During your Senior year you will submit applications to perhaps 6-8 universities. Most private colleges use the Common Application, where you complete one application and send it to many schools at once. Most state universities use their own applications, which you complete on their website. For all of these applications you can save your work and log out, and submit the application another day. Most students work on the applications for several months before submitting. The application is your *one* chance to convince the admissions committee that you belong at their school. It doesn't matter what you've done for four years, if your application doesn't show it, or if your application has errors, your admissions chances are decreased. Proofread your apps carefully and ask at least one other person to look over them as well. Put your best foot forward!
During the summer before your Senior year you should write as many of your admissions essays as you can. The Common Application goes live on August 1st, so you should have that fully completed before school starts. Some colleges will start to post their new applications during July and August; nearly all colleges will have their new applications live during September. Beware: before you begin any application, always check the dates very carefully to be sure you are not working on last year's application, or you will lose all of your work when the new app goes live.
This section helps you choose which colleges to apply to. Start by searching for colleges to create and save a college list. Once you have a list, narrow it down using the charts on each page. Save your list! Research the colleges and take notes. Save your notes because you will use them to write why you want to go to each college in your applications.
Students typically begin a college search during the summer before Junior year. Aim to have your list finalized by the end of Junior year so that you can begin contacting your target colleges and working on applications in the summer before your Senior year.
- Be sure that you choose Reach, Match and Safety schools.
- Apply to 6-8 colleges and no more than 10.
- Apply to at least one in-state school.
- Consider applying where your parents went; at private colleges legacy helps.
- Do not set your heart on a reach school where admission is like winning the lottery.
- Having the minimum requirements does not guarantee admission.
- Visit some colleges to help you define your needs and narrow your list.
- Only design a top-heavy list if you are comfortable with rejection.
- Everyone should have at least one reach school - you never know!
Your Transcript is your high school's official document of all your semester grades, freshman through senior year. Your high school sends this to all of your colleges as proof of your grades and GPA. Transcripts can have errors, so verify yours regularly.
Your freshman year grades are the most powerful grades for "setting" your GPA. As you add more grades, their power goes down (law of averages), so get the best grades you can early on in high school because pulling up a GPA is very unlikely.
- Your GPA in June of your Junior year is the GPA you apply to college with!
- Freshman and sophomore year grades are the most powerful.
- Get as many A's as you can in freshman and sophomore year when the classes are the easiest and the grades are the most powerful.
- You do not need a 4.0 to get into college, so don't drive yourself crazy trying to get one. If you can get a really high GPA, it does help you in admissions and with scholarships.
- Many colleges will not read applications with a GPA below a certain cut-off because they wouldn't want you to suffer academically at their school.
- Aim to get the GPA that will get you into the schools you want to go to.
- Senior year grades matter; many colleges ask to see January grades and they can rescind their offer of admission.
- Start out with few advanced classes and aim to take 1 more each year. Increase your course load rigor each year a little, if you can.
- Your GPA needs to be your number one goal in high school; it is the most important factor in admissions. Get any extra help you need to succeed!
Sending Transcripts to Colleges
- When: September of your Senior year
- What: All your high school transcripts (from all schools), Community colleges you have attended for credit.
- How: Your high school guidance counselor has a system for requesting transcripts; follow it, early.
- TIP: Make sure your college applications are complete before the Early Action and Early Decision dates. Things being in the mail doesn't count. They need to be received and logged by the date.
Diversity Programs typically support the following students
- African American
- Pacific Islander
- Native American
- Physically Challenged
Support Programs for Diverse Students
These offices are a great help for diverse students. A Diversity office has information about all of the programs available on campus for diverse students and will answer any questions you have about college life.
Open House and Fly-in Programs are special weekends reserved for selected diverse high school students to visit a college. Generally the college will help pay for the expenses of the trip. The programs vary college to college and will sometimes target a specific cohort of diverse students.
