The College Application Process: All You Need To Know

Graduating from high school isn’t the end but the beginning of the next stage in your life: college. Whether you’re a freshman in high school or you’re halfway through your junior year, college should be at the forefront of your mind. However, it can be difficult to know how to get there. The college application process is constantly evolving and each school has its own set of requirements. Some schools like CalTech require SAT subject tests while other schools, like Barnard College, don’t. Some schools like Penn State have rolling admissions deadlines while others, like the University of Florida, don’t. It can be hard to know what the right track to take is and whether you’re meeting all the requirements. With the following information, you will discover how to get through high school taking the proper steps to ensure college admissions success.

9th Grade

As a 9th grade student, you’re probably wondering why college is important to you. Believe it or not, freshman year is one of the most important years in high school. It’s the opportunity to start strong and show admissions officers you faced high school head-on and were ready for a challenge. Despite college being four years away, there are still steps you can take to be ready when college applications roll around.

Join Extracurriculars

Freshman year is the perfect time to get involved in all the fun clubs your high school offers. Try out for the sports teams, join your high school newspaper, or be a part of the robotics club. Whatever your interests are you should begin high school showcasing them. As your time in high school continues, so should your involvement in your extracurricular activities. Admissions officers aren’t just seeking students that excel academically, but students that make an impact outside of the classroom.

Do Well In Classes

This goes without saying but starting high school can be difficult for some students. Make sure you are performing well in your classes and giving yourself enough time to study and do homework. If you feel yourself falling behind don’t be afraid to ask for help and seek out tutoring. Find out what your strengths are and which subjects you perform the best in. You should always be seeking out opportunities for academic growth.

Form Relationships

The more involved you are, the more likely your faculty will know who you are. It’s good to have positive relationships with teachers and guidance counselors. If there is a teacher that you like, consider joining the club that they are the head of. Attend your guidance counselor’s office hours and have conversations with them early on about college. This could be the difference between a mediocre letter of recommendation and an excellent one. Making a positive impact on someone could help you in your college admissions process.

Prepare For Standardized Tests

Typically a high school student will take the PSAT in 10th and 11th grade but sometimes, they’ll take it in 9th grade as well. It’s important to prepare for these exams and take them seriously. Even though it’s just a practice test and doesn’t have any consequences for performing poorly, it serves as a great way to prepare for the actual SAT. We recommend students take the PSAT with as much importance as the regular SAT or ACT. Reviewing practice questions, reading a lot, and quizzing yourself is the best way to prepare for the PSAT.

10th Grade

By 10th grade, you should have a handle on high school and be able to manage a more rigorous schedule. You should be taking more difficult classes than you had the previous year, and becoming more familiar with your high school surroundings. You still might feel as though college is so far away, but the first two years of high school could really set the tone for the kind of colleges you could get into. It’s important to always be taking it seriously and performing your absolute best.

Show Upward Trajectory

This year you should be taking more advanced classes than you had the previous year. This means instead of taking a regular math class, you should be taking an honors math class. If you’re performing well in honors English, consider taking AP English Literature or AP English Language. If your school offers AICE or IB courses, consider enrolling in those. Showing upward trajectory is a way to show admissions officers that you’re willing to push yourself.

Display Leadership

In your extracurricular activities, you should be looking towards gaining leadership positions. This can mean becoming vice president, secretary, treasurer or any other board member. This can mean becoming captain of your sports team. Whatever leadership looks like to you, you should be going for it. Admissions officers want leaders to be on their campus. By showing yourself being a leader, you’re proving to admissions officers you are responsible and a reliable individual. Colleges value leadership in their students, sometimes above other attributes.

Take The PSAT

In October of 10th grade, you’ll take the PSAT, for some the first time. Make sure you’re taking it seriously. After you receive your results, use the score to study and practice areas that weren’t your strengths. You can use your score report to see exactly which questions you got right and which you got wrong. This can help in creating a study plan to prepare for the 11th grade PSAT and the actual SAT/ACT testing.

11th Grade

Junior year of high school is no doubt the most challenging year for students. This is the last year of schooling that will be reflected in your transcripts. In addition, you typically take your first round of standardized tests such as the SAT and the ACT. Junior year is the last year to impact admissions officers and really stand out.

Take The PSAT

This is your last chance to take the PSAT and have it count towards the National Merit Scholarship. You should be using your previous test scores to prepare for the exam. While the PSAT doesn’t count towards your college applications, it is still a good way to judge how you would perform on the actual SAT. This helps students study areas of weaknesses and improve on their strengths. You can also use your score on this test to prepare for the SAT and ACT that you will inevitably take later this year.

Attend College Fairs

Your own school or local schools might be hosting college fairs in the fall semester. This is the perfect opportunity for you to meet admissions counselors and get to know other schools better. Attending college fairs will help you understand what a school has to offer and whether it would be a good fit for you. This will also display to schools your demonstrated interest. Meeting the admissions officers and sending them an email afterward can help show your interest in the school. This is helpful in getting your name familiarized with the people making the admissions decisions. It is also best to hear what admissions officers are looking for from admissions officers themselves.

