Applying to college is one of the most exciting times in a teenager’s life. College offers a wide range of possibilities: challenges, independence, preparation for a successful future and a satisfying career. Of course, you have to get into college before you will get to experience all these wonderful things. That’s why the college application process is so important.
The basics of the college application process will prepare you for the experience of applying for college.
For a suggested step-by-step timeline of the college application and decision process, see: 34 Actions to Take to Get into Your First Choice College
Open Your Mind
Before you start applying to colleges, you need to look into all your college options. You’ll want to read up on community colleges (which are great for two-year degrees or getting core classes out of the way at a discounted price), private colleges (which can be expensive but also may offer great grants or scholarships), state colleges and universities, and vocational and professional schools.
Visit College Campuses
If you aren’t particularly confident, you may wish to go on campus tours so you can see that college is a real option. Think and talk about your future, goals and dreams. Then think about how the investment of college will pay off in your future.
Learn About the Application Process
You’ll need to learn the ins and outs of applying for college. You can read a detailed description of the application process here, but in general you will need to:
- Make sure to take the college entrance exams (ACT and/or SAT)
- Fill out the college applications completely before the deadlines (each college deadline is different, so look on the college websites)
- Write all necessary essays and gets supplementary information submitted (transcripts, letters of recommendation, proof of volunteer service)
- Pay for the application process and submits everything on time
Set Up a College Application Plan
To make this happen, you will want to set up an application plan. This should include goals such as studying for entrance exams and completing community service or joining clubs or sports groups. It will also include submitting necessary information on time and taking tests. You can find a detailed college application plan outline here.
Map Out Your Junior and Senior Year
There are important preparatory steps you will want to take during your junior year and senior year. To give yourself the best chance at getting into the college of your choice, you’ll want to set a plan for both years. Look into scholarships to apply for, clubs to join, volunteer opportunities to participate in, colleges to tour, classes to take, and teachers and school counselors to befriend.
Prepare for the Best… and the Worst
You may or may not get into your top choice college. For this reason, you will need to have back up plans. You may wish to look into alternate college options such as online college, community college, vocational schools and prep schools.
This is also why you will want to apply to several colleges, not just one. This is a highly competitive process, and not everyone gets into college. Look up college statistics so you can understand the odds of getting accepted into a specific college. You may discover that the college you were eyeing is out of your league, but you may find out another college is a perfect match.
Take Finances Into Consideration as You Apply For College
You will also want to discuss finances with your parents as you choose colleges. You will want to choose a college you can afford and will need to talk through how much you expect your parents to pay and how much you can contribute.
It’s likely that you will be shocked to discover how much college costs. You’ll want to look into how much the college usually offers in financial aid, and how much of that “financial aid” is actually loans (which you will have to pay back) instead of grants or scholarships (money you do not have to pay back).
With your parents and/or college counselors, talk through ways to effectively cut corners, reduce expenses and increase the chances of getting financial aid.
More on the College Application Process