6 Practical Steps for Applying to Colleges

Applying to college can be quite intimidating and tedious. A college application is not a single document which students can complete online. Instead, the college application process is daunting requiring students to plan ahead and complete all steps outlined below within a certain stipulated deadline.

Step 1: Fill-out application forms;

Step 2: Submit supplemental material like transcripts, score reports;

Step 3: Obtain letters of recommendation from teachers and/or a counselor;

Step 4: Write application essays;

Step 5: Prepare for interviews; and

Step 6: Meet application deadline.

Here are tips for students to handle each step smoothly within the college application process.

1. Application Forms:

Once students have their college list prepared and are ready to apply to these institutions. Students should find out which schools on their list will allow them to fill out a Common Application for college admission and which ones require a specific form. The Common Application basically allows  prospective undergraduate students to share some information just once, while applying to multiple schools. The Common Application covers several areas: personal data, educational data, standardized test information, family information, academic honors, extracurricular activities, work experience, a personal essay, and criminal history. Many of the questions on college applications are similar to each other, and students will probably find that they can use one answer for different applications. 

Note: Change in Common Application starting August, 2013.

Starting in  2013, the paper version of the Common Application is being phased out and all applications will now be submitted electronically through the Common Application website. The online application allows students to create different versions of their application for different schools, and the website will also keep track of the different application requirements for the different schools to which each student is applying.

2. Transcripts/ Standardized Score Reports:

Students are normally required to submit their high school transcripts when applying to any college or university. They must request that transcripts from their high school be sent directly to the college in which they are applying to. Also, majority of colleges place high emphasis on standardized test score reports of students for admission. So students must reach-out to their short-listed schools much earlier to determine which standardized tests are required for admission and accordingly take those tests.  Also, students should request the testing agency to send the scores directly after checking with each school's admission policy.

( View our section on standardized tests and exams for more details.)

3. Recommendation Letters:

As part of the college application procedure every university require students to send 2 or 3 recommendation letters. These letters are recommendations from teacher's/ professor's who have taught the student at high school/college. This letter reflects the student's academic potential, strengths and ability to successfully complete the program applying for.

Students must get a list of  recommendation letter requirements, format, guide and deadline from the schools (applying to) and ask a trusted teacher, boss or other well-known professional acquaintance to write a letter of recommendation, at least two months in advance of the application deadline.  Students must also specifically find out the school's preference for submitting recommendation letters. Many institutes prefer teacher's to directly send them the recommendation letter.

( For tips, approach, content, guidelines and more view our resource page on Recommendation Letters)

4. College Application Essay:

An essay is the qualitative aspect of a college application process which provide students an opportunity to distinguish themselves from other applicants. Application essays show admission officers a student's ability to write well and provides evidence that an applicant knows and understands him or her self.

Almost all educational institutions rate application essays as important in their admissions process. A poorly written essay can cause a stellar student to get rejected, or an exceptional application essay can help a student with average scores get into their desired college. The application essay in many ways is a personal statement a student makes  to help the admissions commitee  understand about who they are, how they think and what they want to accomplish. It is the only place a student "comes to life!"

Students must draft an essay in accordance with each school's policy. The number one piece of advice from admission officers about writing aplication essay is: “Be yourself," and  “Start early".

( For in-depth information, read: Everything about Application Essays for College Admission.)

5. College Interview:

Not every college a student applies to will require an interview. However, the more prestigious schools, the more selective schools, or the more competitive schools will often use an interview as a criterion for admission.  Students should not assume a school does not require an interview, instead they must read their application materials closely to see if an interview is required. Further, students can call the admissions office and check to see if an interview is required or recommended. If an interview is not required but recommended, students should go and make most of this opportunity. The interview should be scheduled before the application deadline, which means in November or December for most schools.

6. Meeting Application Deadline:

College application submission deadlines are firm. Failure to submit applications on time at colleges can lead to zero chances of getting admission. And it won't matter what a student's excuse is or how much they plead or beg. It is best for students to get in their application early.