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Frequently Asked Questions

The college application process can be complex, but you can do it. Here are a few answers to the most commonly asked questions about applying to college. 

When should I start?

  • The summer before your senior year is the best time to start. Most students do the majority of their application work in the fall of their senior year.

How do I begin?

  • Find out what goes into an application and begin collecting the materials you need. Create a folder for each college you are applying to. At the front of each folder, put a checklist of what you'll need for the application and when it's due.

How many colleges should I apply to?

  • To increase your chances of getting into a selective school--and to account for colleges you may not have considered before--we recommend a balanced list. A balanced list includes at least three reach colleges, two realistic schools, and one safety school. They should all be colleges you'd be happy to attend.

What are reach, realistic, and safety schools?

  • REACH: Your ACT or SAT score is lower than the average score range of last year's freshman class.
  • REALISTIC: Your ACT or SAT score is solidly in the same score range as last year's freshman class.
  • SAFETY: Your ACT or SAT score is higher than the average score range of last year's freshman class.

Should I apply early?

  • It depends. If you are sure about which college you want to attend, early decision or early action might be the best choice for you.
  • Early decision is for students who only want to apply to their first-choice college. If you apply ED, you enter a legally binding plan that means you must attend the school if you're accepted. You can only apply to one college early decision and must accept the financial aid package the college offers you. Colleges often respond quickly to early decision applications, usually in December.
  • Early action is when a student applies to college early and gets an early admission decision. If you apply early action, you enter a non-binding plan that doesn't require you to attend if you're accepted.

Should I use an online or a paper application?

  • Check with the college to see which is preferred. Most colleges prefer online applications because they are easier to review and process--some even offer a discount on the application fee if you apply online.
  • Applying online can also be more convenient for you--it's easier to enter information and correct mistakes. Whichever method you choose, be sure to tell your school counselor where you have applied so your school transcript can be sent to the right colleges.

Should I send additional material with my application?

  • It's best if you can express everything about your qualifications in the materials requested. Colleges spend a great deal of time creating their applications to make sure they get all the information they need about each applicant. If you feel it's absolutely necessary to send additional material, talk to your counselor about it.
  • Some arts programs may require portfolios or videos of performances. Check with the college to find out the best way to submit examples of your work.
  • Most colleges charge application fees. Ask your school counselor about possible fee waivers.

What are the Coalition, Common, and Universal College Applications?

  • These are examples of college application services that provide standardized applications which allow you to apply to multiple schools with a single application. Be aware that you may need to submit additional or separate documents to some colleges. You also still need to pay individual application fees for each college.
  • The Coalition Application is accepted by more than 90 institutions.
  • The Common Application is a standardized application used by nearly 700 colleges. Each year, nearly a million students use the Common Application to submit over 4 million applications.
  • The Universal College Application is accepted by more than 30 colleges and universities. You must register as an applicant in order to start applying.

Source: bigfuture.collegeboard.org

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