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The College Application
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When you apply to a college, you'll submit several things: an application, high school transcript, SAT or ACT score report, letters of recommendation and one or more personal statements or essays.
An important heads–up: applying for financial aid is a separate process that requires you to fill out a separate set of forms.
You can fill out a paper application or apply online. Most schools require you to list basic information about you and your family, as well as your GPA, standardized test scores, and any extracurriculars or awards you earned in high school.
Over three hundred colleges and universities now accept the Common Application, a single form that you can fill out and submit to multiple schools. The Common Application is meant to simplify the admissions process for you. Using it means you don't have to fill out individual application forms for each school you apply to.
There is no penalty for using it: Colleges are required to give equal consideration to students who use the Common Application and those who use the school's own application. If you do use the Common App, however, be advised that schools may have supplementary forms you'll need to fill out (including additional essays!).
Some colleges require that your high school send your transcript directly, others allow you to send it. In the latter case, your high school will give you a sealed envelope. Do not break the seal on the envelope or your transcripts will not be accepted!
SAT or ACT Score Report
When you take the SAT or ACT, you can request that a score report be sent to your prospective colleges. Make sure you leave plenty of time for your scores to be processed and sent.
Beginning in March 2009, students will be able to choose whether colleges see one, some or all of their scores for the SAT and SAT Subject Tests. You must opt into this program online or via telephone; otherwise schools will see all your scores. Be advised that you cannot mix and match sections (you can't send in your great Math score from June and your great Verbal from January).
Letters of Recommendation
Colleges usually require two or three letters of recommendation from high school teachers or guidance counselors.
When requesting a letter of recommendation, pick someone who knows you well and can speak to your strengths. Approach your potential letter–writers about two months prior to the actual due date. Teachers and guidance counselors are usually swamped with term papers and other college application requests toward the end of the fall semester.
Personal Statement or Essay
This is by far the most time–consuming and difficult part of any application. The personal statement or essay is usually about 300 to 500 words in length, occasionally longer, depending on the college. The prompt or question will be provided in the application. Be sure to write in your own voice about a topic unique to you. We recommend writing several drafts. Proofread carefully, and ask a teacher to edit your work.