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Breaking Down the College Admissions Process: Your 5-Part Guide
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Once you enter the fall semester of your senior year, you will officially be in what is commonly known as college applications “season”, the time in between when college applications are released and the submission deadlines. Most college applications are released around mid-August, and the submission deadlines range anywhere from November (for early decision applicants) to February. Most deadlines, however, happen around January 1st.
Thus, your senior year fall semester is crunch time in terms of writing out your college essays, filling out your applications, and securing recommendation letters from your teachers/counselors. Simply put, it’s a big undertaking.
College applications have a lot of different components, and even one application can often make a student feel overwhelmed. To help you organize all the different tasks that you need to complete for college admissions, we’ve arranged a 5-part summary of everything you need to do to be considered at your colleges of choice.
Part 1: Standardized Tests
Most colleges in the US require you to submit either an SAT or ACT score along with your transcript. The SAT and ACT are college readiness exams, and colleges use your score to compare you to other applicants in an unbiased manner.
Luckily, we at CollegeVine have extensively covered the SAT and ACT exams in previous posts. If you’re unsure as to what the SAT and ACT exams are, which one you should take, how you should study for them, and much more, look through some of our previous blog posts on standardized tests.
As a general rule, most colleges will accept both an SAT and ACT score, so you can choose the test that best suits you or gives you the highest score. Just note, however, that if you take the SAT, you may be required to complete additional SAT subject tests to supplement your application. What are SAT subject tests? This post will explain.
Ideally, you will have taken the SAT or ACT as many times as necessary to get your goal score before the fall semester of your senior year comes around. However, if that is not the case, you can usually take the SAT or ACT until November or December of your senior year so that you’ll get your score back in time for your college applications.
Many colleges allow you to submit your test scores a few weeks/months after the application deadline in order to give you that time buffer.
Part 2: Campus Visits
Before you start your college applications, you need to decide which colleges you are applying to and narrow down your college list. The best way to decide whether a college seems right for you is to go to the college and do a campus visit. You can take an admissions tour, walk around the campus itself, and even sit in on a lecture to see what a real college class is like!
We at CollegeVine are experts on how to make the most out of a campus visit. If you’re looking for some help when planning your college visits, check out these previous blog posts:
The reason why campus visits have their own section in the college admissions process is that they’re one of the best ways to help you narrow down your college list. By visiting a college, you’ll be more secure in your decision to apply or not. These decisions will help narrow down your college list.
Part 3: Application Essays
Your college essays are a huge part of your college application. Colleges read your essays to get a better idea of who you are as both an applicant and a student. The way you write and the things you write about are huge clues as to whether you would fit in at a particular university.
Most colleges require anywhere from 2-4 application essays, and each one needs to be intriguing, intellectual, have perfect grammar and punctuation, and stand out from the thousands of other application essays that the college admissions officers are sure to be reading. That’s a tall order. Most students spend months working on their college application essays, and they go through multiple drafts.
If you ever need help crafting or editing your college essays, CollegeVine offers a quick and expert College Essay Editing service to help you make your college essays stand out. To learn more, click here.
Part 4: The College Application
Surprisingly, filling out the actual college application is one of the easiest parts of this whole process. It’s simply a matter of filling out multiple forms about your academic and extracurricular profile. While that may seem tedious, it is definitely not challenging.
Before you start filling out your college applications, make sure that you have gathered all of your academic and extracurricular information. This includes your grades, courses taken, and standardized test scores.
You should also have some detailed descriptions about each of your extracurricular activities written out–what they were, what leadership positions you held, and what you accomplished in the club or organization. If you have any work experience or community service experience, you should have a similar description prepared for those as well.
Many colleges use the Common App, a college applications platform that standardizes the college application. If the university you’re applying to uses the Common App, you only have to input all of your information once, and multiple colleges will receive it.
However, many colleges do not use the Common App, including most Texas state schools and UC colleges. You will need to re-input your information into their application portal.
Almost all college application are done online now through application portals, which means that you’re going to have a lot of logins, usernames, and passwords to keep track of. Make sure that you keep a list of all of your logins and application IDs so that you are able to re-login to each application portal and review the status of your application whenever you need to. Nothing is worse than losing your password on decision release day and being unable to see whether you got into a college!
Part 5: The FAFSA
Once you’ve applied to colleges or have your applications well underway, it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to pay for college. There are multiple scholarships and financial aid applications that you can fill out based on your financial circumstances and other qualifications. However, the one financial aid application that every US resident can fill out is the FAFSA.
FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It is a government-run program that offers students the opportunity to receive loans and grants to fund their college education. You can fill out the FAFSA at https://fafsa.ed.gov/.
For some more detailed and personalized information about how you can get money through FAFSA, check out our previous blog posts:
This is just an overview of the main steps you’ll need to take to complete your college applications. In reality, each step requires weeks, maybe months of studying and work. Thus, you need to make sure you start planning for your college applications well before the fall semester of your senior year, and make sure you give yourself months to work on your applications.
Need more help navigating the college admissions process? Check out these previous blog posts:
Feeling like you need help in navigating the college application process? Check out our College Application Guidance Program. When you sign up for our program, we carefully pair you with the perfect college admissions specialist based on your current academic and extracurricular profile and the schools in which you’re interested. Your personal specialist will help you with college applications and provide you with support and guidance in all other aspects of the admissions process.
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