The application process

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Applying to college, a career school, or a graduate school means more than just filling out forms. For a successful college application, you need to understand the process, learn each school’s admission requirements, gather information, meet deadlines, and pay any necessary fees. Plus, each school has different application requirements and deadlines, so it’s important to get organized. Following are the major steps:

Step 1: Early Research: Start college research as early as possible. Attend college fairs and do research on the web. Take a few days in the summer to visit colleges.

Step 2: Take Tests: Most colleges still require students to submit standardized test results, such as the SAT or ACT. Prepare for these tests and take them early so you can do them again if you are not happy with the results. This should happen about a year before you plan to attend college.

Step 3:  A short list of colleges Come up with a short list of colleges to which you are planning to apply, ideally about a year before you attend college. There’s no magic number when it comes to how many school applications you submit. One isn’t enough because that school might not admit you. More than 10 might be too many because applications take a lot of work, and you need to do a great job on each one. Also, most schools have application fees, so costs can add up. (Many schools waive fees for low-income students.). The bottom line is that applying to a few schools that really interest you is better than applying to as many as you can. If you’re not sure what schools might be right for you, see our information on choosing a school.

Step 4: Collect all the needed materials. Every college has its own application requirements. Different programs within the same school may even request different items. Learn exactly what a school requires by visiting its website or checking with its admissions office. This is the time to get letters of recommendation and translations of documents for foreign students. This is the time to write your college essay. Start preparing well before the application deadline, and make sure to check and double-check everything before you submit it.

Step 5: Apply: This is where everything comes together. Make sure you have all the materials you need, and make sure you meet the timelines of each college. 

Step 6: Apply for Financial Aid. January is generally the time to apply for financial aid. 

Step 7: Wait for the decision.

Step 8: College Decision: Around March or April, you will be notified by the colleges via mail, e-mail, or email.

Step 9: Wrapping Up: Now all that's left is dorm shopping and four months worth of prep work, from doctor's appointments to roommate questionnaires, promissory notes, and orientation.