What You Need to Know about the College Application Process

Bashar Hanna
4 min readMar 28, 2023

With its unfamiliar requirements and many deadlines, the college application process can be daunting and stressful. An effective way to start is by writing down a list of actions you need to take. This initial step is the best way to remember everything you need to do and reduce your stress levels. Here is what should be on your list.

Determine application requirements

There are some standard documents that you must put together when applying to colleges in the United States. Each educational institution has a general application form that includes basic information like parental contacts, extracurricular activities, home address, and the like. You will also likely need to submit your high school transcript, letters of recommendation, and a personal essay or statement.

While college entrance exams are no longer the norm, sending your SAT or ACT score can help your application. You may also be asked to provide financial information for yourself or your family, which can be used to determine your eligibility for scholarships.

Confirm application deadlines

Next, find out the deadlines for submitting applications to institutions that interest you. Keep in mind that deadlines vary by school, so pay careful attention before submitting. For instance, some schools have an early deadline in November and make admission decisions by December. There may be a further application deadline in January with a decision rendered in February. Be aware that if you are accepted for early admission, the decision is binding, so you have to enroll.

Students have the option, too, of applying by the regular deadline between November 30 and January 1. The response will come by mid-March to early April. These decisions are non-binding and students have until May 1 to decide if they’ll accept. Rolling admissions, meanwhile, are evaluated as they are received. Decisions are released directly after, and students can accept until openings are filled.

Source letters of recommendation

When it comes to recommendations, approach the people who know you well and can attest to why you are a viable candidate for the college to consider. You’ll want strong letters of recommendation that discuss your academic achievements and personal qualities. Ideally, the individuals you ask for support should be able to speak to both aspects. Teachers, coaches, and counselors are ideal sources of letters of recommendation.

Understandably, your references will be familiar with your abilities, skills, and character traits in different contexts. Try to make sure you give each person enough lead time to prepare their correspondence and confirm any information they need from you. Schools may want up to three letters, so it’s a good idea to request more so you’re not caught short if one of your references isn’t able to follow through.

Write an essay or personal statement

Remember that post-secondary institutions will ask you to submit either an essay or a personal statement. This is your opportunity to convey in writing a little more about yourself and demonstrate what you’re passionate about and what drives you to pursue higher education. These are open-ended in terms of the content, so the admissions committee wants to know what is important to you.

You should include how you spend your time when you’re not at school, what experiences you have had, and what you aspire to do in the future. Write about your family life, the summer jobs you’ve had, what activities you enjoy, and the like. This chance to be self-reflective will let the college get to know you a bit as an individual. It’s a great move to have a trusted person who knows you well read over your draft and give you feedback.

Obtain your high school transcript

Most post-secondary schools will ask for a high school transcript, which is a document that lists the courses you took and the grades you earned while in high school. Once you receive the transcript request from a college, you can submit it to your high school, and they’ll take care of sending it on. This is normally done through either your school guidance counselor or the registrar and can be sent via a secure online system, depending on your high school’s approach.

Provide standardized testing scores

Some colleges ask to see the results of any standardized tests you’ve taken. SAT or ACT scores are normally provided directly to the institution by testing companies. In addition, some schools have a test-blind policy while others have a test-optional one. In short, scores are not considered in test-blind situations while test-optional colleges will give weight to any scores they receive with an application.

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Bashar Hanna

Dr. Bashar Hanna has spent nearly four years as the president and chief executive officer of Pennsylvania’s Bloomsburg University.