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This Is Not Your Mother’s College Application Process

You went to college, right? You took the SAT’s, had a quick chat with your guidance counselor, wrote the dreaded essay and sent them off. No big deal. Well, not any more! Today, your child is competing for spots at colleges with applicants from all over the worldÂ…you know, those kids who spent the summer in the rain forest looking for a cure for cancer and played second violin with the BSO on weekends. Today’s college application process can be complicated, confusing, and lengthy but if you start early and understand the process, it can be a rewarding experience for both students

and parents.

Get Started Early

Your student needs to begin thinking about college early by gathering as much information as they can, putting together a plan and sticking with it. From the first day of ninth grade through graduation, your student is adding to the list of qualifications that will differentiate them from other applicants – good grades, community service, special talents, athletics, student leadership.

Visiting college campuses can be packed into junior year or incorporated into family vacations and other trips throughout high school. No matter how you plan it, visit as many of your child’s potential choices as possible. There is no better way to get a feel for the atmosphere than actually being on a college campus.

Starting to specifically focus on the college application process early in January of junior year will invoke confidence in both students and parents and allow for the proper amount of time, energy and effort necessary to convey the student’s whole story and help their application stand out.

Use Available Resources There is a wealth of information available to assist you and your student.

•  Use the high school guidance office and counselor

•  Utilize college search websites:,,,,

•  Attend college fairs

•  Use an independent college advisor

More Than a GPA

Every college uses their own formula for choosing from the vast pool of applicants. Those formulas change year to year, and while we might never really figure them out, one thing is for sure – a strong GPA is only one factor in the decision. Extracurricular activities? Here is where they pay off. Interesting and committed community service is an excellent advantage. An essay from the heart on a topic your student is passionate about is just as important as an A+ in AP Physics.

Students should recognize that their applications are viewed for more than just their GPA and test scores. It is essential that students showcase their uniqueness and personality in their essays and make every segment of their application strong and concise.

Where To Begin -The College Quest There are many things to consider when beginning the quest of college selection. Developing a checklist while taking into consideration the following may help with this process.

•  What do you want in a college or university?

•  What are your likes/dislikes, strengths/weaknesses?

•  Explore college websites, go on college visits, and attend college fairs.

•  Ask friends who are currently in college or relatives who have graduated about their schools and experiences.

There are many other factors to be cognizant of as you contemplate the college search. While considering these important factors, you must determine what is important to you.

Location. Are you interested in staying close to home or are you looking for different climate? Ask yourself how often you want to come home and how far away are you willing to go.

Setting. Do you want a college located in a large city, a small town, or something in between?

Size. Size is determined by the student population. Some colleges have less than one thousand students while others have close to 50,000. There are advantages and disadvantages associated with any size.

Type. There are colleges that only offer specific academic programs like liberal arts, engineering, business programs, specialty programs, or technical programs. Research colleges to ensure that they have the major(s) in which you are interested.

Housing. Determine what housing is available and what percentage of students are residents or commuters.

Amenities. Shopping areas, restaurants, museums, movie theaters located in the college area.

More factors to consider: Specialty Interests  (music, art and drama), Sports/School Spirit, Activities/Clubs, Culture/Diversity, Learning Services/Tutoring, Career Services/Job/Internship Placement, Student Retention Rates, Political Activism, Cost/Financial Aid, Religious Affiliation, Transportation, Resources/Library/Computer Labs, Study Abroad Programs, Student Faculty Ratio, Sororities and Fraternities

After considering all of the factors, generate a list of 20-30 schools. This extended list will enable you to effectively incorporate all the elements that are important to you. At the end of junior year, take your GPA, standardized test scores and student activity profile and compare to that the college’s admitted student profile (on college’s website) to determine what schools would be an exciting and realistic match for you.

Acceptance is in the Details

Prior to the start of the application process, make sure you have narrowed down your college list by balancing optimism with a realistic approach. Today’s student applies to between 10-15 colleges, which can be divided into three lists: “Reach” schools (1-3), “Target” schools (5-10), and “Highly Likely” schools (2-4).

Thoroughly review the specific application requirements for each college on your list. Every school has different specifications. A careless error on the application can cost you admission. Another important decision to be made prior to beginning an application is whether you will be applying Early Decision, Early Action or Regular Decision.

Regular Decision is the traditional application procedure where the majority of students are admitted.

Early Decision is a binding commitment. You are only allowed to apply to one college ED.

Early Action is a non-binding commitment. Many colleges allow you to apply to as many EA programs as you like.

Restrictive Early Action is a new program that has been initiated at a few schools, which prohibits you applying to more than one EA school but is a non-binding agreement.

Rolling Admission gives students a considerable amount of time to apply and applicants are usually notified of their decision within a few weeks of applying.

It is essential that you read each college’s specific Early Decision, Early Action, Regular Decision and Rolling Decision program requirements so as not to limit your college options. Determine if the institution uses the Common App. Some Common App colleges have a supplemental application along with extra essay questions, so check ahead and be prepared. (  Letters of recommendation are required for many college applications. Most students ask junior year teachers whom they either know well or in whose class they have excelled. Be sure to send them a handwritten thank you note.

Essays are an essential part of the college application so start early in the summer prior to senior year and display good writing skills. Review the essay prompts, brainstorm for ideas, and have someone proofread for spelling and grammar. Revise until completely satisfied with the essay.

Starting as soon as January of junior year in high school, take and conquer standardized testing: SATs, ACTs, and Subject Tests. Obtain tutoring if necessary and send test scores to each college. Take note of the college’s specific Financial Aid deadlines. The FASFA form ( needs to be completed between January 1st and March 1st. If you are applying to a music, art or theater program, you may need to request an audition or send a portfolio. Check each college website for specific information. If you want to play a sport in college, check the site for details and register before the summer of senior year. Arrange for an interview, and prepare! Study the college’s website before the interview. Make certain that you dress appropriately and send a thank you note to the interviewer after the interview. After your application has been submitted, follow up with each college admission’s office to confirm receipt of your completed application materials.

Graduate School Selection Process

The process of finding a suitable match for graduate school is slightly different than the undergraduate process primarily because you are focused on a higher level of development in your career. There should be a self-assessment period where you examine your strengths and weaknesses. Graduate schools consider your overall GPA, your major GPA and you’re standardized testing scores (GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT). They also weigh your character and motivation to learn. It is essential that you write an outstanding personal statement that demonstrates your writing skills. Create a resume presenting your academic and activity profiles. Recommendations from undergraduate professors will be key in this process.

Other Factors To Consider In Your Quest

•  Research the top professors in your area of interest. It might be more significant to study under a renowned professor than a certain institution.

•  Know the college’s reputation in your field of study. Ask professionals in that field what they think of the program at the institution.

•  Visit the campus to speak with department chairs, faculty members, students, and admissions department. Inquire about the admissions process as many graduate schools differ in their requirements.

•  Admissions committees will consider whether the applicant’s goals and interests match the objectives of the program so it is essential that an applicant determine the needs of the department and faculty and address them in the application process.

Specific criteria for your quest include exploring research opportunities, laboratory facilities, faculty reputation, course offerings, graduation rate, career services, graduate job placement, internship opportunities, faculty to student ratio, funding or financial aid, community life, housing and cost of living. Also explore the funding opportunities offered. Many graduate schools offer funding options such as fellowships, research or teaching assistantships, tuition and fee waivers, health insurance and cash stipends in addition to the standard financial aid programs.