At this point you should have a list of eight to twelve colleges that you love. You should know why you love them and what about them makes you really want to go there. They should fit you to a ‘T’. If you know all this, you will be able to write a great application for each of them.
Your final list
Make sure there are at least two schools on your list that almost always admit students like you. Most of your list should be made up of schools where you will probably be admitted. These are schools where your GPA, test scores and other attributes match closely with those of the students admitted in the last few years. Finally, include a couple schools that might seem beyond your reach on paper, but that are very good fits for you. Make sure that you meet the criteria for admission at all the schools on your list. Also make sure that your list contains at least one college that will likely admit you and that you can afford to attend even if you don’t get any financial aid.
Review application requirements
Each college will have its own set of components making up its application. Some require essays; some require tests; some require you to fill out supplemental applications; some require portfolios of work or auditions; some require teacher recommendations; some require interviews; some require that you declare a major, some don’t; some require that you mail portions of the application through the post office; some accept a post mark as proof of meeting the deadline, but others require that the application arrive in the admissions office by the deadline. Each school is different. Make sure you understand all the requirements and that you’ve given yourself plenty of time to complete them.
You may find it helpful to create a chart to keep yourself organized. These two sites have sample worksheets that you can use as starting points. Adapt them to fit your needs.
Complete applications carefully
No matter what the details of the applications, fill them out carefully and accurately. Check your spelling and grammar. Have someone else proofread it for you. Tell the truth. Find a place in the application to explain anything that might seem questionable in your school record. Make copies of everything you send.
The College Information page on the Counseling Department’s website has information and links for applying to colleges. You should also check the website of each college to which you will apply to verify information on application details and deadlines. Make a chart of these details and a calendar outlining the deadlines for each college. Don’t wait until the last minute to apply. The web servers hosting the UC system applications, for example, often crash during the last days before their deadline. Don’t add that extra stress to your life!
View this pre-recorded webinar for a step-by-step guide to the University of California Application. It was created by the Admissions department of UC Santa Barbara, but pertains to all campuses. Find the link in the “Freshman” section of the website or on the left-hand side of the page in the list of webinars titled "Learn About UCSB!". There is also a webinar on writing the UC Personal Statement.
The authors of the book College Admission From Application to Acceptance, Step By Step have provided a detailed guide to filling out the Common Application on their website. While it is a couple years old, it still provides useful information and explanations. You can download it here:
The Common Application recently updated its website. The Common Application Applicant Solutions Center section of the website has many resources to help you with your application. A good place to start could be the Training Resources area which has links to videos explaining how to fill out the application. The Knowledge Base has answers to many common questions, and you can submit questions or set up a chat session. You can find the Common Application Applicant Solutions Center here:
Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz, author of adMission Possible, wrote this article on the 2015-2016 Common Application. It includes an overview of what has changed and offers some tips.
Wazzup! 12+ Things You Should Know About the New Common Application 2015-16
The college guidebooks and many of the larger college admissions websites have advice on writing essays, applying early action or early decision, asking for recommendation letters and other topics. Here are a few links with information we found helpful about some of these topics:
This article from Money magazine has good advice on writing a successful application.
How To Get Your (Or Your Kid’s) College Application to the Top of the Pile
The Counseling Department offers this advice for writing essays.
NACAC also has good tips for essays:
View this pre-recorded webinar for a detailed guide to writing the University of California Personal Statement. It was created by the Admissions department of UC Santa Barbara, but pertains to all campuses. Find the link in the “Freshman” section of the website or on the left-hand side of the page in the list of webinars titled "Learn About UCSB!". There is also a webinar on the UC Application.
Here is a great page of advice for writing the University of California Personal Statement:
The author of adMission Possible, Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz, offers these essay writing suggestions:
6 Terrific Pieces of Advice for Writing College Application Essays
7 Steps to Writing a Captivating, One-of-a-Kind College Application Essay
Lynn O'Shaughnessy, author of The College Solution, has this tip:
The VICCI Center sometimes hosts an essay-writing workshop. Check our calendar. We also have handouts with tips.
Letters of Recommendation
The Counseling Department provides a Fact Sheet for College and Scholarship Recommendation Letters that you can fill out and give to the people you've asked to write recommendations for you. You can pick it up in the VICCI Center or download it here. Note that your counselor will have his or her own fact sheet for you to complete as well.
College Board offers this information to help you decide:
If you do decide to apply early, here is a calendar from College Board to keep you on track:
The Federal Student Aid site also has a discussion of the early application decision about halfway down the page.
Lynn O'Shaughnessy suggests that net price calculators can help you decide whether or not to apply early.
What Matters to Colleges
NACAC outlines the factors that matter most to colleges:
A graphic representation of the information is available here:
Paying attention to small details
These blog posts from the website of the book College Admission point out some very important things to consider:
Many colleges will offer you the opportunity to participate in an interview with an admissions staff member or with a graduate of the school. Interviews can be held on the college campus or closer to home. They are rarely required, but they can be a good chance for you to show the real person behind your application. Learn more about interviews here:
Making your college decision
By the end of March, you will find out which colleges have offered you a place in their upcoming freshman class. If you applied for financial aid, you will also find out what financial aid package each school is offering you. Now the choice is yours. This article offers strategies for helping you decide:
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