Pretty much every summer job application you fill out is the same. Time and time again, you are handed the same form with the same fields to fill in, and you basically have all the info you need memorized. But the college application process is different.
The most frustrating part about it is that many colleges and universities have different admissions requirements, so you can’t just submit a generic form and be done with it. It gets even harder if you are applying to a specialized program that requires referral materials and sometimes even an interview to be considered for admission.
But with a little preparation and planning ahead, you will get through it—and it will all be totally worth it. Here are the first three steps you should take to apply to college.
1. Know the Basic Admission Criteria
College admission is based on some pretty similar criteria across the board. Visit their websites and find the minimum requirements to know how you stack up. That way, you won’t waste time applying to schools that may instantly reject your application. Look at things like:
- Minimum or average high school GPA
- Average high school class rank
- Minimum or average SAT/ACT exam scores. Find out which test scores the school requires—many schools only use one or the other.
It is also important to visit the college or university. Most have counselors assigned to a region, city, or even your school, so check their website to see who you can work with to learn as much as possible about the process. Start early!
2. Talk to Your Guidance Counselor
Your high school guidance counselor has been-there-done-that—many, many times in fact. Guidance counselors will help you find colleges that are a good fit for your future career goals; tell you specific things individual schools are looking for; what you can do to stand out; and give you general advice about the application process.
Not all guidance counselors are created equal. If you are a freshman or sophomore and your guidance counselor discourages you from applying to certain schools based on your grades, don’t lose hope! You still have time to get those grades up. With a little (or a lot) of hard work, anything is possible. Remember to begin early by making connections with an admissions counselor at the college or university you’re interested in attending, as they will be able to give you a more realistic idea of your chances and what will be needed when you apply. You are only as competitive as the applicant pool the year that you apply.
3. Be Prepared to Submit the Essentials
The need for the following application materials is pretty much standard at all colleges and universities:
- High school transcript: You will request these from your high school registrar. There are also ways to order electronic copies of transcripts.
- SAT/ACT scores: When you register for the SAT or ACT, you will have an opportunity to list what schools you want to receive your test scores. If you aren’t sure which schools to choose, you can log on to the SAT or ACT website at any time to submit a request for any number of schools. It is a good idea to also make sure that your high school has your scores on your transcript.
- Application fee: After you fill out a college application, you will be asked to pay an application fee. This fee is usually between $30–60 and is nonrefundable. Before you begin the application process, check for higher education resources in your county. There are many groups that aim to raise their county’s college attendance rate that may cover the cost of your college application fees. Some schools participate in a state college preparation program and may have a time of year that the application fee is waived.
- The FAFSA: It’s not required to fill out a FAFSA form to apply to college, but it is required if you want help paying for college. And that doesn’t necessarily mean getting a student loan. The FAFSA also determines whether or not you qualify for need-based awards, like Pell grants, which is free money from the government that you don’t have to pay back! Make completing the FAFSA a priority when you begin the college application process. The earlier you apply, the more aid is available.
Optional Requirements (Depending on the School)
- An essay: Many liberal arts colleges require that you write a standard essay. But if you want to get into a specific or specialized program, you may have to write an additional essay. Some schools that do not require an essay may still accept an essay as part of your application, and it may be a good idea for you to supplement your application if there are other areas of your file that need to be explained, such as low grades during a particular semester.
- Letter(s) of recommendation: Plan to have the names and current email addresses of at least two teachers to write recommendation letters on your behalf. Most online application forms and the common application will use those email addresses to send teachers a prompt requesting the recommendation. It is then up to the teacher (or teachers) to respond in a timely manner. Some schools simply ask you to have your counselor complete a form certifying your diploma type, GPA, and rank, and may provide the counselor with an opportunity to share comments.
Next Steps: Download the IPFW Viewbook
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We offer a variety of opportunities with more than 200 academic programs, tons of scholarship and financial aid options, and an incredible student experience with luxury housing options, 14 NCAA Division I athletics programs, and more than 120 student organizations—and so much more.
Photo Credit to Craig Rodway; Flickr