How Do I Apply For College?

Everyone talks about applying to college, but few people who have not already been through the process really understand everything involved in application and acceptance to your chosen school. Here are some tips that you can use to make your college application process easy and trouble-free.

Before You Apply

Whether you are a high school student or have been out of school for some years, you should begin getting ready to apply to college well in advance of filling out the actual forms. First, you need to collect certain pieces of information and keep them handy in a ring binder or file folder so that you can refer to them often. You should also narrow the number of choices of colleges to a manageable list; not only will you save time and effort, but money as well. Remember, each application usually has a non-refundable fee.

Many experts advise applying to no more than ten colleges at once; choosing schools from a wide range of entrance requirements and tuition costs so that you will have as many choices as possible when the time comes for you to pick the college you will attend.

When are College Applications Due?

This varies from school to school. Check your desired schools’ application deadlines carefully. You can usually find this information on the school’s admissions website but sometimes you may have to call the admissions office. Mark each date on a calendar so you do not miss any important deadlines. Most schools will require you to have all your materials in by March 1, but some schools have deadlines that are earlier or later than this date.

How to Start the College Application Process

Before you begin looking at specific schools, it’s important to gather certain common information that almost all colleges will require. These pieces of information often include:

Your High School Transcripts

You should get a working copy of your transcripts, even if you have not yet completed high school. However, most schools will want the school to send a certified copy directly to them; you can get this by calling your former high school or visiting the registrar’s office in person. If you have attended vocational school or a junior college, you should be prepared to get transcripts from these schools as well.

Standardized Test Scores

If you have taken the SAT or ACT, be sure to have those scores ready. If you have not taken them, apply for a testing date immediately by visiting for the SAT or for the ACT. Some schools will accept both test scores, but some schools specify one or the other, so be sure to check the admissions websites of your chosen colleges.

Contact Information for Family Members and Friends

Many schools will ask you to list contact information for references such as family members, friends, and former teachers. They may also ask you for recommendations from teachers or guidance counselors, so you should approach these people in advance to let them know that you may ask them for these references.

Your Most Recent Tax Return

You will need last year’s tax return or this year’s if you have already filed. This information will be important when you fill out the FAFSA or Free Application for Student Aid. You can find this form on the web at www.fafsa.ed/gov.

Once you have your preliminary information ready, it is time to apply to your chosen schools.

Filling out A College Application

Most college applications have similarities, although each is also unique. For example, almost every school wants a copy of your transcript, your standardized test scores, and your personal information. Many colleges also want essays on various subjects. You can often use the same basic essay for each college application, making changes as appropriate for that particular school.

Many colleges have an online application process but some may still require you to fill out and mail in a paper application. Be sure you read all the application information carefully to be sure that you send all the information necessary so that your application is not delayed.

You will have to forward your SAT or ACT scores to the school as well as submit an application fee. Some schools will waive the application fee if you show financial need. You can forward these scores when you sign up for the test or request that the organization forward your scores to the school of your choice.

Some schools have begun to use a format called the “Common App.” This application is accepted by a variety of schools and requires you to fill out only a single application and pay a single fee. You can find information on the Common App and the schools that accept it at

Applying for college is not hard but it does require organization, time and money. Start planning well before college application deadlines so you can maximize the odds of attending one of your preferred schools.

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