As junior year of high school approaches, the chatter begins – college. “Where are you applying?” “What are you studying?” “What kind of scholarships do you have?” Before you know it, that’s all anyone ever talks about is college! Soon you’re totally overwhelmed and completely anxiety-ridden over this choice of where to apply that everyone says will define the course of your whole life and shape your future and basically be this big giant thing you Have To Get Right.
Slow down, girl. I’ve been where you are and I know how scary and confusing it can be. You’re given this great big goal – Get Into College – and you may have a vague idea of what you need to do to get there – applications? tests? scholarships? – but what you’re lacking is a plan. A step-by-step guide detailing how to get you from high school to college.
Well guess what? Here it is! 7 easy steps to follow to make the whole college application process simple as can be.
Oh, and look! There’s a free checklist for you to print out so you can check off each step as you complete it. In addition, I recommend you keep a notebook or binder with all of the information you find.
Step 1: Gather Your Information
- Talk to your parents, teachers, and counselors about college. They can give you some additional ideas of what to expect or make recommendations for schools.
- Research schools and list your possible choices. It’s best to have a list of 6-8 different schools you think you’d like to apply to (don’t worry, you’ll narrow it down). Think about what they have to offer you based on your major, skills, etc. You’ll probably be getting lots of invitations to apply in the mail as well – check out those schools, too.
- Find out the application requirements for these schools. Each one will have different requirements like an online application, transcripts and test scores, essays, letters of recommendation, application fees, and so forth. Don’t worry if you don’t have all of it right now – that comes later.
Step 2: Take the Tests
- Take the PSAT or PLAN tests sophomore year. These are practice exams to give you an idea of what the real tests will be like. Most high schools will have you do this and some will even pay the exam fee. Talk to your school’s college counselor if you’re unsure.
- Study and familiarize yourself with the SAT and/or ACT. Some schools on your list will require one or the other, and some will take scores from either test. Format guides for both tests are available online so you can decide which test – or both – is better for you to take. Study guides are also available from bookstores or online, which can be really helpful if you struggle with tests or you’re nervous.
- Take the Test(s)! Coordinate with your college counselor to find dates and locations where you can take the test(s) you choose. Good luck, and remember – you can take them again if necessary.
Step 3: Organize Your Portfolio
- Gather all the personal information you’ll need to apply. This can be your SSN, transcripts, test scores, and more, depending on the college. Be ready with a list of your extracurricular activities and volunteering you’ve done (including when you did it and who it was for).
- Get your letters of recommendation. Generally you’ll want to have at least 3 of these. Teachers, counselors, coaches, and volunteer coordinators are all great references to have. They’ll speak to your work ethic and character and make you look good for a college. Make sure to ask early, because they will probably have to write a lot of them, and asking early puts you in a good position.
- Create and organize an artistic portfolio, if necessary. If you’re going into a major such as fine art or graphic design, an artistic portfolio may be necessary. Make sure to have it at the ready in whatever format you may need.
Step 4: Narrow Down Your Choices
- Refine your list of possible choices. Take into account everything you’ve learned so far and take your choices down to 3-5 colleges you’d really enjoy going to and will help you make the best of your academic career.
- Visit your top choice colleges. Campus visits are super important. If at all possible, take a tour of classrooms, offices, dorms, and the outside area of the campus. Get a feel for what it would be like to spend four or more years of academia there. If an in-person tour isn’t possible, ask if getting a video of a tour would be something they’re willing to do.
- Talk to current students. There’s no better way to get an idea of a college than to talk to their current students. Some colleges will have information sessions where current students speak, or perhaps a friend’s older sibling attends a college you’re interested in.
Step 5: Apply!
- Fill out the applications for your top list of schools. Often they are online, but be prepared to print and mail in an application just in case. Don’t forget to note deadlines for early action or standard application.
- Write your essays. Don’t rush these. Expect an application to take some time. There may be short answer or long answer portions, and you may have to submit one or more essays in addition to your application. Take your time and be real to you.
- Pay your application fees. These fees can be anywhere from $45-$125 per application. Many schools also have application fee waivers for low income students that can make applying to multiple colleges easier.
Step 6: Find the Money
- Complete the FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is your first step towards paying for college. The application will determine your need award grants based on that need, and will share this information with the schools you select.
- Apply for scholarships. In addition to applying for academic scholarships through your college, applying for outside scholarships can help you pay for your tuition. Free scholarship databases are available to help you find ones you want to apply to. They’re very competitive and receive lots of applications, so you might want to apply to a lot of them.
- Consider student loans if necessary. If financial aid and scholarships don’t cover the cost of your schooling, you may need to look into student loans as an option for paying off your education.
Step 7: Get Admitted to College!
- Celebrate with friends and family! As soon as those acceptance letters start arriving, make sure to celebrate. You’ve worked really hard to get to this point, and it’s a huge accomplishment.
- Make your final decision. If you’ve applied to multiple colleges, you may get multiple acceptance letters. This is the time to make your final choice about which college you’ll want to attend. Make sure to look at things like financial aid packages.
- Accept an offer and sign up for new student orientation. Congratulations – you’ve chosen your college, you’ve informed them of your choice, and now you’re a full blown college student! Most colleges have new student orientations that are mandatory and may be over one or several days (mine had us in a dorm for a night), so be sure to sign up early.
Once you have your steps in order, applying to college is really not as daunting of a task as it seems. It takes a lot of work and a ton of time and research, but it will be well worth it when you love your school.