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General Resource : Resources for Colleges >> 2. College Application Advice

  • How to Apply to College -- 11 Steps Tips
  • Submitted by Bill on 2010-01-02
  • How to Apply to College

    Applying to college can be an extremely stressful process, but planning ahead of time and doing your research makes things much easier.

    Step 1:
    Understand that there is a college for every student who wants to go. The USA has 4000 degree-granting institutions. Almost all of them accept the majority of applicants, only a small number of elite schools accept less than half the people who apply. Hundreds of colleges accept almost everyone who applies. So, you are definitely getting into college if you want to go.

    Step 2:
    On the other hand, top schools like Harvard, Stanford, Duke, UChicago, etc receive many thousands of applications from top students for their Freshman classes. It is important to have a realistic view of what your credentials are and what those schools require. Try to match your own grades and special abilities with the standards for the school you want to attend.

    Step 3:
    Visit some colleges. There is a big difference between different schools - some are huge with 30,000 or more students, and some have only a few hundred students. Do you want a city campus or a country campus? North or South? A particular religious group? Go there and look. If you have a friend, or another kid from your high school who goes there, get them to show you around.

    Step 4:
    Successfully complete high school or an academic equivalent (such as a GED). People who move on to higher education have many different educational backgrounds. Among community college students in the United States, 43% are age 21 or younger, 42% are ages 22-39 and 16% are 40 or older. Your age should not be a negative factor in applying to college.

    Step 5:
    Take the SAT or ACT test because about 85% of colleges require one or the other for first-year students. Nearly all schools will take either one, but a few schools will only accept one or the other, so check the school website to see if they are picky or not.

    Step 6:
    Use college and scholarship search sites such as Fastweb.com to your advantage. Look at colleges that have features that interest you, such as ideal major, class size, location, and the like. Check out their websites, since many of them have application information. It is also worth checking out books about scholarships at your public and school libraries.

    Step 7:
    If you contact the schools that you are interested in by signing in on their admissions website, they will probably send you a pile of information about the school. Most schools now have information online. You should do this as early as possible if you are still in high school, because some colleges have unusual apply-by dates or a list of required high school classes.

    Step 8:
    By the time you are a Junior in HS you should be narrowing down the list of schools you want to apply to. It would be a really good idea to visit some schools during your Junior year. Decide what college(s) you want to apply to based on the information they sent you. By October of your Senior year you should know who you are applying to and what they want in terms of references, test scores, etc. Do not leave this decision until several days before the due date for forms and paperwork. A lot of information may need to be obtained, including references for some colleges. It is also important to be certain about your choice and not just apply "for the heck of it" or because everyone else is going to that college. It needs to suit you and what you want.

    Step 9:
    Visit a few colleges and spend a few days there if you can. Try to talk to students in various grade levels and ask them for their perspective of the school. Oftentimes, a college will give a visiting student a fee waiver. These can save you $50 or more, plus visiting beforehand can help you decide whether or not you even want to bother applying.

    Step 10:
    Apply if the college is right but don't bother applying if it is not.
    This sounds simplistic but it is an important consideration. Your choice will effect you for many years down the track. If you feel like a square peg pushing yourself into a round hole, you must evaluate the importance of doing this against the possibility of going to somewhere else that may not be so prestigious or handy but offers you exactly what you want. 

    • You may have been asked to submit letters of recommendation along with your application. Never forget to thank the people who were willing to write those for you! Without their contribution, your application might not have been accepted. Give them plenty of time to write the letters and keep track of whether they have actually sent them out. You should be thinking well in advance about which teachers you want to write recommendations. And, it isn't a bad idea to do a little extra schmoozing with those teachers to be sure they know you and have something nice to say about you.
    • Middle tier schools and top tier schools usually require you to write essays. They expect these essays to be impeccable, thoughtful and creative. Be sure you are unique in expressing yourself, but avoid eccentricism that would be detrimental. There is a lot of advice online about how to write these, so look around and see what other students have done.
    • If the college that interests you requires certain subject qualifications, it is helpful to know this well ahead of time before you attempt to apply with a different set of subject requirements.
    • Also consider issues related to residency, expenses, quality of final qualifications, scholarship/bursary availability and your own eligibility etc.

    Step 11:
    Most of the more respected schools require applications to be completed by January of your HS Senior year. By around April 1st they will tell you whether you are admitted, then you will have to decide by May 1st if you will go there. For many middle level schools or less selective schools, you can apply at any time and they will tell you in a few weeks whether you are accepted. There are many schools (but not the famous ones) which have empty seats in their Freshman class right up to the start of school in September. So, if you don't get accepted in April, then you can still work on applications and find a school that will take you right up to the start of the Fall term.

    Source: wikiHow

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