The process of applying to college can be complicated, stressful and time-consuming. Not only does each school have its own requirements and deadlines an applicant must keep track of, but there are also plenty of decisions to make and alternative options students can look into during the application process. Take a look below at the steps involved in applying to school from start from finish, along with various resources to help the process.
College Entrance Exams
The first step in the application process -- college entrance exams -- comes way before actually applying to schools. High school students typically take the standardized PSAT/NMSQTs in October of their junior year as a practice test for the SATs. Plus, if they score high enough, students can receive college scholarships from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. To prepare for the test, go to the PSAT Prep section of the College Board site. The next step is the SATs and/or ACTs, which students usually take twice in the spring of their junior year and fall of senior year. Most schools take either score. The difference between the two tests is the SAT consists of reading, math and writing components, while the ACTs feature English, math, science and reading sections. The ACTs are also supposedly designed for non test-takers. To prepare for the SAT, go here, and to practice for the ACT, go here. There are SAT Subject tests, as well, which can "complement or enhance your college admission credentials," according to the College Board. Many colleges use these tests for admission, course placement or to advise students about course selection. Students can choose from 20 subject tests, ranging from literature to a foreign language to a specific science. Learn more about SAT Subject tests here. Click here for explanations of graduate school entrance exams.
Choosing which Scores to Send
Once the college entrance exam test taking part is over, the next step is choosing which scores to include in your applications. The College Board site offers a helpful section on score reporting and score choice, which includes basic info on choosing and sending scores, an FAQ, questions with the general manager of SAT and score verification services.
Types of Schools and Tuition
After deciding which scores to send to schools, it's time to think about where to apply and application options. One major factor, naturally driven by finances, is whether you would like to stay in-state or attend out-of-state school. Suite101 provides an informative article on the pros and cons of each and the differences in tuition costs. Of course, as this U.S. News & World Report article explains, there are loopholes for getting to pay in-state tuition. Citizens Bank also explains the basic difference between the two on its site, as well as public versus private institutions. The Washington Post, meanwhile, describes the costs of public versus private colleges with the help of recent statistics.
Types of Admission Processes
There are various types of applications and admissions to think about before applying, as well. With regular admission, you apply by a deadline typically set January 1 and hear back in April. Early decision is a binded commitment for which you apply earlier than the regular deadline, hear back around December and, if you are admitted, are contracted to enroll. Therefore, students can only apply to one school early decision. Early action is another type of admissions process in which you also apply early and hear back early but you may decline the offer if accepted. Rolling admission, on the other hand, allows students to apply within a large deadline window and they respond with a decision within a few weeks.
For many students, the essay portion of a college application is the toughest component. Essays can range from a personal statement for which the topic is of your choosing or a response to a seemingly simple question such as, "What fictional character do you identify with most and why?" All aspects from the grammar and vocabulary of the writing to a topic or answer choice can seem like the difference between whether you get into your dream school or not. Prepare and edit with the following resources:
College Board: Includes how to choose an essay topic, recipe for a draft, sample essay questions and essays and writing tips
The Princeton Review: Covers the best way to tell your story in a personal statement to the mechanics of an essay to common essay questions
Carleton College: Provides a list of 15 quick and valuable tips for writing a college application essay
U.S. News & World Report: Via the Professor's Guide blog, 10 general tips that are helpful to read before and after writing a first draft
Oxford Dictionary: Make sure to triple-check your grammar, punctuation and spelling with this useful online center
Often many colleges offer an optional interview as part of the application process. There are advantages and disadvantages to a college interview. While some consider it an opportunity to learn more about the school themselves and put a face to an application, others may think it could potentially hurt their chances if they aren't the best verbal communicator, and it might be too stressful. For more information and tips on college interviews, check out the following sites:
About.com: Prepare for the interview with these 12 common college interview questions and ways to respond, as well as 10 interview mistakes
College Board: Read up on the basics of a college interview, along with tips and different types of interviews
CollegeData.com: Go over possible questions, how to prepare and last-minute tips for before, during and after the interview
Everything-about-College.com: This site goes over the advantages of doing an optional interview, how to prepare, do's and don'ts, what to do at the conclusion and more.Of course, there are many smaller steps involved in applying for college, but there are plenty more ways to get help, like getting advice from your guidance and/or college counselor, teachers, parents and peers. Good luck!