Build Your College List

You should be spending time throughout your junior year and into the summer building a college list. You should be researching schools and taking note of what they have to offer. If possible, visit college campuses. If you’re unable to visit any campuses, take virtual tours to get a sense of what going to that school would be like. Campus Tours and You Visit are two websites that offer hundreds of schools for you to tour virtually.

You should have a list that comprises safety, match and reach schools. Safety schools are schools that you can determine you’ll likely get in based on their average admitted student profile. For example, the average admitted student SAT score for Florida Atlantic University for 2019-2020 fell between 1120 and 1260. If you are somewhere in that range, you can say this school would be a safety school. Your match schools are schools that you can define as having a reasonable chance of getting into but there might be some outside factors to prevent acceptance. Reach schools are Ivy Leagues and other highly competitive universities. They also include schools in which the average admitted student is above your own credentials. You should have a list of about 7 to 12 schools that you will apply to in your senior year.

Take The SAT And The ACT

It is recommended that all high school students take the SAT and ACT at least once during their junior year. Some students think they perform better on the SAT while others believe they perform better on the ACT. It’s important to know which test you are more comfortable with and then continuing to retake that one as the school year and summer progresses. You want to take these tests for the first time as early as possible so you have enough time to study and continue to improve your score before you have to start applying to colleges. To sign up for the SAT you will go to College Board. To sign up for the ACT you will access their registration on ACT.org. Make sure you are staying up to date on the registration deadlines and test dates.

Begin Your Personal Statement

Your personal statement, otherwise known as the Common App Essay, is an essay that students must write to go with their applications. This is an essay that can help an admissions officer determine if you are the type of student that they want on their campus. There are 7 prompts to choose from but these aren’t hard prompts that need to be followed exactly. They are simply “ideas” to help brainstorm a topic that you wish to speak about. Take this time to think of a story you want to tell the admissions officers. Write down your thoughts, start a rough draft, and work from there. Have your peers, teachers, parents, and other trusted individuals review and edit your paper. This essay should undergo multiple edits and revisions before it is submitted with your applications.

12th Grade

The time has finally arrived to start and finish your applications! While your grades might not be part of your application, you should still keep them up and not fall victim to senioritis. The classes you take and the level of involvement you have in your senior year are still considered by admissions officers. You need to make sure you are maintaining your focus and your drive isn’t diminishing. Try to stay on top of your application deadlines without falling behind in your classwork. Staying organized during this time is pivotal. Keep a calendar, a to-do list, or create a spreadsheet to stay on top of the work required.

Finalize College List

You should have your college list completed by early senior year with the schools you want to apply to and when you want to apply to them. Make sure you are devising a plan of action in order to tackle your applications in a timely fashion. All the schools you wish to apply to early decision or early action should be completed first. When those are finished, you should shift your focus to any regular decision and rolling admissions schools that are on your list.

Finalize SAT And ACT Scores

If you received your test scores, or you haven’t taken the tests yet at all, now is the time to finalize your scores. Make sure you are signing up for the earliest possible test dates and showing up to them prepared. If you’re taking the tests again to try to improve your score, make sure you are focusing your energy on the sections you don’t feel strongest in. If you are taking it for the first time, focus your energy on the questions you are confident with and then come back to answer the rest. Remember, there is no penalty for guessing.

Gather Application Materials

Before you submit your applications you should be certain that you have all the materials required for each school. This includes but is not limited to your transcripts, letters of recommendation, test scores, personal statement, supplemental essays, résumé, FAFSA application, and any other additional materials that a school might need. This is why keeping a checklist or a spreadsheet is a good way to make sure you know what each school requires and that you have submitted all the required documents to each school. You should be asking for letters of recommendation early in senior year since guidance counselors and teachers will likely be writing multiple letters for students. You want to make sure you are giving them enough time in advance to complete yours without cutting it close to the deadline.

Complete FAFSA

The FAFSA application opens on October 1st and needs to be completed in order for you to receive a financial aid package from schools. In order to finish this application, you will need your parent’s financial information. This process could be difficult to understand so make sure you are giving yourself enough time to complete the application properly. The financial aid package that you receive from schools could be a combination of grants, loans, and scholarships. This will depend entirely on your financial situation and the amount of money the school is willing to allocate to you.

Submit Applications

Your very last application should be submitted by December 31st at 11:59 p.m. at the very latest. Of course, there are rolling admissions schools that can be submitted after that deadline but it’s important to submit early so you don’t lose a potential spot at a school. Make sure you’ve double-checked that your materials are completed properly and you have submitted all of the materials that you need.

It’s important to remember that the college application process begins in 9th grade. Even though you don’t submit your applications until senior year there are steps that all students should be taking to ensure they are setting themselves up for college application success.

At Prepory, we prep students for the process early on. Our college counseling program covers topics like extracurricular involvement, writing college essays, SAT and ACT test prep skills, and much more.

Alix Zevetski

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At Prepory, we recognize there is more to college applications than demonstrating interest. Contact us now to learn more about how we can guide you through each part of the college admissions process!