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The college application process is an area that trips up a lot of parents and students. There are so many terms, deadlines, and information that can lead to confusion. What type of university does your child want to attend? What type of deadline do they need to consider?
Luckily for all of you, I am a high school counselor who helps students with the college application process. I can help explain the different terms that can be confusing to everyone (including myself at times since things change quickly). I’ll be able to help explain the different types of applications students will encounter, what to expect as far as the admissions process, and the different types of deadlines that will be expected of them.
College Application and Admission Process
When to Start?
To be honest, the moment students start the process for college is the moment they start taking high school classes. The classes they choose to take once they start will remain on their transcript throughout high school. I advise students that it is VERY important to start strong academically at the beginning of their high school career.
Students who struggle during their first year or two might disqualify themselves from a few of the “elite” schools. However, it doesn’t mean that they cannot bounce back during their sophomore or junior year. It is especially important that students have a strong junior year and take the necessary tests for admissions during that year. This is due to colleges making decisions based on the end of their junior year transcript.
Students will want to consider taking the ACT or SAT during the middle or end of their junior year. There are differences between the two tests. This article here will highlight those differences.
To prepare for those tests. We encourage students to take the PSAT or take a practice ACT test. Students can also look to take any SAT or ACT prep courses or boot camps online or in their local area to further help prepare them.
Additionally, students can seek out remediation online. If a student took the PSAT, they can link their Khan Academy and College Board accounts together to provide remediation. Khan Academy will meet students at their current level and help strengthen their weaker areas for the actual SAT. For the ACT, services like Naviance have test prep materials for students to review and provide remediation for the actual test.
It is encouraged that students do their best on these tests. The tests can have an influence on admission decisions and potential scholarships available at the universities.
I encourage students to start thinking about schools they would like to visit during their junior year. At the end of their junior year, it is a great time to visit campuses that could be a potential fit. By no means, this isn’t a written rule for students to follow if they did not get a chance to do a visit during this time. Students can look to do visits during their senior year as well. I’d suggest that students check the policy their high school’s if they need to miss a day for a visit. Often times, students are allotted a few days specifically for college visits.
Types of College Applications
Once senior year hits, students will have to figure out how they will apply. There are four different types of applications that students will see when it comes to applying for college.
The first type of college application is the Common Application (often called the Common App). The Common App is an application that is used by 900 colleges. This application allows students to fill out one general application that they can send to all of the colleges that use this service. Sometimes, there might be some specific requirements that colleges will ask in the Common App. However, students can use this service to help them save time when it comes to their applications.
The next type of college application is similar to the Common App. This service is called the Coalition Application. There are a little over 150 colleges that use this service. Similar to the Common App, the Coalition Application is a one shop stop that allows students to submit their application to multiple colleges.
The third type of college application that students will encounter is the Universal Application. It serves the same purpose as the Common App and Coalition Application. Currently, there are only 3 universities who rely on this service.
Lastly, students will encounter university specific applications. Some colleges do not participate in any of these services or use their own application in conjunction with these services. Students can apply directly to the university online or through the mail.
All colleges whether students are looking at community or a four-year university will have the requirement to submit their transcripts. Their high school counselor or registrar will be the one who is responsible to send their high school transcript. It is the responsibility of the student and parent to follow the steps that are needed to do this. There will likely be a release that will need a signature to grant permission to send their transcript.
If students received credit through any postsecondary options during high school, they will also need to request their transcript from that specific university that granted them credit. They will need to contact the registrar’s office for that process as well. Parents will not have the ability to request a transcript for students at the university. This is due to FERPA laws.
Admission Deadlines and Types
Students will need to pay close attention to the different admission deadlines and types. These deadlines can be binding and/or have some attachment to a university specific scholarship.
Early Decision is the type of deadline that is binding. Students can only apply to one college specifically for an Early Decision deadline. If accepted, students will need to contact all other colleges and withdraw their applications. The deadlines for this type of admission are usually in November or December.
Students who apply as Early Decision will be eligible for university specific honors programs, scholarships, and various opportunities. Students who excelled throughout high school and tests will stand the best chance for acceptance.
Early Action is another type of early deadline like Early Decision. Unlike Early Decision, this type of deadline is non-binding.
Students who apply as Early Action will be eligible for university specific honors programs, scholarships, and various opportunities. Students who excelled throughout high school and tests will stand the best chance for acceptance.
Single Choice Early Action
This type of Early Action is unique to a few different schools. It is not very common for students to encounter this type of deadline. Students who apply to a college will only be applying to one school as a way to express a strong desire to attend that specific school. Students will need to check that specific schools requirement that has this type of deadline.
Regular Decision is the type of deadline that is available at most colleges. It is non-binding for students and the deadlines to apply are typically done in January-March. Students should expect to hear a decision by April.
Some colleges have a deadline called Rolling Admissions. Rolling Admissions is the type of deadline where schools will continue to accept applications until their programs fill up. Some colleges will accept applications throughout the summer before the semester starts.
It is important to note whether a college requires a student to submit an essay or not. Some colleges like Ohio State will accept an essay that a student has written for a class during high school. Other colleges will have specific prompts that they require for students to answer. It is important to do their best while writing their essay. Students can check out some essay writing tips here.
Letters of Recommendation/ Written Evaluations
Colleges will have a specific request regarding letters of recommendation and written evaluations. Knowing the difference between the two are important to note. A letter of recommendation can be completed by anyone who can speak to your strengths. Common people to ask are teachers, coaches, and your boss. A written evaluation will be done by your specific school counselor.
Some colleges do not want ANY letters of recommendations or written evaluations such as Virginia Tech. Others, may require a specific number of letters or letters being optional. It is important to look at the specific number too. If a school asks for 3 letters max and you submit 8, there is a chance that your college application will be denied automatically. On the flip side, if they require 2 and you only submit 1 then you can be denied. It is important to pay attention to these requests.
Other Things to Consider for Your College Application
These days, colleges are not solely judging you based on your transcript and test scores. It is important that students participate in some type of extracurricular activity. Students should try their best to not get involved in anything illegal either.
Universities are doing holistic approaches when it comes to reviewing applications. They want students who could potentially make their campus a better place. The evidence that students can showcase this is through their time in high school. Are they volunteering in the community? Are they active in a sport or a club? Did they get arrested or charged for something? That information will also be asked on their applications and it is something important to note.
Another things to consider are those who qualify for free and/or reduced lunch. If you are a student who does, you may qualify for an application fee waiver. Applying to colleges can be expensive depending on the application fee.
Additionally, colleges will occasionally offer opportunities to waive an application fee for everyone. Please take advantage of this opportunity when this happens.
The college application process can be quite confusing. There are deadlines to consider and new terms that are constantly being thrown at you. Students need to consider if they meet the standards for admissions and what they need to submit.
If students and parents can breakdown each task then this process does not have to be so overwhelming. It will also be important to meet with the school counselor for help. If the counselor does not have a question, feel free to contact the admissions office of the university. They will also be able to assist with any questions.
While college isn’t for everyone (and that is okay), this is just a form of some type of postsecondary training. Maybe students will realize they do not want to go to college after this whole process. Students may consider changing their mind about a specific major. Either way, this is a guide that I wanted to provide for those who are considering college.
Do any of you have any other questions regarding the college application process? Please list them down below and I will try and answer the question to best of my ability.
Cameron is the creator of Supportive Fathers. He created Supportive Fathers as a way to help explore topics other dads encounter in everyday life. Cameron is very passionate about being a father to 2 year old daughter as well as being the husband possible to his wife. To read more of his story, please click here.