Tips for applying to college


Wouldn’t it be nice if all a student had to do to attend their dream college was register for classes and show up? Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. If they want to go to college, they have to apply first. Our college application process checklist is your student’s simplified guide to getting into college.

Meet with high school guidance counselor

Guidance counselors can help your student begin to consider specific colleges based on their interests and abilities. Counselors know all the important college deadlines and can usually offer some tips on how to write a good essay, or provide guidance about what a particular college looks for in an applicant. Your student can start by creating a list of colleges they’re interested in and share it with their counselor for feedback. 

Apply as early as possible

Once your student submits their application, it can take up to eight weeks to get an admission decision (depending on when they apply and if everything required is submitted).

Some colleges, like Arizona State University, allow students to self-report their grades, greatly speeding up the time it takes to receive an admission decision. Through self-reporting, your student tells the college what grades they’ve earned rather than submitting an official transcripts. They have to be honest, because once they’re admitted they must submit their transcripts in order to enroll. If their transcripts don’t match what they told the college their grades were, the admission offer may be revoked.

Apply to more than one school

About five is a smart choice. Your student might consider applying to their top choice, a dream school (a school they’re not likely to get into but would love to attend), one safety school (a school that’s not their first choice, but that they know they can get into), and one or two schools that they’d like to attend and that they have a fairly decent shot at getting into. Consider using the Common Application.

Fill out the application carefully

It usually takes about 30 minutes or so to complete the average college application. That’s not including an essay, if one is required. Your student should take their time and be thorough and accurate. They don’t want small mistakes to prevent them from getting into their top school. They should ask for letters of recommendation from those who can speak to their academic abilities and achievements, like teachers and counselors.

Apply for tons of scholarships

There are lots of scholarships available if your student puts in the work of finding and applying for them. And there are some they can start earning while they’re still in high school.

  • RaiseMe — Students can earn money in high school by doing things they’re probably already doing, such as participating in extracurriculars, earning “As” or going on college visits. They can apply the money they earn to any of more than 250 RaiseMe partner schools.

  • Scholarship search tools — Students can use websites like FinAid Search, FastWeb Search and CollegeBoard Search to discover scholarships that they may be eligible for. They should apply for all they can — every little bit adds up.

  • Check the schools your student is applying to — Many schools offer university or departmental scholarships that your student can apply for if they are admitted.

Be sure to compare tuition costs and don’t forget to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Good luck!