A Look Into the College App Process


Photo by Justin Zhou

Decisions. Decisions. After all of the hard work, now the wait.

The beginning of January is a time of many things. A fresh list of resolutions that we hope (and often fail) to achieve. A fresh perspective as we roll out of the covers of holiday break. A change of seasons as winter has officially arrived. And for most high school seniors, an end to the horrendous college application process.

Most college applications begin when the Common Application begins August 1st. The system involves inputting everything from personal information and extracurricular activities, to your awards and list of colleges. Most people, however dread the personal statement most, a 650 word essay with vague prompts that college admissions officers will judge your personality by. Students will rewrite draft upon draft, sifting through revisions dozens of times, asking close friends to read it over. After all, the essay is one of the most defining parts of your applications.

Other parts of the application include your test scores and recommendations. Schools will look at your transcript, your SAT, SAT Subject Tests, ACT, AP scores, anything that can give a sense of your academic abilities. An important thing to point out is that no school has a “cutoff score” for standardized tests, as they all review applications on a holistic view, considering all parts of the application together.

Schools will also generally take two teacher recommendations in addition to a counselor recommendation, so make sure to keep close with people you feel know you the best and keep them updated regularly!

Of course, all schools will have different applications than others. Some require supplements, ranging from short answer questions to another essay(s), to even a portfolio displaying your art or architectural abilities. Many students come into high school with a “dream school” in mind, yet they often neglect to research into the specific requirements of each school. It is great to dream big, but knowing what each school needs in their application as well as considering factors like location and affordability are key. This is why signing up for college newsletters, attending college fairs, going on college visits, and just reading through your college emails and mailings are critical to having a successful application.

Depending on how strongly one identifies with their top school, they may opt to apply early, which is usually due by November 1st of their senior year. This branches off into early action (EA) and early decision (ED), with the only difference being the student automatically commits to the schools if they are admitted ED.

Early applicants, who have just recently heard back from schools in December, are either accepted, rejected, or deferred, which means their application will be reviewed again in the regular decision pool. Students will hear back by April, and officially commit to their schools by May 1st.

Holiday break is usually the time when most students will finish up their applications and send them in by the beginning of January. Kudos to those who already finished everything by early December or even November, and a special congratulations to all students who have already committed to their college next year. On that note, it is always good to start looking for scholarships to apply to to minimize the infamous student debt.

Remember, it is never too early to start thinking about your future. The summer before senior year is an ideal time to start filling in your Common App activities, jotting down ideas for your essays, and definitely researching into the schools you are interested in applying to.

As a student who is currently going through the application process, I strongly advise that you not to wait until last minute, when all of your classes and extracurricular activities will be priorities as well. But no need to fret! After your applications are done and financial aid information has been filed, all you can do is wait and hope for the best.

No matter what level of education you’re planning on pursuing, or even just going straight to a career, everyone can be successful if they put in the right amount of effort. Congratulations to everyone for finishing this stressful chapter in their high school career, and good luck to all prospective students in the spirit of the new year!