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The College Application Process: What You Need To Know

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So you want to go to college, but the process to apply seems way too overwhelming. You picture piles of confusing forms and documents and no understanding of how to even begin.

The college application process is exactly that: a process, a series of steps, and there is a lot to know:

Step 1: Find Your Schools of Choice

When graduating from high school or even for a student entering out of community college, it is not necessarily apparent to him which field he would want to major in as this may seem a low priority item to consider. However, taking the time to think about and research a possible major of interest can streamline the first step in the application process.

Step 2: Begin With Narrowing the List

There are hundreds of colleges, institutes and universities nationwide and worldwide, each offering a variety of majors or fields of study. Some schools have a stronger emphasis on one particular field than the next. Choosing a selection of schools that would fit your personal preference, i.e., small schools vs. large schools, religious schools vs. non-religious schools and academic preference or schools that have stronger programs in a specific field of study, i.e., vocational, business or engineering, will help you narrow your selection when applying. (NOTE: There should be at least 3-4 schools on your list.)

Step 3: Research and Compare – How Are Your Choices Ranked Among the Rest?

Since June of 2007, colleges have been ranked through studies via peer or reputational surveys. The results of these surveys are based on subjective data from faculty, highbrows and students. Resources such as U.S. News and World Report offer comprehensive listings of rankings for each school. This can assist in determining which school would be the better choice for weightier job potential in the future.

Step 4: Plan a Visit

Campuses can appear very different through the view of your computer screen or a brochure. One highly recommended action to take in the narrowing your choices is visiting the campus in order to get a feel for the facilities themselves. If you are interested in attending a school out-of-state, adapting to the weather is another factor to consider. While the school’s academic reputation might be exemplary when matched to your standards, the facilities and campus life could be very much sub-par and enough so to strike it off your list.

Step 5: Fill Out the Paperwork

Most colleges require the completion of an application that may include academic data (high school transcripts), personal essays, listings of extracurricular involvement, and letters of recommendation. SAT or ACT scores may also be included in the application; however, they are not mandatory for some schools.

Deadlines for the applications are usually January 1st; however, a substantial amount of colleges and universities offer early action and early decision programs, wherein, the student can apply at the end of October or early November and receive response from the school sometime mid-December as opposed to spring with regular applications.

If you are applying to a school that yields a larger number of applicants, you may want to consider applying via the rolling admission program. This program is generally offered by schools with many applicants and will allow you to apply any time between the fall and spring and receive the results a few weeks later. This is more a “first applied, first selected” type of applicant system.

NOTE: Keep in mind, enrollment is binding if you choose to apply and are selected under the criterion of an early decision application process, and most often, you are required to apply only to one school. (Early action programs do not elicit such stipulations, but still allow for early submission and results.)

Step 6: Funding through FASFA

As the admissions office of your prospective school evaluates your application, they will also determine whether or not you will qualify for financial assistance through grants or loans. Only a small percentage of students accepted to schools nationwide are awarded full tuition grants. Most students receive a portion or none depending on the school’s formulaic or subjective evaluation to the application. Therefore, any student wishing to apply for financial assistance must begin the process of completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FASFA.

This application is filled out by the student and on some occasions the student’s parents and is made up of questions pertaining to the financial status of the student and family contributing to tuition expenses. It is best to complete this application as soon as possible to ensure a better position for funding as loans are given on a first-come, first-served basis.

Step 7: Wait and Decide

There are several possible outcomes that will occur out of your application submission: acceptance, rejection, or wait-listing. Once you have received your response, it is then your decision to follow through with enrollment or continue to seek out other schools. Be diligent and thorough about the deadlines and details, and remember that the sooner you apply, the sooner the results. Best of luck!


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