College Application Process Overview

Finding Schools

A student receives an acceptance letter after going through the college application process

Flickr user Justin

So, you’ve identified schools that look like reasonable options, some reaches, some that are a safer fit, some that you know you can afford, and some you can go to if the financial aid (price) is right.  What’s next?  The very next step is to do some searching for additional information as you go through your application process.  Closely review the school’s website, see if there are any blogs or chats with current students, identify the kinds of events that take place on campus to see if some are to your liking, and let these schools know you are interested in them.

Choosing colleges used to be much more straight forward…pick a couple of schools you like across a small spectrum in academic difficulty and you would have your bases covered.  Applying to college is no longer quite so simple.  The number of high school students is much larger than it once was.  This means your competition is much greater than it had been and schools for which you are academically well-qualified, may simply not have room for you.  As a result, you have to apply to a wider range of schools to ensure that you have some viable options once acceptance letters are mailed.  Again, this has less to do with whether you are qualified for admission but rather how many of these qualified applicants a school has room to accept.

Today, applying to 8 or so schools on your college list is not considered excessive, it’s judicious.  It is important to ensure that your schools cover an academic range.  College admissions is not an exact science and the reasons you are admitted to one school and not another may not be readily apparent.  Make sure you have some schools on your list that are less competitive than others and make sure you like them enough to attend!


Adhering to deadlines is vital.  Keep in mind that others are affected by your deadlines (teachers writing recommendations, your school counselor, the person proofreading your essay, etc.).  Make sure you give them enough time to do their job.  Plan ahead!  It is wise to mark all of your deadlines on a calendar so that you can see them and then plan ample time to get everything done before the 11th hour!  While it can sometimes be hard to motivate yourself to get started, you will be relieved and less stressed to have this done and out of the way with enough time for follow up and proofreading.


Ideally, you should do a college visit of the schools you’re interested in as well. Being physically at the school can not only give you a better feel for the college, but also give you ample opportunity to talk to students, faculty, and professors about life and class on campus. You can also sit down with the admissions team for an interview!


Make sure you follow all of the requirements when compiling your application. Common things include: essays, high school transcript, letters of recommendation, and special awards or honors. As we stressed earlier, deadlines are vital. Do not miss them. In fact, it’s best to send in your application with plenty of time before it’s due, just in case. Whether you use the Common App or drum one up from scratch, make sure it has everything you need and has been reviewed for spelling/grammar errors.

[Co-Written with Olivia Pittman]

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