Applying to College 101

The college application process can be confusing and overwhelming, especially if you’ve never been through it before. But have no fear. We’ve got your back! Here are some of the most common college application questions.

Some Common Questions

1. When should I start applying for college?

There’s no exact time to start your applications, but the strongest applicants usually start early. Most application portals open about a year before you plan to attend school, but there are pieces of the application you can prepare before the portals open.

For example: If you plan on attending college in the fall after your high school graduation, your application will open in the summer before or fall of your senior year. You can prepare for the application season by deciding what schools you’d like to apply to, taking the ACT/SAT, reading top admissions essays, and asking teachers and counselors for letters of recommendation. Decide what schools you want to apply to, take the ACT/SAT, read some stellar examples of college admissions essays, and ask for some letters of recommendation from your favorite teachers and counselors.

2. Where do I find application(s)?

You’ll find application information on each college’s website. Many colleges use the Common App or the Coalition App as their application, but some colleges have a unique application or application system. For example, you can apply to the University of California schools through their unique application portal. Additionally, each college’s website has information about their specific requirements, program-specific information, and supplemental essay prompts. Research and devour everything on each school’s website because you’ll likely also find application tips, fees, test score requirements, and much more!

3. Which semester should I apply for?

Many students are so excited about college they immediately apply for the fall semester. But guess what? There are other options! Let’s say you want to take some time for yourself. Maybe you want to save some money or travel before you start college. Most schools offer a spring semester start. Keep in mind that some colleges require a mandatory summer session. 

Starting college during the summer semester can be an advantage because you’ll get a sneak peek of campus life before the beginning of the fall semester. Check out each school’s website for specifics about school start options.

4. What do I need to apply, though?

Here’s a shortlist of things you’ll need:

  • Essays
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • Application Fee/Fee Waiver (Ask your school counselor about these!)
  • High School Transcripts
  • ACT/SAT Test Scores (Depending on the school)

5. I’m done with my application, now what?

Congratulations! You’ve done the hard part. Now you can focus on the rest of your to-do list:

  • Schedule a chat with your counselor. Now is the best time to remind them just how cool they are for giving you their lifehacks.
  • Create a login and fill out your FAFSA information.
  • Submit your updated ACT/SAT scores.

6. What does test-optional mean?

Test-optional colleges waive the ACT or SAT score requirement. You have the option to submit or omit your test scores. Not sure if you should apply test-optional? Read these tips.

7. What are the types of applications?

Early Decision

Some pros, and cons. You can apply early (typically around November) to your first-choice school, and statistically, you have a higher chance of getting accepted. You’ll receive your admission decision before the regular notification date (usually December). Be mindful that you can only apply to one school under early decision. If you’re accepted, you must agree to attend.

Early Action

Like Early Decision, Early Action allows you to submit your application earlier than the regular deadline and receive an admission decision early in the admissions cycle. Unlike Early Decision, Early Action is not binding. You still have the opportunity to apply elsewhere and weigh all of your options before making a final choice.

Deferred Admission

When you receive your admission letter, there’s a possibility you will see the word “deferred.” Defer means to delay. You’ll usually see this if you apply early to a school. If your application is deferred, it will move into the regular decision pool. Your application can be deferred for many reasons, so don’t be discouraged. You still have a chance of getting into that college.

Rolling Admission

Colleges with rolling admission keep applications open for a large window of time. They process applications as they receive them rather than after a hard deadline. Typically, the earlier you submit, the earlier you know your admission decision.