Acing the College Application Process

The college application process can be intimidating, but doesn’t have to be. Getting started early, being aware of and on top of deadlines, and staying organized will help make the process smooth sailing! These days, application requirements vary from school to school, but most require that you submit a common application as well as supporting documents to help the admissions committee decide if you and the school are a strong fit.

Key Components to the College Application Checklist

Not sure where to start? Create a handy checklist with the following essentials to help you get through the college application season with ease.

Application Form

The Common Application is widely used by many colleges and universities these days and is designed to help make things more streamlined and easier for applicants. It is essentially an application that you complete once and submit to several schools. While it doesn’t cost you anything to register with the Common App, there are application fees for submitting a Common App plus Supplement to colleges. The fees range anywhere from $25 and $90. Even though you can apply to as many institutions as you wish, it’s smart to take some time to consider which schools you really want to apply to, to avoid going over budget on this step.

High School Transcript

Another important component of the college application checklist is your high school transcript. Request copies of your high school transcript from your counselor’s office early, so that there’s plenty of time for them to be sent to the colleges you are applying for. If you took classes at community colleges during your high school years, and are keen on the credits transferring over to your college graduation, then you’ll want to request these transcripts to be sent over as well. In short, the transcripts should show all the classes you’ve taken and the respective grades you’ve earned. The admissions committees will review your overall grades and the progress you have made as part of their decision.

Standardized Test Score

It is not uncommon for colleges and universities to require high school students to take the SAT or ACT exam. If you are not a good standardized test taker, we recommend starting on this as early as your junior year of high school so you have time to retake the test as needed to achieve a score you’re happy with. Test scores aid admissions committees in measuring your probable success in college. Some institutions consider the highest composite score, while others take the best combination of scores from different sections. To increase your odds of “acing” this part, it’s best to earn high scores all across the board. Many students take the exam a few times to strive for higher scores for this reason.

Letters of Recommendation

Being recommended by a teacher, guidance counselor, sports coach, or another adult may help you stand out to admissions committees. Not all schools require this, but if the ones you are applying for do, then it’s imperative to ask for these letters of recommendation early on to allow plenty of time for your recommenders to write a strong letter that reflects your strengths and great qualities. We recommend giving your recommender the form or instructions about how to write the recommendation so that they have a better idea of what they need to cover in the letter. At the very least, the recommendation letter should include your full name, in what capacity he or she knows you, the length of time he or she has known you, and finally, highlight your capabilities and character.

Personal Essay

It’s easy to get stumped and overthink when it comes to the personal essay. However, at the end of the day, it’s just another way for the admissions committee to get to know you, your perspective on a topic, and hear your voice. Grades and test scores can only go so far to show who you are as a person and are just part of the overall equation. In some cases, the personal essay can make or break your chances of getting admitted to a school. With that said, do take your time in crafting a well-written personal essay that not only addresses the topic at hand in its entirety but also succinctly gives a good glimpse of who you are as a person.

Start this process by brainstorming ideas, creating rough drafts, and having others read your essay and provide feedback. Then, make edits to your rough drafts accordingly. Focus on what makes you special, elaborate on what you’ve learned, or how much you’ve changed because of a unique experience. Finally, make sure you proofread and fix any grammatical or spelling errors before turning in the essay. The little details add up, too!


Interviews are not required by all schools, but can serve as another way for the admissions committee to connect with you – this time on a more personal level. At college interviews, you will have to be prepared to answer questions about yourself. This is your opportunity to inject character into your responses! Be ready to elaborate on answers beyond just a simple “yes/no,” and think of it like having a professional conversation with someone else. Interviews can be really nerve-wracking for many. If this sounds like you, take extra time to practice with a family member or trusted friend until you get comfortable enough to tackle the real thing.

General Tips for Success

Below are five college application tips to keep in mind:


Avoid scrambling at the last minute by making a solid plan. Consider how many schools you want to apply to, what those schools are, and categorize them into three categories: dream schools, safety schools, and backup schools. Waiting until the last minute can increase your chances of missing an important detail or deadline. Budget out more time than what you think you’ll need. If you finish earlier, congratulate yourself!

Know the Deadlines

Each school may have slightly different deadlines, so after you have made your list of potential schools, jot down the due dates for each. This will help you stay on track so you don’t accidentally miss a deadline if you are planning to apply to many schools at once. If you wish to be considered for Early Action or Early Decision, find out whether the school of choice offers it and if so, when the deadline is.

Start Early

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to procrastinate or let something slip through the cracks when you’re also still tackling your final year of high school. That being said, getting started on the college application process ahead of time will help you avoid unnecessary stress down the road. Also, asking for letters of recommendation and requesting transcripts early can help prevent yours from getting lost in the shuffle amongst other students when “rush time” rolls around.

Prepare for the Interview

Even if you think you are a smooth talker, it’s smart to take measures to prepare for your college interview if the colleges you are applying for require it. A few different ways to prepare for the interview is going over common questions and thinking about how you will approach them, conducting a mock-interview with a loved one, and reviewing areas of weakness to improve accordingly. This time, when interview time comes, you feel ready and more at ease, allowing you to be more yourself. Authenticity in unique and driven individuals is what college admissions want to see!

Get a Second Opinion on Your Essay

After completing a rough draft of your personal essay, it can be really helpful to get an outsider’s perspective on what you’ve written. Send your essay to a few different people such as family members, peers, and teachers, and kindly request feedback. From there, you may touch upon or elaborate more on a specific topic, reword sentences that others may be awkward, and use different wording to better depict something. You’d be surprised at how much more polished your essay can get with a bit of help along the way.

Final Thoughts

Getting started early, taking the time to plan and stay organized, keeping track of deadlines, and using your resources wisely can make the college application process much less daunting. Remember that at the end of the day, the most important thing is to just be yourself and give it your very best!