College applications are a daunting task. They seem like they’ll take up so much of your time, even before you think about how to actually fill them out. But don’t stress! In this guide, we’re going to go through the entire process with you. We’ll show you how to ace the application and gain university admission.
The College Application Process
There are a few different things you will need to do when you are applying to college. The first step is to check if you meet all the basic requirements for admission. These requirements will vary from school to school, but most colleges will require that you have a high school diploma, GED, or equivalent—as well as earn a minimum GPA on your high school transcript and SAT or ACT scores.
Most students achieve these in their senior year of high school (aka 12th grade). Once you have met the basic requirements, you will need to start filling out your application for college. Students are invited to apply for college one year in advance of their planned enrollment. The application forms will include your personal information, educational background, and written responses to a few essay questions. Some schools may also require additional materials, such as letters of recommendation or a portfolio.
The final step in the college application process is to submit your application and wait for a decision. This can take a few weeks to several months, depending on the school. Once you have been accepted, you will need to pay your tuition, graduate from high school, and begin attending university classes!
Common Elements of Most College Applications
There are several common elements you can expect to find in a college application. Before you sit down to fill out your forms, collect the items you’ll need in advance to make it easier on yourself. These include:
- Personal information — This will usually include your name, contact details, and date of birth. You may also be asked for details about your family (your parents and any siblings.)
- Educational background — You will need to provide details of your secondary education, including any qualifications you have achieved.
- Activities — This is the section where you can give details about extracurricular activities such as school sports or clubs, volunteering, or hobbies.
- Employment history — Many colleges will want to know about any relevant work experience you may have.
- References — You will need to provide the contact details of at least two people who can vouch for your character and abilities. They may also need to submit a letter recommending you.
- Essays — Most colleges require you to submit one (or more) written essays on specific topics. These are usually used as a way of gauging your writing ability and interests.
- Standardized test scores — While more colleges are becoming test-optional, you still may be required to submit standardized test scores from the SAT or ACT.
SAT vs. ACT
The SAT and ACT are the two main standardized tests colleges use to assess applicants. Some colleges and universities are now test-optional, meaning they do not require standardized test scores for admission, but will still accept them as part of your application.
But which test is right for you? Here’s a quick overview of the differences between the two tests:
- SAT: The SAT is a 3-hour exam that tests your reading, writing, and math skills. It is scored out of 1600 points, with 800 points each for reading/writing and math.
- ACT: The ACT is a nearly 3-hour exam that tests your English, reading, math, and science skills. It is scored out of 36 points for each section, which are averaged to find a composite score.
So, which test should you take? Ultimately, it depends on your strengths and weaknesses as a student. If you’re stronger in reading and writing but weak in math, the ACT may be a better choice, given the higher number of questions in these areas. If your strength is more towards math, the SAT may be a better fit. Also, more students are now opting to take both the SAT and ACT to show their abilities better.
Tips for Your Personal Statement or Essay
One of the most important parts of your college application is your personal statement or essay. This is your chance to tell your story and show who you are outside of your grades and test scores. Here are some tips to help you write an outstanding personal statement or essay:
- Start early. The earlier you start, the more time you’ll have to brainstorm, write, and edit your essay. Don’t wait until the last minute to start writing!
- Be yourself. Your personal statement is an opportunity to showcase your unique personality and perspective. Be honest about who you are and what you want to achieve.
- Be specific. Generic essays are boring! Admissions committees want to read essays that are interesting, thoughtful, and specific to you as an individual.
- Tell a story. A good story will engage the reader and help them connect with you on a personal level. Focus on one specific event or experience in your life and share what it meant to you.
- Edit, edit, edit! Once you’ve written your essay or personal statement, put it away for a day or two before coming back to it with fresh eyes. Then, revise and edit until it’s the best possible version.
The Common App: What Is It?
The Common Application is an online application that allows students to apply to several colleges at once. Colleges that accept the Common App—currently, over 1000 colleges do—will have a link to the application on their website or will state which applications they accept.
