Guide to Finding, Selecting and Applying to Colleges
Imagine: After months of preparation, dropping that first application into the mailbox—it’s bound to give you a feeling of accomplishment. The process that leads up to mailing the application involves a number of important components that include:
- Deciding what to study
- Researching and choosing a college, university or program
- Applying for financial aid
- Meeting admissions & college requirements
- Writing essays
- Requesting letters of recommendation
- Packaging your application
- Handling acceptance and rejection letters
- Making your final choice of school
and many other tasks related to the larger college admissions process.
Choosing a College or University for You
Students may begin a search for colleges as soon as sophomore year in high school. Guidance counselors, online college directories and libraries are good places to start exploring your options.
Narrow down your college search; ask yourself a few basic questions:
- What type of school or program are you interested in? The sky’s the limit: you’ll find two-year community colleges, large universities with strong research reputations, leading athletic schools, small liberal arts colleges, top engineering schools… All of these are examples of very different types of schools and represent a few of the choices you must make.
- Do you already know what you want to major in? Not necessary, but if you already know it may help you focus on schools that specialize in that particular area.
- Do you want to be in a rural setting or do you picture yourself trekking around an urban downtown campus? Do you want to be close to home or as far away a possible? Ski town? Beach town?
- Do you want to live on-campus, in off-campus housing or commute from home?
- Are you looking for a high-quality online degree program?
Applying to College
The application process for every school is different, which is why you need to start early. Request an admissions package from the schools you’ve chosen as soon as possible. Why? With this information you can make a checklist of all the required documents, letters and essays you’re required to complete as well as make note of deadlines well in advance.
**Tip: It is bad form to fill out every college application exactly the same. Each one is individual and demands your undivided attention. Never recycle essays.
College Entrance Exams
Exams are another important aspect of the application process. The most common college entrance exams are by far the SAT and the ACT. Every high school student planning on attending a four-year college or university in the U.S. is required to take one.
What’s the purpose of aptitude tests like these?
Some schools use the scores to immediately narrow down the huge volume of admissions applications. Other schools may put very little weight on the scores. Basically the exams are designed to provide admissions personnel with an overall indication of your reading, writing and math skills.
Good news: most admissions counselors consider all aspects of a student’s application, including personal and educational goals and interests, not just exam scores.
**While the accuracy of these tests and their true ability to determine your skill level in certain areas has been debated, they remain a requirement for admittance to most four-year American colleges and universities.
The Admissions Essay
The admissions essay can make or break your application and it may be one of the most feared parts of the admissions process. A good admissions essay communicates a few important things: you are genuinely motivated to attend this particular school, you are a hard worker and interested in making the best impression.
Admissions essays differ from school to school: you could be asked to write about an important moment in your life or you may be prompted to answer a question.
Our guide includes tips and strategies that help you develop a topic, respond to a scripted question, organize your thoughts, put them on paper and make appropriate revisions to reach a polished final copy.
Letters of Recommendation
Many college applicants are required to provide one or more letters of recommendation along with their application. This is a tool you can leverage to make your college application more powerful. Recommendation letters may come from a favorite teacher, a counselor, a coach or even a boss. Letters are designed to emphasize your positive attributes, your extracurricular passion and accomplishment and otherwise help explain why you are a good candidate for a particular college.