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  • Sumedha Chalasani

The College Admission Process

What is the worst fear of any high school student? The college admissions process. Students everywhere research as much as they can to understand this mysterious process. The search for accurate and concise information can be stressful, so here is a helpful summary of things every student needs to know before they start preparing for college.

How It Works

The basics of the process are taking the required tests, writing a personal statement, then submitting your application. This is the Common Application, which is accepted by more than 900 schools, including some colleges located outside the U.S. Since it is accepted by so many schools, students can apply to multiple colleges at once, and they only have to fill out details that most schools require, including name, address, parental employment and education, and extracurricular activities, one time. Students also have to submit a personal essay, which is an important piece of a college application and an opportunity for students to show an admission committee what makes them a good candidate. Prospective college students want their essay, sometimes called a personal statement, to make a good impression and boost their chances of being accepted, but they have only several hundred words to make that happen.

Types of application

There are two other types of application in addition to applying normally and going to college at the start of the school year, early action and early decision. Early action is when you apply to college earlier than the regular deadline. Early action can be a great option if you've done your college research and have prepared all the different parts of your application by the November deadline. You should apply early if you're organized and have a strong application ready to go. Wait until a regular decision if your application would be stronger with a couple more months of preparation. While both early action and early decision allow you to apply earlier, the former is not binding while the latter is. For early action, students receive an early response to their application but do not have to commit to the college until the normal reply date of May 1. On the other hand, a student who is accepted as an early decision applicant must attend the college. Applicants receive admissions decisions quickly when applying for early decision or early action, usually starting in mid-December. Applicants can usually apply for multiple schools using early action.


Here is a helpful checklist of everything to do before applying.

January - April of Your Junior Year

· Prepare for upcoming AP exams in May

· Plan ACT, SAT, and SAT Subject Test dates

· Plan college visits

May of Your Junior Year:

· Take AP exams

· Study for ACT, SAT, and SAT Subject Tests

· Request recommendation letters

Junior and Senior Years:

· Take final ACT, SAT, and SAT Subject Tests

· Brainstorm, pre-write, and complete 3-4 drafts of your Common App Essay (aka personal statement)

· Complete extracurricular capstone project

· Complete college visits

September of Your Senior Year:

· Seek feedback and finalize Common App Essay

· Finalize school list

· Check in with recommendation letter writers about the status of their letters

· Complete supplemental essays for early action or early decision schools

October of Your Senior Year:

· Modify your Common App Essay and appropriate supplemental essays to fit UC prompts

· Complete UC application essays

· Finalize and submit applications to early action or early decision schools

November of Your Senior Year:

· Finalize and submit UC application

· Complete supplemental essays for regular decision schools

December of Your Senior Year:

· Finalize and submit applications to regular decision schools

· Consider early action or early decision school acceptances

January - March of Your Senior Year:

· Complete admissions interviews whenever offered

March - April of Your Senior Year:

· Consider regular decision acceptances

· Attend second look and admitted student weekends

· Submit waitlist letters to schools that placed you on their waitlist

· Make your final decision about where to attend and submit your deposit by May 1


The SAT and ACT are two of the most important tests you will take. The first step in being prepared is to familiarize yourself with the details. Understanding the test structure, instructions and the type of questions you will be asked will save you valuable time on test day. You can find detailed instructions for the SAT and ACT tests online. And it’s important to understand the differences between the SAT and ACT to determine which test is a better fit for you.

Next, it is important to practice as much as you can. Set aside time to take real, full-length practice tests. Use a timer to get accustomed to the time limits, and try to pace yourself so you have enough time to get to all the questions. After finishing each test, check your answers and devote ample time to reviewing the questions you got wrong. In addition to online resources, there are books, complete with full practice tests based on actual exams from past years that can help you study. The ACT test offers an official prep book. The College Board also offers an extensive collection of SAT prep books. Ask your high school counselor for a recommendation.

If you find it hard to study on your own, you may want to consider taking a test prep class. Some schools offer remote or in-person programs or study groups, and you may also be able to find a privately run prep course in your area. When you don’t understand an answer, having an instructor by your side to explain it can be a big help. If you want to work on your skills at your own pace or feel like you’d reap more rewards from personal attention, a tutor may be a better choice for you. Tutors are able to focus on exactly what you need to understand to excel, but this type of prep can be expensive. The SAT exam lists some formulas for you at the front of each math section, but the ACT exam does not, so it’s important that you know all basic math formulas and concepts. With enough practice problems, you should be able memorize them, which can help save you time during the actual test.

On top of taking practice tests, you should also practice reading challenging books and articles. The College Board publishes a list of suggested reading that could serve you well on reading comprehension passages. When you come across an unfamiliar word, highlight or underline it, then look it up. This will pay dividends for your whole life, not just when it comes to a test score. There are several SAT and ACT prep apps available. With lessons in the palm of your hand, you can track your progress and prepare for the test wherever you go.

Determining School Priority

The three types of schools when choosing priorities and which one to go to are dream, target, and safety schools. A dream school is a college where your academic credentials fall in the lower end, or even below, the school's average range for the cohort of students accepted the previous year. Dream schools might be long shots, but they should still be possible. Don't let the sticker price of a financial reach school scare you off! Financial need, academic strength, and a college's desire to have you on campus can all influence your financial aid award and make the cost of attendance more manageable.

In contrast, a target school is one where your academic credentials (grades, SAT or ACT scores, and class rank) fall well within the school's average range for the most recently accepted class. There are no guarantees, but it's not unreasonable to expect to be accepted to several of your target schools. Lastly, a safety school is one where your academic credentials exceed the school's range for the average first-year student. You should be reasonably certain that you will be admitted to your safety schools. Like your dream and target schools, these should also be colleges you'd be happy to attend. In addition to admissions criteria, it's a good idea to think about financial aid when creating your list of safety schools—make sure there is at least one school that you know your family can afford on that list.

Good Luck!

Now that you know all you can about the college admissions process, get to work! It is beneficial to start preparing no matter what grade you are in. The earlier, the better, as you will have more than enough time to go through the process. Though you may find it nerve-wracking, know that you will get through it, and feel free to look back on this guide for advice. Start prepping!

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