With 2021 rapidly coming to a close, the question of college seems to pop up everywhere (at least for us seniors).

Whether we’re asked by our distant relatives or when meeting with the counselors, this might be a tough question to answer, not to mention: where do you even start?

In this guide to college admissions, we’ll touch briefly on the several aspects of the college admissions process.

Keep in mind that this won’t be incredibly detailed so if you have any questions, feel free to do more research.

Your counselors and those at the College and Career center on campus are also a great resource to students who have questions or don't know how to approach applying to colleges.

STANDARDIZED TESTING

For the Fall 2022 admissions cycle, many colleges are going test-optional in lieu of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This means that you don’t necessarily have to submit your SAT or ACT test scores to your desired institutions, and if you don’t, it won’t necessarily disadvantage you.

Some schools have even gone test-blind, which means they won’t consider your test scores at all during admissions. One prominent example is the UC system.

However, taking a standardized college test does come with some benefits.

It doesn’t hurt to add an additional facet to your application and distinguish yourself from the rest of the applicant pool. Some schools also offer merit scholarships based on SAT/ACT scores.

With how expensive college is nowadays, free money is a big deal!

If you aren’t prepared or simply feel uncomfortable with the testing environment at the moment due to COVID-19, no worries.

Just check on your school’s website to see what their testing requirements are. 

DEVELOP YOUR COLLEGE LIST

With thousands of higher education institutions located just in the U.S., it may be hard to find the right college for you.

You might want to apply to a school simply because of its reputation and prestige, but will it be the right fit for you?

To develop your college list, you’ll first want to list at least two of the following categories: safety schools, a few target schools, and a few reach schools

Safety schools are schools with a typical applicant pool that has lower statistics than you do (lower GPA, lower SAT scores, etc).

These are schools that you most likely will get into. 

Target schools are schools in which the majority of the applicants have the same range of statistics as you do (similar or slightly lower GPA, SAT scores, etc.).

Reach schools are schools in which the majority of applicants have the same or higher statistics, as well as a low acceptance rate.

Other factors to consider when choosing school include student culture (i.e. clubs, affinity groups, Greek life), student population makeup, classes offered, the school’s curriculum (i.e. a core curriculum versus an open curriculum), location, size, class size, student-to-faculty ratio, grade inflation/deflation, etc. and of course, financial aid.

When considering financial aid, you’ll want to look at both merit-based scholarships and demonstrated need-met schools.

Merit scholarships are awarded for stellar grades and/or SAT scores, and may or may not have to be applied separately to (depending on the school).

Demonstrated need-met based schools provide financial aid solely based on your financial information, such as yours's or your parents’ tax returns.

To find this out, you can use school-specific Net Price Calculators, which can help estimate your estimated family contribution (EFC). This can help you determine the cost of college for you personally. 

If you’re unsure of where to start, try using BigFuture’s college search engine or talking to the counselors in the College and Career center!

Additionally, the school will often set up tables with college representatives during lunch.

Don’t be afraid to stop by and ask questions or pick up a brochure!

WHEN DO I APPLY?

During this time, you’ll also want to determine whether you’d like to apply Early Decision, Early Action, or Regular Decision to a certain school.

Early Decision is a binding agreement between you and a school, which means that if you’re admitted, you must attend that school (unless there are extraordinary circumstances).

Therefore, you can only apply to one school ED. The deadline is typically two months earlier, however results typically come out sooner.

The exception is Early Decision II, which only a few schools have. Your application is due the same time as Regular Decision, but the result will come out a few months earlier. 

Early Action is similar to Early Decision except, in the event you get accepted, you can continue applying to schools afterward and attend another school you’ve been accepted at.

You can apply to multiple schools EA unless the school’s Early Action is restrictive, like at Harvard, Stanford, or Yale, which means you can only apply to that certain school Early Action (but can apply to other schools during Regular Decision round).

Results will also be released earlier.

Regular decision round is your typical round of college applications, due around the end of December to the beginning of January.

Results will then be released in the following months, typically between the end of March and April.

You can apply to multiple schools through regular decisions.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of applying to different application rounds?

With ED and EA, you get your results sooner. However, with less time to prepare, you may find that the quality of your application may suffer as a result. If you have a specific dream school you truly want to get into, however, then it may be worth it for you.

For a regular decision, you will have more time to prepare and refine your application as well as include any extracurricular activities or anything else that has occurred during the first half of your senior year.

However, the applicant pool is much larger, which means more competition.

That is why Early Decision/Early Action pools typically have a higher acceptance rate. 

MAP OUT DEADLINES

One of the hardest things to do during the college application season is actually doing your college applications.

It’s easy to procrastinate, especially now when it seems like your deadlines are a whole 3 months away.

However, time flies by quickly, and before you know it, you’ll only have a week left in December.

Depending on your application cycle, you might have a different due date than others.

For example, most Early Decision and Early Action deadlines fall around November 1st, but may be earlier if you have materials to submit (like a portfolio for the arts).

If you’re applying through Regular Decision, you’ll most likely have until the beginning of January to submit your application. For rolling applications, you’ll most likely want to submit your application as early as possible. 

Some colleges also have different deadlines depending on whether you’re applying for scholarships or not, so double check with the college of your choice!

By organizing your deadlines, you can begin breaking down your application into smaller tasks, finishing them throughout the next few months.

For example, you can make your application accounts today, then tomorrow you can fill out some personal information.

By doing so, you’re ensuring that you are being intentional with your college applications and have time to write your personal statement and your supplementals, which will take up the bulk of your time. 

