How to Apply to College

1. Fill out the FAFSA and CSS.

  • Filing the FAFSA and CSS early is key to moving one less thing off of your plate come application season. Be sure to send your reports to each individual school that you are applying to.
  • If you choose to apply to more than 10 schools, you will have to send this out twice. The FAFSA report only allows you to send to 10 schools at a time, and any extra submissions must have a certain time in between. Allocate some time if you are applying to a lot of universities!

2. Develop your college list!

  • For most students, this consists of about 5-10 schools, with an even amount of reach, target, and safety schools.
  • Applications can cost up to $90 each, so start budgeting early! Track down any fee waivers you can find, and pay attention to your mailbox. Sometimes universities will mail out letters with codes to waive your cost of application. You may also receive fee waivers by applying to fly-out programs or attending virtual webinars.

3. Choose an application pool.

  • Depending on how much time you have and when you want to hear back, you can apply in any of the three pools.
  • If you have a lot of time to work, it's smart to apply early action or even early decision if financial aid is not a concern. If you want to maximize scholarships, early action is the way to go. If you do not have a lot of time to work currently or want to hear back from all your schools at once, applying regular decision is for you!

4. Start your applications.

  • This is the time to fill out all of the easy information in your applications, such as name, addresses, parents' place of work, etc. This essentially knocks the boring work out of the way so that you can get to the substance of your application (such as the essays) later.

5. Start your main essays.

  • Firstly, get going on your main essays that are sent to most schools. This will be the Common Application Essays, the Coalition Application Essay, or UC Essays, depending on where you are applying. Develop your topics and write rough drafts of all your biggest essays.

6. Take standardized tests.

  • If you plan on taking the ACT or the SAT, it's a good idea to get it out of the way early. It takes a while for testing scores to come back, and it can take up to a few weeks for universities to receive the scores that you send.
  • For more on the SAT or ACT, check out this guide ACT & SAT.

7. Start your supplemental essays.

  • After you write a rough draft for the stars of the show, it's time to move on and draft the supplementals. Decide what you are focusing on, and knock out the first drafts of the smaller essays.

8. Send testing scores and transcripts.

  • Once you receive scores back from the SAT or ACT, send them off to each individual school if you choose! Some schools allow you to self-report your scores, so check before sending out your scores to save money!
  • Send the finalized transcript from your junior year to your whole list.

9. Refine essays.

  • Carve out some time to form a second draft of your essays, refining the word choice and solidifying the theme.

10. Reach out to every school!

  • One of the least-known ways to assist your application is to show demonstrated interest. Whether or not schools formally take this into account, having meetings and building rapport with representatives from universities can boost your chances.
  • Schedule meetings over Zoom when possible to truly meet your counselors, but settle for emails if you have to.

11. Prepare the final draft of applications.

  • Finish up your primary and supplemental essays, and get them ready to submit.

12. Submit!

  • When you feel ready, go ahead and submit your essays and applications. Make sure that each school has all of your application material, including essays, FAFSA/CSS, transcripts, and test scores.

13. Touch base.

  • If possible, have another meeting or email session with your designated college counselor from each school. Make sure that your materials are submitted, express your interest in the school, and thank them for the time and energy spent on you. Odds are that they are the person who will be reading your application and even advocating for you, so make sure to stay on their good side!

14. Be patient.

  • Now comes the worst part of the application season: the waiting. Depending on which application pool you submitted in, you could hear back as early as October or as late as April.

15. Apply for scholarships.

  • While you wait for colleges to send a decision, spend your time applying for scholarships both in and out of each university that you apply to. Use sites like Niche, Cappex, and Bold to track down simple and small applications, and use local organizations to find more lengthy and lucrative applications. You're more likely to receive a local scholarship from a small organization than a national scholarship that thousands apply for. Remember, you can apply to random, lottery-style scholarships for fun, but the ones that are worth your time require an essay.
  • Check out this guide to find some scholarships that you could apply to: Scholarships

16. Weigh your options.

  • When you start to hear back from colleges, you will ultimately be faced with a tough decision. Start thinking deeper about what schools you connect with most, and what academics await you at each university.
  • Do you want to be close to home? Far from it? Is good food important to you? What about the community culture? This is the time to think about all of the extra bonuses that you want in college. You applied to each school on your list for a reason, and you always have good options.

17. Make a decision and submit a deposit!

  • Now is the time to choose your university. Congratulations, you officially made it! Look for an enrollment deposit waiver if applicable. The first deposit is a marker of your commitment to the school, and can often get fairly expensive. However, many schools will waive the fee if you have demonstrated the need.

18. Get ready!

  • This is the time to look for a roommate, decide on a meal plan, and pick where you want to live. Use groups on Facebook, apps like Zeemee or Patio, and reach out to friends attending your college to find a roommate.

Check out these other guides that you might need.