardized tests.
Many state university systems will have one application in common with all of their campuses, and many private colleges also use the Common Application, a universal college application (with some schools requiring supplemental materials) that can save you the effort of filling out the same basic information for multiple schools. Other universities, though, have to be different, and may have a completely separate application process to complete. In some cases, this may also involve an on-campus interview or a lengthy and particularly difficult application essay.
Keeping track of deadlines and required materials is an obvious decision, but keeping other items on hand also makes sense. Viewbooks, literature you received on campus tours, correspondence with admission counselors, and information on the academic programs in which you’re interested have likely been slowly accumulating throughout your search process. In the event that you get into more than one school to which you’ve applied, you probably want to keep this stuff around, so sorting it and storing it all in one easily accessible place is a good idea.
On top of that, it can also be incredibly useful in crafting your college application and giving it those custom touches that show you’re really interested in attending this college. Perhaps you were impressed by a particular program offered at one school, or maybe you and an admissions counselor had a long conversation about your interest in a particular extracurricular activity. Remembering these details and referencing them in your application essays or college interviews them can help you stick out from the crowd.
You can game the system all you want, but in the end, you’ll be best served by choosing a college based on fit, rather than on prestige. A college that suits you will maximize your prospects for success, both in school and beyond. A school that’s uncomfortably far from (or close to) home, a school that doesn’t offer your chosen major or only offers a mediocre program in it, a school that is well outside your price range even after financial aid, or a school where you just feel out of place and unhappy may not be the best choice for you, regardless of how happy your parents are that you’ve chosen it. So when you’re applying, don’t be afraid to let the college know who you are and what you’ll bring to the table. If they’re the kind of school you want and you’ve made it clear you actually are the kind of student they want, you can view the application process as a means of introduction, rather than a test of strength. This might be the best strategy of all for applying.
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