First Year Transition
First Year Transition Programs are formal programs to help diverse students adapt to college life. They can include first year students meetings to share experiences, matching faculty with college students, classes for freshman about college (how to use the library, study-skills, the writing center, etc.), living communities and initiatives designed to make students feel included once they have enrolled at your college.
Some colleges have groups or clubs that you can join where you can meet other diverse students. These groups can be really helpful to share experiences you’re having and get advice from your peers.
Some schools have programs that pair college student mentors with diverse high school students. If you’re still in high-school you should check to see if your school offers such a program. If you’re getting ready to head to college think about joining this group as a mentor!
Many colleges work to foster campus atmospheres that are very supportive of LGBT students, through initiatives such as student housing, counseling services, recruiting efforts, campus safety measures, and academic programming. As more and more US colleges do a great job of focusing on this issue, there are a few schools that are already well known for their efforts and success.
Summer Bridge and Orientation
Provides students with an early introduction to the college they will be attending. It is an alternative admissions program for first-gen college students, and students who are disadvantaged by economic or educational circumstances. This high school to college bridge program is designed to help students adjust to college life and build a foundation for academic success. The costs for most programs can be covered by scholarships. Often these programs involve some community service where diverse students are giving back to the community, OR classes which help students prepare for the term (such as study skills, time management, college level writing lab, even a short class on locations and how to access all of the learning resources on campus.) In addition to this students get a head start on meeting classmates and becoming familiar with their surroundings.
These are programs that typically provide gifted kids with enriched programs and bring LIFG (low income, first generation) kids up to grade level. Programs often focus on encouraging girls to study STEM. Some are on college campuses and kids take classes. Many of these programs are "field of study" specific. Others are like UW's Dream Project where the college goes into the high schools to support the students.
You write one main essay of 500-650 words to apply to college, and you send this essay to most of your colleges. You can send your resume to any colleges who allow it. Many colleges require that you write about 150-200 words on your most meaningful extra curricular activity, and many schools ask why you chose to apply to their school, so it is a good idea to have this "Why School X" piece ready as well. You can keep track of all essays you need to write here on CollegeMapper. Recycle wherever you can, but always proofread to change the names!
Start writing these essays during the second semester of Junior year, lightly. Hit it hard in the summer before Senior year and try to have as many of them as possible finalized before Senior year starts. Plan to edit each piece 5-10 times. Get outside editing help; no one can be their own editor!
Guidelines for Main Essay
- 1 page single spaced; aim for 500-650 words. You will need a 500 word and probably a longer version of the same essay.
- Any topic from your life: favorite memory, a conquest, risk you took, a passion, memorable learning experience
- Tell a personal story from your life; this is not a 5 paragraph essay
- Still, have one point to the story--a central thesis
- Write about just one thing--not your life story
- Opening sentence/paragraph needs to "hook" reader; high interest
- Slightly formal; don't use profanity
- Not pretentious or forced; natural--DO NOT restate your resume. This is not about bragging at all.
- Avoid politics, travel, resume/greatness, community service, sports, Mexico missions trip, religion.
- *Let your personality shine through*--they need to hear your voice and spirit. ENTERTAIN.
- No complaining; no whining; no blaming
- You can discuss a negative topic but you must do so in a positive, strong, uplifting way, focusing on what you learned
- This is not a journal entry, not a confession, and NOT philosophical creative writing
- Show commitment/passion to/for something: hobby, family, sport
- This is a draft and you will revise it many times; don't worry about making it perfect.
- It is also OK to say, "Let's just start over."
- Tell a story about something to show your point; don't tell what your point is
- You want the essay to be memorable--ENTERTAIN!
- Don't try to be unique or radical: don't feel pressured to write something AMAZING.
- All you're doing is telling a story from your life; have fun and don't worry.
- It's ok to use humor and it is GOOD to poke fun at yourself a little bit. Show yourself in a silly light, not as the smartest person ever or the savior of humanity... In NO way can you sound conceited.
