Skip to main content

Everything You Need to Know to Apply to College

Amber Brandt  |  October 17, 2023
Researching, choosing, and applying to colleges is a big deal, especially when you’re still technically a high school kid! We know it’s easy to get overwhelmed, so we thought we’d pull together a bunch of helpful information in one place. Buckle up, because we’re going to cover how to choose a college, when to apply, and what to keep in mind.
Choosing a college
According to Concordia College in Minnesota, here are the top ten things you should consider when choosing a college:
  1. Location and distance from home. There are benefits to large and small campuses, and it’s important to think about how easy or difficult it would be to come home for the holidays or on short notice.
  2. Cost and fees. The quoted price on most schools isn’t typically your all-in price. Ask about financial aid, scholarships, and what’s available to you.
  3. Class sizes. What’s your learning style? Would you do better in a huge lecture hall, or small discussion-based classes?
  4. Majors and minors. What are you hoping to study? Are you looking for a diverse experience or something highly specialized?
  5. Athletics and extracurriculars. What do they offer that you’re interested in? Music, sports, theater, other passions?
  6. Campus life. Ask questions like “how many students live on campus?” and “what do you do on the weekends?”
  7. Academic support and career services. Ask about the school’s placement rates for jobs, and how much they assist students with free tutoring groups or any writing assistance.
  8. Safety. Consider on-campus safety as well as the greater area. If your school is in a huge city, the risks are different. What kinds of policies and procedures do they have in place?
  9. Internship opportunities. What kind of options do you have for studying abroad, research, hands-on experiences, etc.?
  10. Perspective. How did the school make you feel? That’s something to pay attention to.

Now that you’ve chosen schools you’re interested in, when should you apply?

College applications should be on your radar during your junior year of high school. This doesn’t mean you have to start applying as soon as 10th grade is over, but you should start doing research and scheduling campus visits as your interested schools become clearer. Most application deadlines are near the beginning of winter, so we recommend starting the application process during the summer before your senior year. You can always start earlier if you want to be more proactive.

College application checklist

Here are the materials you’ll typically need to pull together before you begin applying for college:
  • Application. This is a general application that covers things like extracurriculars and guardian information.
  • Academic transcripts. The classes you’ve taken and grades you’ve gotten.
  • Letters of recommendation. 2-3 letters from trusted adults in your life.
  • Personal statements and essays. Colleges want to know more about you than academics alone. These personal statements give you a chance to communicate how well-rounded you are.
  • Standardized scores. This is typically SAT or ACT scores, although some schools have stopped requiring them.
  • Financial information. Documentation of your family’s financial situation. This is used to see if you qualify for scholarships. At the very least, consider completing the FAFSA, Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
Here’s everything else you need to know about applying:
  1. Make sure you know every application deadline. Lots of students create lists of the schools they’re interested in – their dream schools (where you would go if money was no obstacle), target schools (the ones where you’d fit in well), and safety schools (the ones you’re confident you can get into no matter what). Make sure you know when applications are due.
  2. Sign up for standardized tests. If you’re planning to take the SAT or ACT you may want to shoot for the first time they’re offered in the spring of your junior year, so you have an additional chance to take it again if you want to try for a better score. These scores can help you qualify for merit-based scholarships.
  3. Write the first draft. As we’ve mentioned above, you’re going to have to include personal statements with your applications. It’s a good idea to create an outline and begin working on early drafts so you can get feedback and refine them.
  4. Request letters of recommendation. If you have good relationships with specific teachers, coaches, pastors, or other responsible adults, ask them a few months ahead of the application process if they’d be willing to write a letter on your behalf. Be sure to choose people who know your strengths, motivations, and character.
  5. Gather transcripts. Ask your guidance counselor to send your transcripts to the colleges you’re applying to. Schools will generally state what date you need to send them electronically or have them postmarked by.
  6. Complete the application. Give yourself plenty of time to thoughtfully answer questions so you don’t leave out any important extracurricular activities or honors you’ve received.
  7. Double check everything. As the deadline approaches, you’ll want to go through and make sure everything you need has been uploaded or submitted. If you see a letter of recommendation or other item is missing, you may need to reach out and nudge the person helping you so you don’t miss out.
  8. Submit your application. Once you have all your ducks in a row, be sure to submit your application with the necessary fee (typically $50-90 per application).
  9. Try to be patient. We won’t lie – this is a very exciting and sometimes unnerving experience. Waiting for those letters of acceptance (and then opening the envelope) and make your heart leap into your throat! If you’ve done everything they required, all you can do is wait and have faith!
 Congratulations on this big accomplishment!

Find a School

We have 100+ schools in nine states. Find schools by zip code or by state to learn more about us or schedule a tour!

Find a School