A Guide for Applying to College
When senior year comes around, applying to college can be intimidating. It’s okay to feel
stressed about college, as it is a big step in your life. However, I am here to tell you that it is
possible. Let’s begin.
The most important thing a high school senior needs to know is deadlines. All
applications have deadlines and it’s very important to stay on top of it to not to get behind. There
are deadlines for everything including free application for federal student aid (FASFA), the
common application (CommonApp), scholarships, early decision, early action, regular decision,
etc. The best way to manage these deadlines is to start early. Starting early gives you the
opportunity to make multiple essay drafts, and obtain teacher recommendations, and can even
significantly increase your odds of getting accepted.
It is important to understand the different parts of the college application. One necessary
part to understand is your decision to apply early decision, early action, regular decision, or
rolling decision. Early decision and early action are very similar. The deadlines for both usually
occur in the month of November or sometimes December. In addition, students who apply via
early decision or early action are notified of admission decisions earlier than their peers who
applied via regular decision. One key difference between early decision and early action is that
students who apply via early decision and are accepted must attend the school regardless of
the costs; in other words, it is legally binding. Therefore, a student can only apply to only one
university/college via early decision. However, it is important to note that many colleges have
specific scholarships that are only available to early-decision applicants. Regular decision
applications are usually only due between January and February, and students will only receive
admission decisions in the spring. Lastly, there is rolling admission. This means that colleges
are reviewing the applications as they are being sent. Keep in mind that the longer you wait, the
more competitive the spots become.
Another important part of college applications is something known as the CommonApp.
CommonApp is one of my more popular ways to apply to college as it is accepted by more than
1,000 colleges. To sign up for the CommonApp, go to commonapp.org, click on the “Start your
application” button, and create an account using your personal email. Do not use your school
email. Choose the first-year student option and then fill out the user profile. You can add
collaborators such as your teachers, counselors, and others who may write a recommendation
letter. Then, search for and add the schools you want to apply to “My Colleges.” If you use the
common app you have to write a common app essay along with answering any supplemental
college essays that the specific colleges request. One of the hardest parts of the common app is
figuring out what to write about. You can choose to write about anything using one of the
prompts provided as a guideline. First, brainstorm your best stories and/or something that is
important to you. For example, one of my friends wrote about her passion for art and how it
impacted her life. I wrote about my HOSA experience as a state officer. After you find an idea
that ties into one of the prompts, begin drafting. Once you have a solid draft, I recommend
having multiple people read it. I had my dad read it first. After we edited it, I asked my English
teacher to read it. He also provided me with insightful feedback which I adjusted in my essay.
Finally, I had a family friend read, who further suggested some changes. What is important to
note is that this is a lengthy process which is why it is important to start early.
Asking for recommendation letters is also a very important part of your college
application. Once again, the earlier you ask, the better. Teachers have a lot on their plates and
most likely a lot of seniors asking for recommendation letters. Usually, the recommended
amount is two letters of recommendation. However, some colleges only want one letter of
recommendation while others want three, so try to get at least one. Find teachers that were very
influential to you, and preferably that know you well. It is even better if that teacher(s) teaches a
class that is related to your interested major. I personally want to major in biology and minor in
Spanish, so I asked my biomedical project-lead-the-way (PLTW) teacher for a letter, as well as
my Spanish teacher.
Lastly, there is the SAT and the ACT. Many colleges recommend taking the SAT or ACT
as both ACT and SAT scores are used for college admission decisions and awarding merit-
based scholarships. There are many resources you can use to study such as Khan Academy. It
is also important to note that many students take the SAT or ACT multiple times in hopes of
getting a better score. However, there are many colleges that are now test-blind or test-optional.
Test-blind means that scores will not be considered while test-optional means that colleges do
not require the scores, but will consider them if they are submitted as part of an application.
When deciding which colleges you want to apply to, find out their requirements for the SAT or
College applications are stressful and a lot of work, but you can do this! Make a to-do
list, set personal deadlines, and do not be afraid to ask questions to your teachers or
counselors. Remember, the earlier the better! I believe in you, good luck!