Ideas for Main College Essay
- First part-time job mishaps
- How I learned to relax and laugh at myself
- Favorite hotdog in Chicago
- A random tv show changed my life
- Teaching myself to cook--secretly
- How NPR made me who I am
- Overcoming a disability
- My brother's music and struggles shaped me
- How my summer cabin made me who I am
- Walking in Tokyo
- My role model--a biography I read changed my life
- Five airports on my own--a calamitous event
- How I fought to be able to read
- Jumping off that cliff
- Starting my business
- I got a tattoo in France
Guidelines for Small Activity Paragraph
- These essays are usually about 200 words
- Start with a hook, like an action shot of you actually doing the activity
- If your sport is really your main passion, go ahead and write about it if you want to, but is very difficult to make sports essays sound unique
- If your sport is not your main passion, then choose a brainy or cultural or volunteer event
- Don't focus on what you did (we all know what someone on the track team does)
- DO focus on what you learned and how you grew and changed
- Talk about what the activity meant to you and how it changed you
- Conclude with maybe saying something about how this will affect your future
Financial aid is given from the college, from the government, or through scholarships from businesses, employers, and private parties. The majority of full-time undergraduate students receive some form of financial aid. Do not assume that you will not qualify, and everyone qualifies for scholarships, though these take work to find. Financial aid comes in several forms: loans, work study, grants, and scholarships. Awards are based on merit and financial need. Student loans are called Stafford loans. These are subsidized (interest deferred until grad), unsubsidized means interest starts as soon as you borrow.
You should start saving for college as early as possible. Applications for financial aid are typically filed October through February. Research each college's deadlines and be sure to meet them. Applying to colleges early puts you in a better position to receive aid.
- Understand how each college decides how much to charge each family; college pricetags are meaningless
- When exploring ways to reduce the cost of college, look at Federal, State and private scholarships, and at the average merit aid package from each college itself
- Remember to see what is included in cost of attendance; it differs from school to school (e.g. books, room and board, food etc.)
- It's ALWAYS wise to save for college
- You can ask colleges for more FA after you receive your award
- If you have a talent then look at talent/athletic scholarships
- Look into geographic/race/gender diversity schools (schools that are interested in having kids from different areas)
- Net Price Calculators = cost after scholarships/grants
- The EFC only calculates your eligibility for Need Based Aid.
- The NPC incorporates both Need Based Aid and Merit Based Aid.
- Divorced parents:
- FAFSA only asks for custodial parents (the parent that you spend 50% of time residing with)
- FAFSA does not compute home equity
- PROFILE asks for both parents' salaries and equity
- Check for PROFILE schools that do not ask for non-custodial parent salary!
- If you don't have a Social Security number, you can pick up an application for one at any post office. For more information about applying for a Social Security number, call 1-800-772-1213.
Myths about Financial Aid
|Private scholarships are the biggest source of financial aid||
|Saving for college will hurt my financial aid package||
|We make too much to qualify||
|Expensive schools cost more; state schools are cheaper||
|Only wealthy students can afford to go to college||
- fafsa.ed.gov - Free Application for Federal Student Aid
- pin.ed.gov - Federal Student Aid PIN - Every student and one parent needs a pin. The student's pin will differ from the parent's pin.
- salliemae.com - Student Loans
- finaid.org - Financial Aid and Scholarship Database
- fastweb.com - Scholarship Search
- college.gov - Tips on how to pay for college
- maldef.org - Scholarship Resources for Undocumented Latino Students
- scholarships.com - Scholarship Search
- wiche.edu - Western Interstate Commission For Higher Education
- thecollegesolution.com - Blog by Lynn O'Shaughnessy
- finaid.ucsb.edu - 7 Easy Steps to the FAFSA
- goennounce.com - Raise money for tuition via fundraising
Estimated Family Contribution
Go to the AidCalc EFC Calculator which will help you calculate what colleges will expect your family to contribute toward your education each year.
Your High School Resume is a list of your activities. You will send this to each of your colleges with your application.
Start your resume during freshman year. It is difficult to remember everything you have done, so update it often. List everything; cut later. Start community service in 9th grade. Aim to have activities on your resume that you do for 3 or 4 years during high school - 4 years is just fantastic!
