By far the most important first step is to make a list or calendar of important dates and deadlines related to the application process. Make sure students are following their high school's internal deadlines for things like requesting recommendation letters and submitting applications. Students should also have a place where they are keeping all of their college-related usernames and passwords.
If a student is really interested in a college, they may be consider applying early. Make sure they are weighing the pros and cons of early admission.
Below are the three types of early admission programs.
- Early decision – This is a binding commitment in which the student applies early (usually in early November) and finds out early (usually by December) if he/she is accepted. If accepted, he/she must attend that college.
- Early action – This plan also allows the student to apply early but is nonbinding, so students can still apply to other colleges, whether EA or during regular admission deadlines. Students receive a decision earlier than usual (January or February).
- Single-choice early action – Some schools restrict those who apply early action: students are not bound to attend if admitted early, but cannot apply early decision or early action to any other colleges.
Make sure students understand the details of each college’s early program so as not to be bound to a commitment they cannot or do not want to make!
Regular decision is the most straightforward application plan. There are no restrictions on what other colleges students may apply to. Deadlines are often in January or February, but some can be as early as November or December, so make sure to check each school’s website or admissions office for specifics. Decisions about acceptance are typically sent out in the spring, and students usually must decide by May 1st.
If a college has a rolling deadline, it means that students can send in an application at any point within the admissions cycle and acceptance decisions are made on a continual basis. Typically, it can take 4-6 weeks for a school to make a decision. Though this might sound like the most flexible option, there are often deadlines for financial aid after which a student will not be eligible to receive aid, so make sure to investigate the details of this option before waiting too late to apply!
Typically, college applications, especially liberal arts colleges, will ask for the following, in addition to grades and test scores:
- Resume and Extracurricular activities
- Personal statement/essay
- Interview (often optional)
Before completing applications, students will need to gather information such as:
- Full legal name
- Social security number (if applying for federal financial aid)*
- Home/mailing address
- Parents’ full legal names, contact information, education history (college name and graduation year), employment information, income information*
- School counselor’s contact information (sometimes students in large high schools don’t know who their counselor is!)
- Potential major(s)
- Note that students should understand that most colleges do not hold students to this, but it can be important if they are applying to specialized schools such as nursing, engineering, etc.
- Interest in opportunity programs (for NYC and BAY students)
*Much of this information can be difficult and sensitive for students to collect from their parents/guardians, especially if they are undocumented students. Be aware that some students might ask for your help with this while others might not be as forthcoming or open to help in this area. Your biggest role here is to help coach students to have conversations with their parents about why this information is important to collect and provide (for financial aid eligibility, opportunity programs, etc.)
Types of applications
Most schools will require students to fill out and submit their college applications online. It is always a good idea for those supporting a student’s application process to browse the online application or at least the requirements of the applications that the student plans to submit. PMs and mentors can also create an online application of their own to view all the questions and information required!
The "Common App"
The Common App is used by colleges that conduct holistic admission, meaning that they consider more than just GPA and test scores. Using the Common App allows students to submit the same application to multiple schools. While over 500 colleges use the Common Application, they usually also require a “Common App Supplement” that asks additional questions and/or for requirements unique to their institution. Students and those supporting them should read the application carefully for information about deadlines, which differ across schools, and for all requirements particular to each school.
The Common App becomes available on August 1 of each year. Students should visit www.commonapp.org to create an account.
The Common App is divided into sections:
- Dashboard – gives an overview of the colleges you’ve selected to apply to
- My Colleges – gives a list of the colleges you’ve selected to apply to; also where you complete individual college supplements and assign teachers to write recommendations
- Profile – main section where you provide info such as name, school, activities, classes, resume items, and personal statement
Use this Common App checklist to support students with gathering information needed to compete their applications.
Use this step-by-step Common App presentation with pairs.
The Coalition Application
Debuting in the fall of 2016, the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success, seeks to engage and support under-resourced students during the college preparation process and has developed a free application platform (The Coalition Application) and a Locker and Collaboration Space for students to use in their search process.
Students will follow the established admission process of each school, including submitting any required application fee or approved waiver. Coalition member schools will waive the application fee for low income students.
Click here for a list of colleges that are using the Coalition Application.
Use this tutorial to become familiar with this application.
Some colleges/universities have their own individual applications, and some public university systems might have one application for a network of several different colleges. Click on your regional specific link to learn more.