Applying to college, career school or graduate school means more than just filling out forms. For a successful college application, you first need to understand each school’s admission requirements, gather information, meet deadlines and pay any necessary fees.
Plus, each school has different application requirements and deadlines, so it’s important to get organized.
While the application process may seem a little overwhelming, you can use the following information to get ready and figure out your next steps.
Narrow your application choices
There’s no magic number when it comes to how many school applications you submit. One isn’t enough, because that school might not admit you. More than 10 might be too many because applications take a lot of work and you need to do a great job on each one. Also, most schools have application fees, so costs can add up. Many schools waive fees for low-income students.
The bottom line: Applying to a few schools that really interest you is better than applying to as many as you can.
Research admission requirements
Every college has its own application requirements. Different programs within the same school may even request different items. Learn exactly what a school requires by visiting its website or checking with its admissions office.
Start preparing well before the application deadline and make sure to check and double-check everything before you submit it.
Many U.S. colleges require undergraduate and graduate students to submit standardized test scores as part of their application packages. Learn more about taking required tests.
Develop a to-do list
Careful planning will help make the college application process less stressful. To help you out, we’ve developed several college preparation checklists. They are online at https://studentaid.ed.gov. The checklists are for students (of all ages) who are considering college or career school. We also have information for parents. Even if you are getting a late start, we have a checklist for you.
Remember: The financial aid application process is separate from the admissions application process. The financial aid process includes the essential step of completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to apply for federal student aid. You also should consider applying for scholarships and other types of aid.
Consider applying early
If you are confident that you are academically prepared and want to get into a particular school, you might want to consider early application programs for undergraduate admissions. When you apply early to a school, you’re speeding up the entire application process. Instead of submitting your application in November or later in your senior year, you usually need to begin the application process in September.
Applying early can sometimes give you an advantage. At some schools, a higher percentage of early applicants are accepted. And if you do get early acceptance, you can skip a couple of months of stress and uncertainty. You also can get a head start preparing for your freshman year.
While procedures at individual colleges may vary, the two most common procedures are early decision and early action. Some schools have both procedures. Another option is called dual enrollment.
If you have a particular school in mind that is your “first choice,” early decision might work well. If you are accepted under early decision, you must attend that school, unless its financial aid package is too low for you to attend. (If you’re not sure whether the school’s financial aid offer will be enough, make sure to submit applications to other schools.) Usually, you can apply to only one school for early decision. You can still apply to other schools at their regular application deadlines.
Early action is similar to early decision, but you aren’t “locked in” to attending a school that accepts you. Some schools allow you to apply for early action at other schools at the same time, but some don’t. Know the rules. In addition, under early action, you can still apply to other schools at their regular application deadlines. Keep in mind that there is less incentive for an early action college to accept you because you aren’t committing to attend the school.
A third option, dual enrollment, is typically for high school juniors who have most of the credits needed for graduation. If this applies to you, then you may want to consider taking college-level courses during your senior year. Then you could continue your college education at that college after you graduate from high school, or you could transfer the credits to another college. Work with your high school guidance counselor to see if this would be a good option for you.