- Show commitment. Doing something for 3 or 4 years is great!
- Diversify: If you are academic, join something social. If you are athletic, join something academic.
- Everyone needs to volunteer beyond the school requirement. Care about what you do!
- Include dates of involvement, hours/week, weeks/year.
- Go to camps, workshops, conferences, rallies, presentations, seminars and the like.
- Leadership: Campaign if you can and run for officer, manager or captain. College applications ask about leadership.
- Avoid doing things just because they "look good". Do what you love!
- Do not let activities compromise GPA! No one looks past a bad GPA to see your clubs.
- Leadership (counselor, mentor, leader, officer, organizer, chairperson, founder, captain, editor, etc.)
- Activities (school/community)
- Summer Enrichment
- Advanced Coursework
- INDEPENDENT RESEARCH
- Publications / websites
- Camps, Workshops and Conferences
- Music / Arts
- Work Experience/Internships
- Travel / Exchange Programs
- Church / Temple Involvement
- Hobbies and Interests
For college applications at most schools, you need to submit scores for the ACT or the SAT. No school requires both. All schools accept either one. Schools do not prefer one test over another. Students typically take both tests once, their favorite (haha) test a second time, and then submit their best score. Some schools require no test scores at all, so check out: fairtest.org. Some of the most competitive schools also require 2-3 SAT Subject Tests.
Prep for tests starting in the summer before Junior year. Begin testing in November, December or January of your Junior year. Order the optional answers report so that you can see your weak spots. Take the ACT and SAT each once (most likely), then choose your stronger test and take that test a second time to try to improve your first score. Students typically send their second score. You DO need to prep on your weak spots in between tests or your score won't go up. "Your score won't go up because you show up!"
Everyone is prepping for the ACT or SAT, and so should you. You don't want to send in raw scores against everyone's prepped scores. You have several options for test prep:
- Buy a book and study on your own. Try to get a book with a CD-Rom of practice tests. Good brands are CollegeBoard, Princeton Review, and Kaplan. This is boring and difficult, but wow is it the least expensive method.
- Use a cool test prep study app like Edupath.
- Take a class. These usually go 6-10 weeks just before you test. I recommend the summer before Junior year, in August and September. Sometimes a local high school offers classes, or try Princeton Review or Kaplan. Choose a test prep center whose only business is prepping for these tests; I do not recommend a learning center which tutors in many subjects. You need specialized training; this is important. This will cost 500-1000$. Many test prep centers offer reduced rates if you cannot afford their fees; be sure to ask!
- Work one-on-one with a private ACT/SAT tutor, not a general tutor. This is the most costly method, but it is the most efficient because you cannot zone out and you don't have to listen to anyone else's questions. Ask to meet a tutor before hiring them, or go with recommendations from friends. Many tutors also offer free or low cost sessions for students in need, so you can always ask if there are any special rates for low income or first generation college students, and don't be shy about telling people if you are on free/reduced lunch. Teachers want to help students! 🙂
Sophomore YearTry to get some Subject Tests out of the way if you can in May/June; do test prep in summer.
|October or November||*PSAT* (practice SAT, given at school for Jrs. Take it!)|
|November||Begin self guided test prep|
|January||Decide if you want to take Subject Tests|
|March||Take practice Subject Tests|
|April||Formal prep with tutor for Subject Tests, if needed|
|May||SAT Subject Tests (Math 2; if AB/IB: World, Chem, Bio)|
|May||AP/IB Tests at school|
|May||Register for summer test prep|
|June||SAT Subject Tests|
Junior YearFocus on Subject Tests and completing ALL testing by June of Junior year. Take first ACT and SAT in Nov-Dec-Jan; order the optional answer report. Take your preferred test a second time in Feb-Mar-Apr. You only need to send the ACT or SAT to your colleges; all colleges accept either test.