START YOUR COLLEGE APPLICATIONS

Start applying to colleges! You’ll want to make an account through your application portal of choice.

There are two main portals that allow you to apply to multiple schools at the same time: the Common Application and the Coalition Application

The Common Application is the most popular application portal, as it hosts a wide variety of schools. 

If you qualify for free/reduced lunch, SAT/ACT waiver, or are otherwise low-income, you can qualify for a fee waiver that allows you to apply to up to 20 colleges for free. 

The Coalition for College Application, also known as the Coalition Application, allows you to apply to multiple colleges as well, similar to the Common Application.

However, the Coalition Application only consists of schools that commit to meeting demonstrated need, aiding underrepresented and low- income students.

It is up to you to choose which application portal you would like to use, however some schools are exclusive to only one of them. For example, the University of Washington only uses the Coalition Application. 

Be warned that some colleges have their own separate application.

The University of California and California State University, and CUNY colleges have their own application portals, although they let you apply to multiple schools within their respective systems.

They also offer fee waivers for up to 4 schools if you qualify.

MIT and Georgetown are other examples of schools that require you to use their own application portal. 

Therefore, when you are applying, make sure to find out which application the colleges on your list use. 

ASK FOR LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION

Some colleges will ask you for letters of recommendation, but what are those exactly?

Letters of recommendation are letters written by teachers or adults close to you in your personal life where they highlight your accomplishments and why you’re a good candidate for the college of your choice. 

You do not have to choose a teacher (unless the requirements for that college tell you so).

You can choose your youth group leader, an adult you’ve worked well with, basically someone outside of your family that can paint an accurate portrayal of why you should be admitted into a certain college.

Additionally, if you choose a teacher, you don’t always have to choose one whose class you got an A in.

Rather, it’s best to choose a teacher who knows you the best and one whose class you engaged the most in, regardless of the grade you’ve gotten in the class.

You may also need to get a counselor letter of recommendation, depending on the college.

To prepare the adults in your life in order to write a stellar letter of rec, try making a “brag sheet”, which is like a fancy resume highlighting all your strengths and the path you plan to take for college.

This will help your recommenders understand the light in which you want to be painted.

At CMHS in particular, seniors are encouraged to log into their School-Links account and follow the guidelines into adding your desired colleges and requesting specific teachers to write and send letters of recommendation.

GATHER APPLICATION MATERIALS

When you apply, you’ll most likely need tax forms for financial aid, brag sheets, resumes, etc. as well as materials for a portfolio (if you plan on submitting one, such as for the arts).

To stay organized and on top of your deadlines, it’s best if you obtain these documents early on and store them in a safe, unforgettable place in order to access it any time during your college application season. 

FILL OUT FINANCIAL AID INFORMATION

One of the most important things to fill out is your financial aid information. There are two main types you will fill out: FAFSA and the CSS profile.

FAFSA is short for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and it is the main method in which colleges, universities, and federal and state governments award you money based on income.

This is especially important if your family is low income, as every dollar counts towards your education. It’s recommended to fill this in as early as you can to maximize the aid you get, and is free to apply to.

It opened on October 1st and the general deadline is June 30th, 2023 for the 2022-2023 academic year, however, most colleges will require FAFSA to be filled out earlier in order to grant you your financial aid package.

Check in with your individual schools to see when it’ll be due.

Another financial aid application is the CSS Profile.

Typically administered by private colleges, it is used to gauge how much money should be awarded in institutional aid, that is, by the individual colleges.

It is usually a lengthier process to fill out than FAFSA, and just like FAFSA, individual colleges will have their own deadlines (although not all colleges require CSS).

You can fill it out at cssprofile.org, and it costs $25 for the initial application with $16 for each additional report you send to colleges.

The CSS Profile is different from FAFSA as, although some colleges do use it to grant institutional aid, it is also used by the federal government to grant government aid, such as the Pell Grant.

CSS is purely from the school itself. 

DRAFT AND WRITE COLLEGE ESSAYS AND SUPPLEMENTALS

Now here is the hard part: writing college essays and supplementals!

For many colleges (with some exceptions like the UC system), you’ll need to submit a personal statement.

Your personal statement is an essay that answers a certain prompt that will be sent to all colleges you apply to (through the Common or Coalition Application).

It is a (typically) 650 word essay that will encapsulate a certain life experience or background of your life.

The bulk of your writing, however, will be supplementals.

Depending on the colleges you choose to apply to, each individual school will have anywhere between 1-6 supplemental essays, and maybe even more! 

Many are school specific, such as the “Why this school?” or “Why this major?” prompt, as well as how you may contribute to the campus community.

For these essays, you’ll want to do research to make sure you are specific enough as to show that you really want to go to this school (even if it might not be your top choice).

Admissions officers look for students who really want to go to their school, so make sure to put effort into these (and certainly not cram!). 

SEARCH AND APPLY FOR SCHOLARSHIPS

After you submit your applications, you’ll want to look for scholarships.

Some may be school-specific, while others are awarded by outside organizations.

Some may require you to write essays or compete in rounds of elimination, while others may just require you to sign up to be entered for a chance to win money. 

Some scholarship programs are open now but close before your college application season may be over, like the Jack Kent Cooke or the Coca-Cola scholarship.

Using a scholarship search engine can also help you find more scholarships.

Be sure to type in specifiers like your gender or ethnicity to find scholarships. 

However, make sure to read any fine print before you apply, and make sure it is legitimate.

And remember, whether it is $50 or $5,000, scholarship money adds up over time, so be sure to apply to many!

Good luck with your applications this year, and if you have any questions, your counselors and the College and Career center are only a few minutes away!