Inside the college application process.

After you have determined where you want to go to school, you might want to know how to apply for college.

Applying For College In 5 Steps

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Step 1 Taking The Initiative To Apply

Applying to college, career school, or graduate school requires more than just filling out a form. For a successful college application, you need to understand each school's admission requirements and deadlines, so it's truly significant to get organized.

While the application process may appear to be a tad overwhelming, you can utilize the provided information to prepare and figure out your personal next steps.

Step 2 Process of Elimination

Start to narrow down your application choices. There’s no official designated number when it comes to how many school applications you submit. One may not suffice, because that school might not admit you. More than 10 could be excessive because applications require a lot of work and it's important to make each one excellent. Also, many schools have application fees, so costs can add up. (Many schools waive fees for low-income students.)

The bottom line: Applying to a few schools that really interest you is recommended instead of applying to a large number. If you’re not sure what schools might be right for you, see our information on choosing a school.

Step 3 Examine The College Admission Requirements

Every college has its own application requirements. Various programs within the same school may even request different items. Learn exactly what a school needs are by visiting its website or checking with its admissions office.

Prepare well before the application deadline and be certain to review and double-check everything before you submit your final application.

Many U.S. colleges require undergraduate and graduate students to submit standardized test scores as part of their application packages. Learn more about taking required tests.

Step 4 Create A Checklist Or A Timeline

Meticulous planning will assist in making the college application process less stressful. To be of assistance, we’ve developed several college preparation checklists. The checklists are for students (of all ages) who are considering college or career school. We also do have information for parents. Even if you are getting a late start, we have a checklist for you.

Step 5 Take Into Consideration Applying Early

If you are confident that you are academically ready and want to get into a particular school, you might want to consider early application programs for undergraduate admissions. When you have a head start in applying to school early, you may actually speed up the entire application process. Instead of submitting your application in November or later in your senior year, you typically need to begin the application process in September.

Applying early can sometimes give you an advantage. At some schools, a higher percentage of early applicants are accepted. And if you do get early acceptance, you may relieve yourself a couple of months of anxiety and doubt. You also could get an advanced start preparing for your freshman year.

While procedures at individual colleges may differ, the two most common procedures are early decision and early action. Some schools have both procedures. Another option is called dual enrollment.

  • Early Decision

    If you have a specific institution in mind that is your "first choice," early decision might work well. If you are accepted under early decision, you must attend that school, unless its financial aid package is too low for you to attend. (If you’re not sure whether the school's financial aid offer will be enough, make sure to submit applications to other schools.) Normally, you can apply to only one school for early decision. You can still apply to other schools at their regular application deadlines.

  • Early Action

    Early action is similar to early decision, but you aren’t "locked in" to attending a school that accepts you. Some schools permit you to apply for early action at other schools simultaneously, but some don’t. Know the rules. In addition, under early action, you can still apply to other schools at their regular application deadlines. Keep in mind that there is less incentive for an early action college to accept you because you aren’t committing to attend the school.

  • Dual Enrollment

    A third option, dual enrollment, is typically for high school juniors who have most of the credits needed for graduation. If this applies to you, then you may want to consider taking college-level courses during your senior year. Then you could proceed with your college education at that college after you graduate from high school, or you could transfer the credits to another college. Work with your high school guidance counselor to see if this would be the right option for you.

  • Considerations When Applying Early

    If you are thinking about using the early application process, consider the following tips:

    • Sit down with your guidance counselor, who should be able to elaborate on the pros and cons of applying early to certain schools.
    • If you're truly interested in a specific school, contact that school well ahead of September to discuss its early application procedures and to see if applying early is the best option for you.
    • Ask yourself: Am I ready to make up my mind about where I want to go to college by October or November of my senior year? Will I be able to complete my applications, along with essays and recommendations, by late October or November?
    • Make sure you have considered your career goals and whether the schools you are considering will help you attain those goals. For example, School A has an excellent journalism department, but School B has an outstanding mix of cultural and academic offerings. Our college search tool will help you find schools that may meet your needs.

Choosing To Go Back To School

Getting a college education is a dream come true for many. Earning a degree and fulfilling your academic goals could be the start to a successful career and future.

There are two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live.

John Adams, 2nd President of the United States

Keep applying. Even if you don't get into the first college of your choice; have a second and even a third or fourth school in mind just in case things don't pan out with your initial college selection.

Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation.

John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States

Applying to College Check List

  • Choose A School or possibly more than one
  • Apply to the chosen school(s)
  • Visit A Campus in person or online
  • Be Patient and Positive it make take awhile to receive an answer

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