Careers & Education

How to apply to college

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Stay acutely aware of dates and deadlines
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Helpful tips for students beginning the college application process

Applying to college can be one of the most intimidating and overwhelming tasks of a young student's life. With so many universities, colleges, institutes and online degree programs to choose from these days, it can be particularly challenging to decide upon a school. 

Even after identifying a number of possible schools, a young applicant will most likely have plenty of questions about how to apply to college. Whether you are high school student just beginning the college application process, or an older student considering returning to college for a degree, here are some helpful tips to guide you along the journey. 

If you are overwhelmed by where to begin or how to apply to college, the first, most crucial step is to prioritize the factors most important to you in a college or university.  Explore a school's majors, undergraduate programs, or areas of study that match your skills and interests.  

Next, consider factors such as campus size, student body diversity and geographic location of the campus. Are you looking for a college that is close to home? Will you need to commute to a campus? Are you interested in a suburban, urban or rural campus?

Don't rule out any schools because of cost. Although cost is an important factor when it comes to how to apply to college, it should not dictate the schools you initially apply to. First, apply to the schools that your have determined to be a good fit for you. Leave financial considerations until the end. Financial aid and scholarships can be evaluated once you have been accepted.

Make it a point to take both the SATs and ACTs. Most colleges will require your SAT scores, but since these tests are structured differently, taking both will give you the option of selecting the one that best highlights your abilities. Remember, college admissions officers will weigh the numeric value of test scores as an objective method for evaluating candidates; however, other more subjective factors include a student's grades, work experience, community service, extra-curricular activities, letters of recommendation and college application essays.

One of the most important tips for how to apply to college, is to keep acutely aware of dates and deadlines. Be sure to submit your application packages early or before deadline. Submitting scholarship applications early can optimize scholarship and financial assistance considerations.

Obtain letters of recommendation to include with your college application. Make sure to choose people who know you well and who can attest to your qualities to compose these letters. Most high school students have their letters of recommendation written by teachers or counselors.  However, your letters of recommendation can really come from anywhere. Testimonials from coaches and employers also bode well with college admissions personnel, because these individuals can be advocates for a student's unique qualities that don't show up in the classroom.

College admissions essays weigh heavily in the admissions process, thus it is important to have a well-written essay. An effective essay will display a student's personality and intellectual abilities in a reflective piece that also encapsulates a student's development throughout the four years of high school or earlier life experiences. 

Students who plan to major in visual arts may be required to include a portfolio along with their admissions essay in their college application package. Selecting what to include in a portfolio should be an opportunity to express your creativity. Prior to organizing a portfolio, carefully read your college's specific portfolio requirements. 

Last but certainly not least, scheduling or attending an interview with a college admissions counselor can help to make a more personal impression.  

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