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A Guide to the College Application Process

Student Life

College application season has officially started, and seniors are rushing to complete the many steps required to get into the schools of their choice! The process can seem daunting, especially when there aren't any peers who could offer help in this situation. However, this post outlines what steps will need to be taken to get into the school of your dreams!

College Application Platforms

There are many options when deciding which application platform you want to use. The most popular platform is the Common Application, which is accepted by 900+ schools nationwide. The website only allows you to fill out your information for colleges only once and include a personal statement essay that students have to complete and can send to multiple colleges.

However, some colleges don't accept Common Application and use another application platform or their own websites, such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Georgetown, University of California system, Loyola University Chicago, and Brigham Young University. Other options include the Coalition Application, accepted by 150+ schools nationwide, and the Common Black College Application. The Common Black College Application allows applicants to apply to multiple HBCUs for a single fee of $20. The platform currently accepts 67 HBCUs, including public and private schools. But only some HBCUs accept the application.

College Application Deadlines

Applicants have various options they can choose from when applying to different colleges. First, Early Action and Early Decision deadlines are in November. Students who decide to apply for Early Action or Early Decision receive their decision letter earlier than those who apply for regular decision, usually in December. However, those who apply for Early Decision should know that Early Decision acceptances are binding. Getting an acceptance letter from a school through Early Decision means you would have to revoke every application from other colleges and attend their institution. Some institutions have a second Early Decision deadline called ED II, which is equally binding. The difference lies in the deadline. Those who apply for ED II have their deadline in January and receive their admissions letter in February. Early Action is similar to Early Decision, but EA acceptances aren't binding, unlike those who decide to ED.

Applicants can also choose the Regular Decision deadline as early as November 30, but it usually takes place from January 1-4. Those who apply for regular decision typically hear back from schools in mid-March to early April. One other deadline to be aware of is rolling admissions. Institutions that take part in rolling admissions evaluate applications once they receive them and release decisions in a window of time.

Tackling College Essays

A significant obstacle applicants must overcome to submit their application is writing college essays. A majority of students are required to submit at least one writing sample called the personal statement. A personal statement usually has a word limit of a few hundred words, but most commonly 650 words. Applicants can choose which essay prompts they want to write about, regardless of the platform. Schools will also provide their own batch of supplemental essays for which students will have to craft compelling responses. Many college admissions officers state that students should try their best to share their stories in these essays and demonstrate who they are as a person. "Use your applications to share your story, accomplishments, and aspirations with us. Once you hit submit on your applications, congratulate yourself on completing an important step in the process," says JT Duck, Dean of Admissions at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

Other College Application Materials

1. Standardized Test Scores

Many schools used to require the submission of ACT and SAT scores to decide admissions. In light of the pandemic, schools have now gone test-optional, allowing students to choose whether they would like to submit their scores or not. There is no penalty for not submitting SAT scores, and it will not hinder your application. They can only help if you have excellent scores to submit. However, some notable schools have returned to requiring SAT scores, including Georgetown, UNC-Chapel Hill, Georgia Tech, and Florida State University. Some schools are test-blind, which means test scores will not be considered in the application process and will have no bearing on the status of your application.

2. High School Transcript

Colleges ask that you submit your high school transcript containing all the courses taken and grades. Admissions officers will closely evaluate your transcript to make sure you fulfill all the requirements to graduate and if you have the grades to match their criteria. They prefer your high school to directly send your transcript instead of sending it yourself.

3. Letter of Recommendation

Schools usually request 2 to 3 letters of recommendation from teachers in the five core subjects (Math, English, Social Studies, Science, and Foreign Language). Students should ask teachers who know them best and can attest to their personalities in and outside the classroom. Colleges will also ask for your high school counselor's recommendation letters and allow optional letters of recommendation called supplemental recommendation letters. These supplemental recommendation letters can apply to an art teacher, employer, sports coach, clergy, college access counselor, or peers. When asking for letters of recommendation, it would be beneficial to provide a resume, so recommenders have some references to work off of.

4. Personal Information

In the first section of all applications, applicants will be asked to fill in personal information about themselves, their school, and family.

5. College Application Fees

There is no set amount for application fees, but it mainly ranges between $50-$100 per application. Applicants should check each school's website for the application fee policy and whether it's possible to get fee waivers. Low-Income students can receive fee waivers allowing them to submit applications without paying. Usually, those who qualify for SAT or ACT fee waivers qualify for fee waivers from testing companies. Requesting a fee waiver directly in the common app and other application platforms is also possible. They only offer fee waivers to low-income students and students participating in college events and fairs. There are also periods when some colleges will waive application fees in some states.

I'm sure that was a lot of information to digest at once, but don't worry! Applicants, you still have time to complete all the checklists required to apply to the schools of your choice. Always make sure to proofread your application before submitting it and good luck to those applying. Best Wishes!

Williana Serve
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Williana is currently a Senior in High School. She likes to learn new things especially involving Law & Advocacy. When she’s not doing schoolwork, she can be found watching TikTok, YouTube, or reading.