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Questions about College --  Steps for Applying

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Investing time to learn about colleges and to prepare a strong application can pay off in a happier, more successful college experience.  Along the way, never hesitate to ask questions of school counselors, financial aid officers, and admissions staff--they are all there to help you!

What are the requirements for college admission?
Colleges, even community colleges, have different admission requirements.  Check out the college websites, catalogs and applications for each college of interest.  School counselors may have additional information.

Before the application:

  • High school course requirements may vary by college and sometimes the intended major.
  • Most four-year colleges require students to take a standardized test such as the ACT or SAT.

For the application:

  • The application may have more than one part.
  • The application may require one or more essays.  (See "Tips for Applying.")
  • At least one letter of recommendation is usually required, often a school counselor letter.  Students might also have to submit a teacher's recommendation.  Recommendations should reflect a good knowledge of the student.  Students can make a list of their accomplishments, activities in and out of school, and goals to help school counselors remember them well.  Counselors often write well over a hundred letters.
  • A transcript.  This is the student's official record showing all high school courses and grades.  Students should review their transcripts before applying to college.  It may be necessary to request high school credits earned in middle school be added to the high school transcript.  Colleges require guidance offices to send a transcript as part of the college application.  High schools have their own procedures for transcript requests; students need to find out what they are--and allow at least two weeks to have a transcript mailed.
  • The school counselor may need to complete a form that indicates the applicant's class rank and high school grade point average.  Students need to make sure counselors receive all forms early so they can be completed before the deadlines.

Meeting the minimum requirements for admission does not guarantee admission.  Some colleges receive many more applications than the number of students they can admit.

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Here's a list of general steps to follow when applying to colleges

As your family goes through this process, if you receive conflicting advice or hear something that doesn't sound accurate, check the information with more than one source.

1.  Think about the reasons for selecting a college.

  • What career does your son or daughter want to pursue?  What colleges will pave the way?  Do people working in that field recommend any particular school?
  • What is there about a college education that your son or daughter most values?

2.  Start early.

  • Students should collect information about colleges and scholarships as soon as possible.  Libraries, the Internet, and school counselors have information.  Many applications and college catalogs are available free at college web sites.  Students can also call or write admissions offices to request applications, catalogs, or other information.
  • It helps to have applications on hand by early or mid-September.  Some deadlines are in November.  Applying early might also improve chances of admission or financial aid at some colleges.
  • Register early for standardized tests to avoid late fees.
  • Students should draft application essays weeks before they will sent.

3.  Get organized.

  • Organize college information
  • Have your son or daughter make a list of colleges of interest.
  • Keep a calendar with ACT, SAT, admission, financial aid, and scholarship deadlines.  Admission, FAFSA, and scholarship application deadlines vary by school.  Check out a calendar designed to help you organize your career and educational planning at

4.  Students should meet with a school counselor as soon as possible and:

  • Bring a list of extracurricular activities and accomplishments from in and out of school.
  • Discuss career goals, academic interests, and what colleges might be a good fit.
  • Discuss who besides the counselor might also write a letter of recommendation.
  • Review the various standardized tests that are required for the colleges of interest.
  • Give the counselor any forms the colleges require.

5.  Compare colleges.

  • Which colleges seem like the best "fit"?  (See "Choosing a College.")
  • Prepare questions to ask of college representatives if they visit the area.  See for a calendar of college fairs and preparation tips for the fairs.

6.  Visit colleges.

  • Try to visit all the colleges that your son or daughter may want to apply to.
  • Schedule college or alumni interviews, if they're available.  (See "Choosing a College.")

7.  Finalize the list of colleges.

  • Make sure to have all required application forms, including financial aid forms. These may have to be requested from the colleges separately from admissions material.

8.  Request recommendation letter(s) a MONTH before they are due.

9.  Comply with all application deadlines.

  • Applications may have two or more parts with different deadlines.  Students should keep copies of all applications and other forms they submit.
  • Admissions and financial aid applications often have different deadlines and forms.

10.  Apply for financial aid by the appropriate deadlines.

  • Obtain any necessary financial aid forms from the colleges applied to.
  • File the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by March 1st.  File a College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile if necessary.  (See "Paying for College.")
  • Financial aid application deadlines, including the FAFSA deadline, vary by college.

11.  In the spring, discuss college options with counselors & family and make a decision!

  • Admission decisions and financial aid offers arrive by mid-April.
  • If a student is put on a waiting list for admission, ask college staff and counselors any questions you have before making a final decision about the college choice

Tips for Applying


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