How to Start the College Admission Process

Everyone who has gone through it can agree: the college admission process is painstaking and agonizing. It’s a winding journey to getting accepted, and I’m here to lead you through it. There’s no better place to start than from the beginning, and today that’s exactly where we’re going to start. I have created a simple four step process to beginning your college admission process.


STEP ONE: Create your college list.

This is probably the hardest part of the entire beginning process, because you’re basically deciding where you’re going to spend the first few years of your adult life. Also, there are SO many colleges. The best way to start is to decided what you need from a school. Is location most important to you? Or is the curriculum your priority? Decide upon (at least) THREE of these. Then, use college search engines, such as the one on CollegeBoard or Naviance, to narrow down your search. After this initial cleansing of your options, then you can begin to nit-pick with other preferences regarding your future schooling. The amount of schools you wish to apply to does not really matter. However, it should be noted that you can only send your FAFSA to 10 schools at a time. You can always add or remove to your list as you venture further through the process, so don’t allow yourself to be pigeon-holed early on.


CollegeBoard’s College Search Engine

STEP TWO: Organize said list.

Once you have your list, the next best thing to do is organize it. Overall, to keep yourself sane, you’re going to want to keep things very organized. Create a table within a document; I used Google Docs, but you can use whatever program you wish. This chart is less about the actual application and more about organizing/prioritizing your list. For example, my chart has the following criteria: SCHOOL NAME, CITY AND STATE, MAJOR I AM APPLYING FOR, APPLICATION FEE, ACCEPTANCE RATE, TUITION, and SUBMISSION OF APPLICATION. These, I decided, were the best to help decide which applications to prioritize sending in. After this, I looked at my chart and analyzed the data I collected. With this data, I marked which schools were safety schools, reach schools, and target schools. It is important to have a nice mixture of schools you know you’ll get into to, one’s you may not but it’s worth a shot, and those which you are just a good fit for overall. I color-coded my chart with this in mind to help me distinguish which are which. An example is below:


My personal college chart.

Now, it’s important to note that it’s very hard to distinguish safety schools when applying for arts programs, because nothing is ever guaranteed at an audition or interview. I like to say that there are no safety or target schools for artists, only reach schools. This isn’t to be discouraging, it’s just the truth. This audition and artistic review process is entirely subjective and hard to gauge. So, you can take into account the acceptance rates for artistic programs as well. However, I find it easier to just focus on the academic statistics, since that is the hurdle you have to jump first.

STEP THREE: Gather due dates.

At this point, you’ve accomplished the most complicated parts of this beginning process. After deciding upon you schools, you must gather a list of due dates for applications and supplemental materials. This is especially important if you’re applying for Early Decision or Early Action as well as Regular Decision and Rolling Admission. You’re going to want to know ahead of time when these things are due so that they don’t creep up on you. If you’re keeping your Naviance updated, which I highly suggest you do, they tell you what your due dates are for the schools you’re applying to. Just be aware of other deadlines regarding the FAFSA and scholarships, as well. Keep this in a document, perhaps the same one as previously suggested, so that you have them all in one place. Again, doing so will help you prioritize which to accomplish first.


An example of Naviance’s homepage. Notice the column entitled “Deadline”.

STEP FOUR: Devise plan of action.

After all of that, it’s time to decide for yourself what to do first. Look at your charts and agree upon which applications to tackle first. For example, if you’re applying Early Decision for two schools, that deadline is earlier than the others, so you’re going to want to do that one first. Or, if you’re applying all Regular Decision, maybe you decide to write and edit your personal essay first. This step isn’t as concrete as some of the others, since it differs so much for each person. My advice is conquer as you go. Just be sure to keep yourself organized.

Thank you so much for reading this article! We hope to create a series regarding the college admissions process, so be sure to check back frequently for updates. We wish all future applicants luck with their endeavors!

Article by Mia Zappacosta.

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