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Navigating the College Application Process

  • 17th December 2018
  • Lauren Bachelder

Are you or your child graduating from high school soon? Whether you’re a sophomore or junior who is ahead of the game or a senior who just started thinking about college, we have a quick guide to help you navigate the application process!

  1. Figure out your timeline
    How many months do you have before the next application cycle? How much longer until you graduate? No matter where you are in the process, your very first step should be to designate a section in your calendar or agenda for application deadlines and to-do lists! Your plan should eventually include due dates for each of the items below. (If you’re looking for a super in-depth checklist, we recommend this College Application Checklist from College Board!)
  2. Choose your dream, fit, & safety colleges
    We recommend that you start by identifying two schools from each of the following categories:

    • Dream: A “dream” school is a school that is possible for you to attend if money were not an issue. By “possible,” we mean that your credentials (GPA, class ranking, and SAT/ACT scores if you have them) fall within or slightly below the metrics for the school’s most recently accepted class. To find a college’s average GPA and SAT/ACT scores, visit the school’s website.
    • Fit: A “fit” school is one where your credentials fall well within the average range of the metrics of the school’s most recently accepted class. If your scores fall at or above the 50% mark for the current class, you should reasonably expect to be accepted in to several of your “fit” colleges.
    • Safety: A “safety” school is one where your scores fall well above the average range of the metrics for the school’s current class. When choosing safety schools, also keep in mind cost of attendance. What school could you attend if you received few or no scholarships outside of financial aid?

    Once you complete your “big six” list, check each college’s website and add each application date to your timeline. (Keep in mind that some early-decision applications open as early as August 1!)

  3. Visit prospective colleges
    Once you figure out your six “main” colleges, start visiting! A trip to the actual campus allows you to talk to current students and admissions counselors and gain a deeper understanding of what that school will actually be like!
  4. Start Studying for the SAT/ACT
    In order to maximize your scores, we recommend that you start studying for the SAT/ACT as early as the summer before your junior year of high school, ideally using the expertise of an Apollo Tutor. For more information, check out our blogs Should I Take the ACT or SAT? and How to Prepare for the ACT or SAT!
  5. Take the SAT/ACT
    As a rule of thumb, you should expect to take the SAT or ACT one to three times in order to maximize your score. This means that you should ideally start testing far enough in advance to fit in three tests before your potential college’s application deadlines. Keep in mind that it generally takes about three weeks to receive your test results after taking the SAT or ACT and one to two more weeks for colleges to receive your scores. To set your test-taking schedule, check out these lists of college application deadlines, and SAT dates, and ACT dates.
  6. Fill out the actual applications: essays, resume, & letters of recommendation
    Leave yourself plenty of time to write essays, touch up your resume, and ask your teachers for letters of recommendation. Teachers and tutors are great resources to help you polish your application material so that it’s as strong as possible!
  7. Submit financial aid
    October 1 is the first day you can file the FAFSA. We recommend that you sit down with a parent, use this Guide to Completing Financial Aid, and tackle the process together!
  8. Apply for scholarships
    Let’s be honest – college is expensive. But there are also tons of resources that can help you pay for your college education. Look up scholarships offered through your potential schools using their websites, visit your high school guidance counselor for local scholarship applications, and utilize great scholarship search tools such as Fast Web and FinancialAid.org.

Still overwhelmed? Not to worry! Our tutors are current college students who survived the application process themselves, and they’re ready to help with expert advice! Find your tutor now at www.apollotutors.org!