Curious about how to apply for college? Applying for college can seem daunting and scary at first, but don’t worry. Applying for college is easier than you think because there’s a step-by-step process to follow and we’ll break down how it works!
Time needed: 10 minutes.
You’re about to learn how to apply for college. We’ll cover the types of college applications you may encounter and what you’ll need to complete your applications. Let’s get started.
- Take your College Assessment Tests
If you are an adult, you may not be required to take the SAT or ACT. However, the college may ask you to take their College Placement Test. If you are in high school, most colleges and universities are going to ask for your SAT or ACT score. High school juniors and seniors take the SAT to test your proficiency in reading, math, and writing. The ACT is a college assessment test administered to high school juniors and seniors to test your proficiency in English, reading, math, and science.
- Apply for the FAFSA
Once you decide on the colleges you are considering to attend, you’ll want to apply for the FAFSA as soon as possible. The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and is necessary to apply for college financial aid such as federal loans and pell grants. Apply as close to January 1 as possible (the day the FAFSA application opens each year).
In order for your FAFSA application to be processed, your taxes (or your parent’s taxes if you are a dependent) must be complete. File your taxes as soon as possible to submit your FAFSA application. If you haven’t applied for the FAFSA yet, check out our article, how to get college funding. It includes how to apply for the FAFSA. By the way, you have to apply for the FAFSA every year! You also have to list the colleges you are interested in on your FAFSA application. If you have not done so yet, check out our article explaining how to research colleges.
- Research the College’s Application Requirements
Once you decide on the colleges you are considering, visit each college’s website and find their online application. Take note of each college’s application requirements and deadlines. You may need to prioritize which college applications you complete first based on the deadlines. We created a College Research Tracker in a Google Spreadsheet. Simply click the Copy button and you can start organizing your research. You will need a free Google Documents account if you don’t already. Tracking your college research online with Google Documents gives you access to your college research spreadsheet from any computer and or smartphone. You can also share the document with others. Use the spreadsheet columns to track what statistics are most important to you.
- Fill out the College Application
Each college application will typically ask you to create a username and password. This allows you to save your college application as you work on it over time. Do not be surprised if it takes you a few days to complete all the data fields and requirements. Watch out, there is typically a “Save and Continue” or “Save” button at the bottom of each college application section. Make sure you save your information frequently so you don’t lose your work. Also, try to refrain from clicking your browsers Refresh or Back button. This could delete your unsaved information as well. If you need to request a paper application, contacting the college’s Admissions Office.
Many college applications require you to include a writing sample or essay. Essay topics can range from one of your choice, a personal experience, or why you want to attend that particular school. You want to make sure you write about the topic assigned, make your essay personal, and stay within the required word count. Last, be sure to meticulously proofread for grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
Proofread your application! Grammar, accuracy, spelling, and completion of all application requirements is important. From the application itself to your written essay, your work should be neat, legible, articulate, and free of errors. If the application requires a college essay, let your personality shine. Find something that makes you stand out in a stack of thousands of other applicants. It goes without saying, but do not plagiarize any part of your essay.
- Pay the application fee
The average application fee is $50-$75 and some colleges charge up to $150. If you are applying for multiple colleges, this expense can add up. These fees can be waived or reduced if you qualify for free SAT testing. Also, sometimes fees are reduced if you apply online rather than using a paper application. Applicants with limited financial means may be eligible for NACAC Fee Waivers so don’t let the fees deter your college ambitions.
- Request your Transcripts within the Deadline
You will need to request that your school sends your academic transcripts. When requesting a transcript, make sure they send an official transcript. Official transcripts are delivered in a sealed envelope ensuring no tampering was done to the record. Schools typically mail your transcript directly to the college or university. If you receive your official transcript in the mail, keep it in the sealed envelope unopened so its status remains official. Once opened, the transcript becomes unofficial. Unofficial transcripts are good to have on hand for your own personal documentation and knowledge. It is helpful to have a record on-hand so you have a record of classes completed and GPA. Transcripts can take up to a few weeks for the college to receive once it’s requested. Make sure you request your transcripts in a timely manner, especially within your application deadline.
- Get Letters of Recommendation
Some colleges and universities will ask for Letters of Recommendation. This is a great way for you to shine on your college application. If your college application asks you for a letter of recommendation, you will need to ask someone to write you one. The person could be one of your teachers, coaches, club advisors, or employers. It is a good idea to check the status of your application to ensure the letter was written and received. When you ask someone to write a letter of recommendation for you, give them clear instructions on where to send in their recommendation. Also be mindful to provide them with plenty of time to fill it out and be sure to tell them when it must be complete.