Questions about College
-- Tips for Applying
How many colleges should a student apply to?
- Check with the school counselor. The
recommendation will vary by student and the colleges
selected, but 4 to 8 applications is a common range.
- The student should try to include a "stretch" school
(one that might be difficult to be admitted to) and a
"safety" school (one that might be easier to be admitted
- Each application usually requires a fee (about $25 to
- If a student qualified for an ACT or SAT fee waiver,
application fees may be waived.
- If your family has some means to pay for college, then
it might be advisable to apply to a few more colleges to
compare financial aid packages--consult the school
How is the application submitted?
Most colleges have an online application process but also
allow mail applications. Always proofread!
Typos can be hard to see on a computer screen, so students
should try printing and proofreading a hard copy before
submitting the application online. It's a good idea to cut
and paste the application essays from a word processing program.
Follow all directions carefully. Type the
application if you can. Students should make and keep a
copy of every application they submit.
When are admissions applications due?
- Applications often have more than one part, with the
first due around November 1. Early options (see "Tips
for Applying") may require earlier submission. Dates
vary by college.
- Applying early may improve chances for admission or
- Waiting until the last minute with online applications
can be a problem because if too many people submit
applications at once, the web server may be jammed.
- Even if a two- or four-year college has "rolling
admissions" (no specific deadlines), students should not
wait to apply because slots for the first-year classes or
for particular academic programs can fill up.
What's the Common Application?
Over 200 private (or "independent") colleges accept the same
application, the Common Application (see
www.commonapplication.org). Colleges, however, often
require a supplement of their own. Historically Black
Institutions (HBI or HBCU for "historically Black colleges and
universities") also share an application, which is available at
What about the starting at a community college and
transferring to a four-year college or university later?
Standardized Tests (ACT, SAT)
- Many community college students transfer to four-year
colleges. For some students, a community college is a
cost-effective way of starting college.
- Prospective transfer students must often complete
certain courses before they can transfer into a particular
college. Community college transfer counselors can
assist students in selecting courses that are transferable
to the colleges they want to attend.
- There are usually limits on how many credits will
transfer into a college. Courses for a major may not
transfer at all or the number of credits in the major may be
- Some colleges prefer on test or the other; check
- Both the ACT and SAT are offered several
times a year.
- SAT Subject Tests evaluate subject-specific
knowledge. Some colleges require these.
- Register early for standardized tests to avoid late
- Students from low-income families may qualify for a
fee waiver for standardized tests. Check with a
school counselor and the ACT and SAT websites for details.
- Standardized test results will be sent to up to four
colleges for no additional fee.
- ACT tests are administered by ACT, Inc., a nonprofit
organization. Information about its tests and about
career and college planning can be found at
- The College Board, also a nonprofit organization,
administers the SAT tests and provides information about its
tests and college planning at
Writing the Application Essay(s)
Many four-year colleges and universities have applications
that require one or more essays. The essay makes an
important impression about the student's thinking, personality
and work ethic. Here are a few pointers for students:
- Don't panic about these--but don't leave them to the
- Follow the directions, and try to discuss something you
care and understand.
- Students must write and edit their own essays, but they
can discuss them with people who have read them.
- The best essays are the product of careful thinking and
careful revising. They are honest.
- Be specific. Avoid generalities. Essays
should demonstrate students' values and character through
examples, explanation, and tone.
- If comfortable, students can be creative or be
funny--but not sarcastic.
- Read the essay aloud to make sure it sounds clear.
- Check spelling and grammar. (Watch out:
grammar-checking software is not foolproof, and
spell-checkers won't catch errors like "their" or "there.")
What if a student is absolutely certain about where to
There are some "early" options for students who are certain
of their first-choice college: early decision, early
action, and single-choice early action. Not all colleges
offer these options, and colleges handle early options
differently, so students should ask college admissions officers
and a school counselor about these options before any
applications are submitted. If a student is not
accepted for an early option, it's unlikely the student will be
accepted under regular admission unless something in the
- Early decision allows students to apply early and
find out their admissions decision early in exchange for a
promise to attend that college if accepted and offered
enough financial aid. Although students can usually
apply to only one college early decision, they can still
apply to other colleges for regular admission. Early
decision is binding, so it is not a good option for a
student with any doubts about the first-choice college.
- Early action is similar to early decision but may
allow students more time to reply.
- Single-choice early action forbids application to