|July - October/November||Formal Test Prep Course (8-10 weeks)|
|October||SAT or Subject Tests offered|
|October/November||*PSAT* Practice SAT given at school (do your best!)|
|November||SAT or Subject Tests and Lang Tests w/ Listening|
|December||ACT and SAT|
|January||SAT or Subject Tests|
|February||ACT; begin study for Subject Tests|
|March||SAT only; take practice Subject Tests|
|April||ACT; prepare with tutor for Subject Tests as needed|
|May||SAT or Subject Tests (Math 2, Lit, For Lng, AP: US, Chem, Phys, Bio)|
|May||AP/IB Tests at school|
|June||ACT and SAT or Subject Tests|
Senior YearSeptember is last possible test date if you want to apply Early Decision/Action. Avoid testing during Senior year. It is miserable for you and the results are usually not great.
|October||SAT or Subject Tests (will not have scores in time for ED/A)|
|October||ACT (will not have scores in time for ED/A)|
|November||SAT or Subject Tests and Lang Tests w/ Listening|
The night before the test do not go out! Pack your bag before bed, go to bed early, and get great sleep. The morning of the test do not do anything abnormal - if you never drink coffee don't start today. You want your body to be normal at the test center. Also, DO eat a breakfast of protein - eggs, yogurt, cheese, bacon. Avoid sugar because you will fall asleep halfway through the test. Be sure to drink water so that your brain can fire as fast as possible.Take
- a water bottle
- a snack
- your calculator
- your test registration materials
- your school ID or driver's license
Send Scores to Colleges
Once you have evaluated which of your scores is stronger, the ACT or the SAT, log onto that test site and send your scores to each of your colleges. Send your best scores only, unless the college super scores and that would help you, and also unless that college requests to see all of your scores, as some colleges do. If the fees to send these scores are difficult, fee waivers are available from your guidance counselor and from ACT and SAT, so be sure to ask.
SAT Test Waviers Available
- Up to two registrations for the SAT and up to two registrations for the SAT Subject Tests.
- If test fees become a problem, be sure to talk with your school counselor and/or your colleges.
Transferring schools is becoming an increasingly popular trend among college-goers. Many students will begin at 2-year community colleges and then transfer to 4-year colleges after receiving their Associate’s degree. Other students are unhappy at the 4-year school they chose, which ideally shouldn’t happen if the student did a good job of researching colleges, but sometimes does. In the event that you realize your current school is not the right fit for your academic goals, then transferring is the best option!
You can transfer any time after first semester of freshman year in college. Most 4-year to 4-year transfer students apply during January of freshman year in college and then start at their new school in September of sophomore year. Most 2-year to 4-year transfers will apply in the spring of their second year. You need to check the credit requirements at your target transfer colleges, because they vary from school to school.
- Make a list of reasons why you want to transfer, and rank them in order of most important.
- Start researching colleges that meet your newly clarified needs; you may have to forego some of the lesser reasons on your list
- Visit the transfer office at your current college to meet the transfer advisor
- Ask if your intended classes for future terms look good, and about the transfer process in general
- Make a list of the colleges you want to apply to
- Look at entry requirements so your list includes Reach, Match and Safety schools
- Make a list of due dates for applications and any financial aid forms
- Begin to get all required materials together, like test scores, transcripts, resume, rec letters, and essays
- Verify that your college transcript has no errors or omissions on it--many of them do!
- It would be great if you could visit your intended colleges to meet the transfer advisors there and ask them to assess your case. You can always talk to them over the phone if a face-to-face meeting is not an option.
- Focus your essays on academic reasons why you need to be at the new school. No one cares that you really want to go to football games.
- Submit your applications early.
- Stay involved on your current campus. Any campus that is going to take you wants to see what you will do once there.
- Get Great Grades. Transfer students are judged heavily on their performance at their current college.
- Do not focus on transferring, but instead try to get really involved on campus and enjoy the rest of your year.
- Do not say negative things about your current school in your essays or you will come off as a person no one wants to be around.
- Be positive!
- In some cases it is more difficult to be admitted to a college as a transfer student
- Many colleges do not give much financial aid to transfer students
- Beware! Meeting the minimum GPA requirement is not going to make you a strong