Answers to Your Frequently Asked Questions About Applying to College

Once you decide which colleges you are interested in, it’s time to start on your applications. It’s normal to have a lot of questions about this process. Here are the answers to some we thought you might ask:

1. What’s a good way to organize the application process?

You should start by looking over the whole process and learning what you need to do and when you need to do it. Although each college has its own schedule and deadlines, the College Application Calendar should give you a good overview.

Organize college paperwork into file folders — a separate one for each college you’re interested in — and keep track of each college’s specific requirements. Completing a college application checklist for each one is another good idea.

2. When should I start working on my applications?

You should start your applications in the summer before your senior year. You have more free time then and can focus on getting the application requirements and reviewing them. Most students do the majority of their application work in the fall of their senior year. Before you dive in, make sure you know exactly what you need to do for each application.

3. How many colleges should I apply to?

You should create a list of five to eight colleges that you are interested in attending. The list should contain a mix of safety, probable and reach colleges — that is, some colleges that you think are very likely to accept you, some that are likely to accept you, and some that are less likely to accept you. Of course, it’s important that you feel that all of them are good fits for your needs. Read more about the number of colleges to apply to.

Is it better to apply online, or send a paper application? You should check with the colleges you are interested in to see which format they prefer. Most colleges prefer online applications, which are often quicker and easier for them to process. One benefit of applying online is that it is easier to correct a mistake on an electronic application than it is on a paper version. It can also save you money; many colleges waive the application fee if you apply online. Remember, your information is confidential and the college you apply to doesn’t share it with anyone else. Most colleges do accept paper applications, but you should check to make sure.

Is it okay to send additional material that I think will support my application? In most cases, you should only submit the information requested. Colleges put a lot of thought into their admission packages; they have determined what information they need from each applicant and do not have the time, resources or desire to sift through material that they consider unnecessary. Consult your school counselor if you feel it is critical that you provide additional material. Colleges look negatively on students who don’t follow their directions explicitly.

4. Do colleges really care about your senior year grades?

They do care, and they’re paying attention. Colleges want to be sure that you have maintained the level of academic performance that you’ve shown them, and are ready to succeed in higher education. Your high school sends a mid-year transcript with your application — and also sends one to the college of your choice at the end of the year. The college expects to see that you have kept up the same rigorous program the whole year. Your acceptance offer could be withdrawn if the college feels that senioritis caused your grades to drop.

How many times should I take the SAT®? Most students take the SAT® twice — once in the spring of junior year and once in the fall of senior year. You should practice for the SAT before you take it. Use the free online practice materials available to get an idea of what the actual test is like. You may want to take the test a third time if you think you could significantly improve your scores.

5. Why should I apply to colleges that I know my family can’t afford?

You don’t know which colleges your family can afford until you get an estimate based on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that you submit at the beginning of January in your senior year. The FAFSA determines what your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is, and what types of aid the college can offer you. Many families discover that they can get financial aid and afford colleges that they thought were beyond their budget.

6. What is the Common Application and should I use it?

The Common Application is a standardized first-year application form that you can use to apply to many colleges. There are both online and print versions available. More than 400 colleges currently accept the Common Application. Some of the colleges may also request additional materials when you apply.

Watch an interactive demo of the Common App. 


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