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A Senior’s Perspective on the College Application Process

Lauren Mellerup, Staff Writer

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Going into my senior year, I was extremely nervous about applying to college. As a first generation college student and only child, I had no idea where to start or what to do after that. Here’s a few tips and tricks that I learned along the way.

Ask your teachers recommendations well in advance.

Many teachers cap off the amount of recommendations that they will write for that given year, so you want to make sure that you ask them before all of their spots fill up. Start asking teachers before the end of your junior year, around April/May, or earlier. Ask teachers that know you well and that will write you believe can write you a personalized recommendation. Make sure to follow up with them to make sure that they submit everything on time.


Visit colleges before your senior year.

Visiting colleges gives you an inside look at what the college has to offer for your specific major and gives you a good understanding of if the campus is right for you. Not only can you look at the campus, you can also establish contacts that you can use throughout your application process. Also, once senior year goes into full swing, it’s hard to go on college visits because you don’t want to have to make up work or fall behind in classes.


Have a list of colleges you want to apply to before school starts.

Having a rough draft of a list of schools that you like minimizes stress later on. Being someone who did not do this, I can tell you that it’s difficult to pull together a list while juggling your school work, volunteering, working, and other things.


Have a rough draft of your Common Application essay done before school starts.

Your Common Application essay is a vital part of the application process. You want to make sure that you make it both catchy and interesting, while setting yourself apart from other applicants. Coming up with the topic that is right for you takes time, so you want to make sure that you give yourself ample time to make it the best that it can be.


Ask your previous English teachers to read over your essays before submitting them.

Trust me, they want to help! I was extremely nervous to ask my previous English teachers to read my essays, but after meeting with them and discussing my writing, I was able to see how much they wanted to help me so that I could make it better. Not only that, but who knows grammar better than English teachers? Having an extra set of eyes read over your essays never hurts!


Lay out exactly what you need to submit to each college and when all of your deadlines are.

When you ask seniors if time flies, the answer is most likely going to be yes. Deadlines approach extremely fast and before you know it your application is due the next day and you still have half of it left. If you are able to pick out exactly what you need for each college (supplemental questions, financial aid paperwork, scholarships, deadlines, etc.), you will thank yourself later.


Submit your SAT/ACT scores to colleges a while in advance.

You would think that since you’re sending your scores through College Board, which is online, your scores would arrive to the college quickly. Well, you would be wrong! If you don’t want to have to pay to rush your scores, make sure that you send them well in advance so that you can make sure you’re meeting all of your deadlines – about two weeks.


Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Though you may not think so, everyone is there to help you during this very stressful process. Whether it be your guidance counselor, your teachers, your friends, or anyone else, they are most likely there to help guide you in the right direction.


Research scholarships.

Scholarships are extremely important. Any amount of money that you can get out of paying during college will help bring down your student loans. Know the scholarships that you want to apply for so that you don’t miss the deadlines – some of them are early in the school year.


Use Naviance.

On Naviance, you can access scatter plots that depict how many people have been accepted into a given school in past years. Also, there are numerous surveys that you can take that will help you to pick a career that interests you or get a list of colleges that offer what you’re looking for.


With these tips aside, here are some commonly asked questions:


  • When in my senior year do I start applying to college?

The application process can start as early as when you first get into school your senior year. Depending on the school and your application type, you can have deadlines in October, November, December, and/or January.


  • What’s the difference between Early Decision and Early Action?

Early Decision is binding, meaning that if you get into that school, you are bound to go there. On the other hand, Early Action is typically non-binding, but still shows that you are really interested in that specific school. Both of these application processes give you decisions earlier than if you were to apply through Regular Decision.


  • Can I apply Early Action/Decision to multiple schools?

If the college you’re applying to has restrictive Early Decision, you are not allowed to apply early to any other school. With that being said, since Early Action is usually non-binding, for most schools, you are allowed to apply to multiple institutions through Early Action at once, unless specifically otherwise stated by a given school.


  • How do I apply for financial aid?

Financial Aid includes the FAFSA and CSS Profile. When filling out both of these, which can be found online, it’s mainly your parents information so they carry the weight on this portion of your application. When filing the FAFSA, you can select 10 schools at a time to send it to and after those have processed you are able to change/add schools. Sending the FAFSA to various colleges is free, while sending the CSS Profile is not. Only some colleges require the CSS Profile so make sure to check with your individual schools if they need it or not before you waste money sending it. To see if a school requires this, you can check their website or call them directly.


  • Where do I find if my prospective school accepts the Common Application?

When looking at how to apply to colleges on their websites, it will say how to apply, whether it be through the Common Application or a separate application. Additionally, if you go on the Common Application website and search for a school and it doesn’t show up, it’s most likely because that school doesn’t use the Common Application.


  • When are the most important deadlines for the Common Application?

Deadlines on the Common Application vary by school. If you’re applying through an early process, the applications are due earlier than regular decision applications.


  • How am I notified if I get accepted or not?

Typically, you will either get something in the mail that displays your admissions decision, you will get an email, or you will have to check your admissions portal for said school.


  • If I get denied Early Action/Decision, can I still apply Regular Decision?

When applying through an early admissions process, you can either be accepted, deferred, or denied. If you are deferred, you may be considered through Regular Decision, but if you’re denied then you are not able to be considered for regular admission.


  • How do I know if a school will take my AP credits?

Every school is different. Usually, colleges will display what AP credits they will accept on their websites. While some colleges only accept 5’s, others may accept 3’s or 4’s.


  • Do colleges look at my grades after first marking period senior year?

It is a common misconception that your grades senior year don’t count. Some colleges, at the end of your senior year require that you send your final transcript, so make sure that you don’t slack off after first marking period. Additionally, for some regular decision admissions, you are required to send your first semester grades, not just your first marking period grades.

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