The College Application Process, An Overview

Preparing to take the ACT® or SAT® exam is part of the bigger process of applying to college, and ultimately, financing and attending the school of your choice.  Your Preparation process should therefore always be looked at in the context of this larger process.  What are your goals? What score do you need to get into which school, and what is the threshold for financial aid.  How will you decide from so many choices.  Below we have outlined this process, and given some broad guidelines on how to tackle it step-by-step so that you remain ahead of the process.

When it comes to applying to colleges, the earlier you begin the process, the better. For years, this was the secret to success for many students enrolled at elite private high schools, which counseled students to get a head start on building their “high school resumes.”   Ideally, students should start watching their GPA and making sure they have ample extracurricular activities in sophomore year, but the formal process really begins in junior year with the college search and the “pre-tests,” the PSAT or PLAN.  Keep in mind that if you start later than this, it is always possible to make up for the lost time, but the chart below serves as a good guideline for how to manage the formal application process and stay ahead of the curve. 


Fall: By now, you should be acclimated to high school grading systems. Although the classes should be more advanced, you will be building on prior knowledge as you move further into the math and reading levels tested on the ACT®/SAT®. Take your reading seriously and with parental and school guidance begin to think about the kind of college you would like to attend. Planning ahead is an excellent way to start looking at colleges, although it isn’t absolutely necessary to start looking until later. If you like, set up a list of targets, hopefuls, and reach schools in order to maximize potential. Look into scholarships, including those related to athletics, as college can be very expensive. Focus also on doing the work necessary for good grades, as a poor GPA would reflect negatively in the eyes of the college admissions board. Employ the PSAT as an effective means for practicing for the SAT® and to be considered for scholarships, including the National Merit Scholarships. 

Winter: Talk to a college counselor. A high test score will make up for a lower GPA, although the easiest way to achieve the result that you want as far as being accepted into a college of your choice is to have a strong GPA and a high SAT® score. After talking to your counselor, and if you have not done so already, make a list of colleges you would like to attend. Be sure to include those where you have a strong chance to be accepted. Be prepared for acceptances and rejections, as it is a competitive environment. Study the ACT®/SAT® using supplementary materials if you feel it would assist you in increasing your score. Check reviews before purchasing software. Be sure to take both tests as many colleges will accept either test and because one test may be easier for you. 

Spring: Keep doing research about the colleges you would like to attend, considering public versus private schools, tuition costs, location, size and other factors important to you and your family. If you have the money, you can visit schools. Take AP tests if you are eligible, as these will help with college admissions and can earn you some college credits. 

Summer: Continue to think about where you want to progress in terms of classes and grades. Consider potential deficits in either math and/or reading comprehension that you could address in your spare time. 


Fall: Register for the SAT® I, SAT® II, and ACT® early on. The course list will indicate, if necessary, the credits required by schools that you may be applying to. Though grades are less important next semester, they still matter now. Applications for scholarships will be upcoming, so be careful to narrow them down and prepare the necessary documents. College applications will also be due soon. If you have a particular major or area of study in mind, it doesn’t hurt to be in contact with the relevant department at your top-choice colleges. Keep your options open, remember that if you focus on your studies, with hard work and determination you will continue to have success. After taking the tests, finalize your college list and consider whether to apply early to any of the colleges on your list. 

Winter: Write your admissions essays and keep track of each school’s deadlines so that you can send in your application paperwork on time. Financial aid forms are required now, so finish them up and send them in. The colleges that you select will want to know about any awards or honors, so be sure to let them know about these as well. Send a transcript to every college that you apply to. Check each school for extra or unique application requirements. 

Spring: Wait for decisions, once they are in your should narrow your choices down by visiting the schools or by doing exhaustive research from home.  You should also begin constructing a budget and applying for financial aid and student loans.

Summer: Send in a final transcript to your college of choice. Pay the required tuition and board fees before the due date to insure your place in the fall.   Finalize financial aid and student loan agreements and research work/study options. Start planning your fall course load and aligning it with your planned major or career goals.

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