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The Ultimate Guide to Crush College Applications

  • 15th July 2019
  • Lauren Bachelder

Are you about to become a senior in high school and feeling overwhelmed by the daunting task of applying for college? Take a deep breath, print the planner at the end of this blog, and let’s break the college application process down together step-by-step!

  1. Choose Your “Dream,” “Fit,” & “Safety” Schools
    We recommend that you start by identifying three to ten schools from each of the following categories:

    • “Dream School”
      A “Dream School” is a college that is possible for you to attend if money were not an issue; who knows, you may have some great scholarships coming your way! 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. (If you haven’t taken the SAT/ACT yet, use this ACT Practice Test or this SAT Practice Test to estimate your scores). To find a college’s average GPA and SAT/ACT scores, visit the school’s website or conduct a quick Google search. You can also use this online tool by College AI to calculate your chance of acceptance. (Don’t forget that a school’s listed scores are just averages, and it’s possible to “write your way in” to your dream college with a stellar application essay and resume!)
    • “Fit School”
      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 chances of acceptance for a particular school fall at or above the 50% mark on the College AI Calculator, you can probably count that school as a “Fit School.” This list of schools should ease your nerves, as you should reasonably expect to be accepted to one of these colleges!
    • “Safety School”
      A “Safety School” is one where your scores fall well above the average range of the metrics for the school’s current class (75% or above on the College AI Calculator). 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? For estimated cost of attendance, visit the school’s website, and don’t forget to include expenses such as extra fees, books, and housing!

    Once you complete your list of target schools, check each college’s website and add each application date to your timeline.

  2. Set Your Timeline
    What are the early decision and regular decision application deadlines for your target colleges? You can use this list of deadlines as a quick reference, but always check the college’s website for the official due dates. If you’re reading this blog in July, you have plenty of time to craft spectacular college applications! The Apollo College Planner below outlines everything you need. (If you’re looking for a super in-depth checklist, we recommend this College Application Checklist from College Board!) Keep in mind that some early-decision applications open as early as August 1!
  3. Visit Prospective Colleges
    Once you figure out your list of colleges, start visiting! A trip to the actual campus allows you to talk to current students and admissions counselors to get a glimpse of what attending that school will actually be like! However, keep in mind that colleges roll out the red carpet for campus tours, so you won’t get to see exactly what daily-life on the campus is like. Pro tip: try not to “fall in love” with a college just because of the scenery! There is so much more to your college experience than just a pretty view!
  4. Start Studying for the SAT/ACT (if you haven’t already)
    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. However, if you’re about to be a senior, it’s not too late! A standard package of 12-16 one-on-one tutoring hours usually yields 3-5 points of improvement on the ACT and 100-140 points of improvement on the SAT! 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 (if you haven’t already)
    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, 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 and/or employers for letters of recommendation. (There is nothing worse than being the person who asks for a letter of recommendation the day before it’s due, so ask several weeks in advance.) Teachers and tutors are also great resources to help you polish your application material so that it’s as strong as possible!
  7. 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, visit your high school guidance counselor for local scholarship applications, and utilize Niche’s Scholarship Match Tool and other online resources such as Fast Web and FinancialAid.org.
  8. Submit Financial Aid
    October 1 is the first day you can file the FAFSA, and deadlines vary by state. We recommend that you sit down with a parent, use this Guide to Completing Financial Aid, and tackle the process together!

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, and make an account on our Apollo Client Portal.