To fill out the Common App, you’ll need to create an account on the website, fill out personal information, academic information, and extracurricular activities, and complete an essay. You also can invite people such as teachers or counselors to submit letters of recommendation.
Some schools may require additional essays or information for university admission, and you can also complete that through the Common App. Once you’ve entered all the required information, you can submit your application to your chosen schools.
Some tips for filling out the Common Application:
- Make sure to fill out all required fields thoroughly and accurately.
- Take your time in crafting thoughtful responses to the essay questions.
- Be sure to review and proofread your application before submitting it.
The Coalition App: Who Is It Best For?
Like the Common App, the Coalition App is a college application platform that aims to simplify the college application process. It is a good option for students who are looking for a streamlined application process and have a strong interest in one of the Coalition schools. The Coalition App was created to help historically underrepresented groups apply to college and works with around 150 universities that have lower tuition costs or provide generous financial aid packages.
The Coalition App is free to use, just like the Common App. It allows students to complete and submit their applications online. The app also provides access to a variety of resources, such as college planning tools and essay prompts.
The Coalition App may be better for you if you need more technical support or are looking for more flexibility in submitting documents and reporting extracurricular activities. If all the schools you are interested in accept the Coalition App, it can be a good choice. However, if any of the schools you want to apply to only accept the Common App, you’d be better off using that platform.
The Best Time to Send In Your College Applications
The college application process may feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. The most important thing is to start early and give yourself plenty of time to complete your applications.
For most colleges, the application deadline is January 1st. However, some colleges have earlier deadlines, so it’s important to check with each school you’re interested in.
Generally speaking, you should aim to submit your applications as early as possible. This gives you the best chance of college or university admission and can increase the amount of financial aid still available.
Who Should Apply to College Early?
You may be wondering whether or not you should apply to college early. The answer isn’t always clear-cut, but there are some things to keep in mind that can help you decide.
Two factors may influence whether you submit your application early or not:
- Are you sure about your top choice?
- Do you need financial aid?
Both of these come into play when deciding to apply early. The early application deadlines are known as early action and early decision.
Early Action or Early Decision: What’s the Difference?
First of all, it’s important to understand the difference between early action and early decision.
- Early action is non-binding, meaning you can apply to other schools even if you’ve been accepted early.
- Early decision is binding, which means that if you’re accepted early, you must attend that school and withdraw your applications from any other school you’ve applied to.
Are You Sure About Your Top Choice?
If you have your heart set on one particular school, then applying to the early decision pool may be a good option for you. Keep in mind, however, that if your application is deferred (meaning they don’t make a decision right away), or if you’re not accepted early, you’ll still have to apply to other schools. If you’re accepted, it’s a binding agreement that you’ll attend. So make sure you’re really sure about your top choice before making the commitment of an early decision submission.
Choosing to submit with early decision can also give you a slight advantage on acceptance, as many schools—especially very competitive ones—have better acceptance rates for students who apply to early decision. But it can give you a disadvantage when it comes to financial aid since the school knows you want to attend and doesn’t have to make their offer as enticing.
Do You Need Financial Aid?
If you think you may need financial aid to attend college, you may want to apply as early action instead. That’s because with an early decision if you’re accepted early, you’re committed to attending that school, even if you don’t receive the financial aid you need. But early action can gain you a non-binding early acceptance and a better financial aid package.
For many schools, financial aid is first-come-first-served. There is more money available early, and as the school fills its slots, there may not be as much available later on. If you apply to early action at several schools, you’ll be able to compare financial aid packages—and even negotiate—before making a commitment.
Let Empowerly Help You
If you’re feeling stressed about the application process, remember that there are resources available to help you. A college admissions advisor can help you navigate the application process and make sure you’re on track.
Empowerly offers personalized college admission counseling and can help you through the college application process. Contact us today to find out how we can help you get into the college of your dreams!