Seven Steps for Applying to College
Applying to college can be a particularly challenging task for the young mind who is looking to transition from high school to the collegiate world. Some people know exactly where they want to attend, what they want to study, and have known since kindergarten. Some of us have little idea, even as young adults, what we want to do with our lives.
If you don’t know exactly where you want to end up, that is OK! The choices of where you want to go and what you want to major in do not have to be permanent, although if you have some idea of a direction it helps to then narrow your focus. Certain colleges are known for their strengths in specific areas of academia and extracurricular activities. If you can hone in on these schools and where they are located, that is a good place to start.
1. Figure out how far you’d like to be away from home
Focus on where you prefer to go. Putting the possible financial burden aside, what is the ideal location of the college you’d like to attend? Some things to consider are climate, environment, proximity to amenities and major transportation, and how far you’d like to be away from family and friends. Some students like to stay closer to home, while others prefer to be farther away. It is all a matter of preference. Not every student is ready to leave home, live in a dorm, live off campus, or even travel across the country. So you should spend some time thinking about your comfort level, as well as how you will deal with the challenges of both options.
2. Get your paperwork together
Go online and get an application for each college where you plan to apply. By this point, you have probably already taken the SAT or ACT exams. Request your transcripts. Make a checklist and note all of the requirements and deadlines for each item. Know that certain applications will take longer than others, so give yourself plenty of time just to be safe.
Seek guidance from a school counselor, trusted teachers or other adults in your life who may have gone through the process. Know that the process for admissions are often the same, but they also change over time, so while input is valuable, make sure to pay attention to what each school needs.
Every school’s requirements are different. Some schools require letters of reference. These may be from administration or certain teachers at your current high school or prep school. Sometimes character references are needed, so start making a list of teachers, employers, or other people in your community whom you may need to ask for support.
3. Prepare to write
You most likely have to prepare an admissions essay. You should read the instructions very carefully and make sure that you include all aspects of every question that is asked of you. Be thorough. If you need help writing the essay, there are tutors and services that can assist you. Do not hire someone to do it for you, even if it is tempting to do so. Your essay should reflect the genuine you. Also, you will most likely be asked to talk about your aspirations, your experiences, and why you want to pursue your education there. Only you can tell this story. Put honesty and passion into your writing. This is how each school’s first impression of you.
4. Select your schools and safety schools
It is a good idea to apply to a few schools that you are at the top of your list and include at least one or two “safety schools.” Most applications require a fee to be paid. Determine what the fees are for each school’s application, and whether it is feasible for you to pay each one. Make sure you have all the supplemental requirements well in advance to accompany the application when it is due.
Some schools require a meeting with an admissions officer or a committee interview. If you need to schedule one, make sure to do so. Also, make sure to prepare for the interview. Here are some tips that can help you to develop and practice some basic interviewing skills. By doing research ahead of time, you will learn what the school expects of its applicants.
You may even have a chance to talk to some alumni of the college. These days, with social media it is easy to locate people who have attended the school. Feel free to ask them specific questions. Ask what they enjoyed most about the school. If you plan to play volleyball or study journalism, ask for details about these areas. You can also ask them if they recommend some locations to stay or to visit if you plan to tour the school. Get your information from a few different sources, as well as the school, to get a well-rounded picture.
5. Keep deadlines in mind
We’ve already mentioned this, but it is so important that we need to mention it twice! Keep in mind the deadlines for all documentation for each school you are applying to. Start by determining what the requirements are for each college that you want to apply to. You should get a good planner and start mapping out the next steps. Deadlines are critical and missing even one can mean missing out on getting into the institution.
6. Look into financing
Last, but not least, is financial aid. This can be one of the most difficult or stressful points in the admissions process. All schools offer information as to how to more easily afford their programs. Most of the aid these days comes in the form of subsidized or unsubsidized student loans. Some come in the form of government grants such as Pell Grants. Some schools offer special scholarships or grants of their own. Well before applying to the colleges of your choice, you should look into this and research it well.
Some scholarships or grants are for people with financial need. Schools will determine what your need is, so be sure to paint a clear picture of your family’s current financial situation so they can properly determine your need. Additionally, if you have done special things during high school such as theater, or basketball, or even if you played oboe in band, there may be a special scholarship for you. Other sources of assistance may come because of your membership to certain civic or cultural organizations. There are many ways to pay for school, and you should venture down every avenue you can as to avoid racking up debt. Sites such as FastWeb and others offer scholarship search engines to find scholarships that may fit just for you. The process for finding aid to pay for school can be daunting, but not impossible. Do your homework in advance.
The years in high school leading up to college are critical. Most colleges value academics as well as extracurricular life outside of school, which are activities that provide balance in your life. To most schools, this also says that you are someone who can handle the pressures and discipline that their programs require.
7. Wait with anticipation
When all of these things are completed and are on time, you can submit all of your hard work in a package and wait to hear the results. Regardless of any thick or thin letters that may arrive, you should rest well knowing that you have done your best. Hopefully you will get the exact news that you want and your top picks. For any reason that you find something is not what you would like, then try again. Everything in life happens for a reason, but it does not mean that you cannot keep working on your dream. You may not get into the college you initially wanted, but you will eventually get exactly where you need to be if you are persistent.