How to Apply to College

In 2011, 80 percent of high school students applied to three or more colleges or universities, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling as reported by Time. Stats like this seem to suggest that applying for college is remarkably easy, since students apply to so many schools all at once. In reality, applying for college can be a time-consuming process, particularly if students aren’t prepared to do the job right the first time. Thankfully, with a little advanced planning and preparation, students can get ready for the work ahead of them, allowing them to present their best self to schools without much last minute work or stress.

Deadlines and Dates

Colleges and universities have a variety of deadlines they use for applications, many of them dependent upon when students would like to begin their classes. The first big application deadline comes for students who are applying either Early Decision or Early Action.

Typically, this is the point at which early applications are due, including supplemental materials. It pays to contact the schools directly, however, as some may have deadlines that fall before or after this date.

early admission deadline date collge

basic information needed for a college app

The Basics

Long before the deadline appears, students should spend time gathering the little bits of data they’ll need in order to complete their applications, such as the names and addresses of schools attended, test scores, and GPA. These days, most schools use the Common Application: the generic information a student needs to share with schools, like GPA and SAT scores, will be conveyed that way. This application saves time and keeps students from having to fill out multiple applications with the same information.

Information Needed to Complete The Common Application

Students should also begin asking mentors and teachers to whom they are close to write a letter of recommendation on their behalf. It’s common for students to ask any of these people to write such letters:

large-green-bulletCollege counselors





large-green-bulletKnown alumni of school

asking for a letter of recommendation
Students should also prepare to hand over money as they apply for schools. While the fees involved are certainly not exorbitant, applying to a school is rarely free. Source: Marketplace by American Public Media

Item Average Cost
Application $37.88
SAT $50
ACT $35
Total cost $122.88

Experience and Activities

Applying for college means more than plugging in data about grades, tests and contact information and paying a few fees. In fact, students are expected to provide a significant amount of information about who they are and what they’ve managed to do during their time in high school. The experience and activities portions of the application allow students to highlight all of their extracurricular activities. This sort of information gives admissions officers a richer picture of the applicant, and lets them understand the applicant beyond his or her GPA and test scores.

If standing out from the crowd is vital, finding an activity that others haven’t participated in and highlighting that activity in the application could be key to getting ahead.


In addition to grades and extracurricular activities, college applications also include space for students to discuss the various achievements and awards they may have won during school, including:

large-green-bulletAcademic awards

large-green-bulletCitizenship awards

large-green-bulletSports-related achievements

large-green-bulletCommunity service awards

A long list of awards could make a student seem just a little more enticing, moving that application to the “accepted” pile.

achievements and awards
applications processed per day

You might feel like you’re bragging when listing accomplishments like this, but it’s important to share all of your achievements when applying to college. You’re promoting and selling yourself. You need to make as strong a case for your admission as you can. In a nutshell: if you’ve got it, flaunt it! Especially since admissions officers see a lot of applications each day.

Number of applications processed per day: 60 to 150

Source: The Washington Post

Getting Creative

Of all of the portions students must complete in a standard college application, the essay is the most intimidating. There’s a good reason: The essay is considered very important by many admissions counselors.

According to The National Association for College Admission Counseling, as reported by The New York Times, 26% of admissions offices consider the essay to be of considerable importance

The essay allows students to really express who they are, and give admissions officers the best sense for how a student might fit at a given school. So what’s the best way to write a winning essay? Consider this quote:

Students should discuss topics they feel passionately about, and they should use their own words to do so. Being real and being honest is the best way to rule the essay.

Finishing Touches

While students might be panicked about their applications, research suggests that enrollment officers have concerns of their own. In fact, according to Inside Higher Ed, as reported by Reuters, over two-thirds of all admission directors are concerned about meeting their enrollment targets.

finishing touches
look at social media profiles
Students who really want to go the extra mile should spend a little time cleaning up their social media profiles, deleting inappropriate photos, and otherwise taking care of any clutter that could stand in the way of a clear and early admission. After all, admissions officers might move right from the application to an online search, and they might not like what they see. (Inappropriate email address on your CommonApp? Pictures of you drinking at a party in high school? Those are big red flags.)About 80 percent of admissions counselors look at the social media profiles of prospective students.

Source: Kaplan, reported by the Huffington Post

Making sure that all of your social media accounts are cleaned up and G-rated (at least PG-13, please) could be the cherry on top of a perfect application.

If you’d like to find out more about how you might pay for the college of your dreams once your application has been accepted, take a look around our site. We have resources that can help you find scholarships, grants, and student loans, along with information about how to pay for the college of your dreams.