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All colleges require that you submit personal information and a copy of your high school transcript. For many two-year colleges, that may be enough to complete the application. Most four-year colleges will require more than that, possibly including:


SAT/ACT: Standardized tests widely used by American college admissions to assess applicant readiness in reading, math and/or writing.

Test-Optional: Over 1,000 colleges and universities have begun de-emphasizing test scores as part of their admissions process. Some schools have become test optional – applicants can choose to not submit SAT or ACT scores – or test flexible – applicants can submit a variety of test scores to fulfill the requirement – while others are lessening the importance of test scores in admission decisions. The list of these schools can be found on as well as information about the reasons behind these changes. Different schools may have different requirements so be sure to check out each school’s specific application needs.

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This is an opportunity for you to convey who you are beyond your grades or test scores. It demonstrates that you can write clearly, express yourself effectively, and allows you to describe your aspirations, values or passions. Colleges that require this essay expect about 500 words, though check their specific requirements.


Each college application will how you spend your time when you are not in class. The best way to present this information is through a professional resume. Use the following format and tips to create yours:
Resume Template

Everything you’ve done in high school, no matter how big or small, should be included on your college resume! This includes:

  • Honors and awards
  • School clubs/organizations(GED)
  • Community service
  • Religious organizations
  • outside-of-school programs
  • Summer activities:camps, courses, programs
  • Jobs/internships
  • Travel
  • Hobbies

General Tips:

  • If a section isn’t relevant to you, that’s ok – don’t fill it out!
  • Find a place for EVERYTHING that you’ve done in high school (summer before 9th grade through now).
  • Make a list of what you’ve done first and then work on fitting it into the format.
  • When describing activities and responsibilities, describe through the lens of what you did, not through the definition of the organization. For example, rather than saying “Habitat for Humanity – an organization which builds homes for underserved populations,” say “Habitat for Humanity – build homes for local underserved citizens, attend ribbon-cutting ceremony…etc”
  • Indicate how much time you spend on each activity by calculating the average number of hours spent and the total number of weeks on the activity in one year:
  1. Calculate out how many weeks you were involved in each activity.
  2. Calculate how many hours IN TOTAL you spent on this activity – consider meetings, outside prep work, events, etc.
  3. Divide the total number of hours by the total number of weeks to figure out the average hours.
  4. Write the average hours and the total weeks in this format: xhrs/xwks


Asking for a Recommendation Letter

Why do some colleges want letters of recommendations from my teachers and counselors?

  • Letters of recommendation help admission committees understand, get to know, and relate to you. They are an opportunity for your teachers and counselor to present their perspectives about who you are and how you might contribute to the intellectual and social communities on campus.
  • Letters of recommendation share with colleges how your mind processes information and works through problems.
  • The letters can be useful to expand upon a point of pride or an activity mentioned elsewhere in your application and to support what you’ve expressed about yourself. They may also inform the college of something that hasn’t been discussed elsewhere, including experiences or anecdotes that did not fit anywhere else or more sensitive subjects that you want to address more fully.

How do I decide which teachers to ask?

  • Colleges prefer to see a junior year teacher write at least one of your letters of recommendation. These teachers have your performance fresh on their mind and your junior year classes are typically more rigorous than those you’ve taken before.
  • Select teachers who teach core academic classes – Science, Math, English, History, World Language. If a school requires multiple letters, try to include teachers who have taught you a range of subjects.
  • Consider teachers who you’ve had more than once or who serves as an advisor or mentor to you in another capacity. These teachers will be able to draw on their experience with you in and out of the classroom.
  • Which teachers have something unique to say about you? Which teachers have the most to say about you? Consider what the teacher might cover in a letter about you and choose teachers that will write a letter you would be proud to present.

What preparation do I need to do before asking for a letter?

  • Fill out a questionnaire about your experience in their class to give to your teacher: Teacher Recommendation Request Form
      • While college admissions won’t be reading these forms, write them as if they were! Teachers might be using similar language, so describe yourself in a way you would want colleges to see.
      • Use specific examples and deep thought to differentiate yourself from your peers.
      • Your teacher loves their subject so getting feedback and hearing how their class helped you is useful for them.
      • This saves your teacher time – you should be spending more time on this than your teacher.
  • Tell your teacher what it is about your experience with them which encouraged you to ask them for a letter of recommendation.
  • Ask your teacher for a meeting to specifically discuss the letter and your future plans.
      • Explain you’d like to find some time to share thoughts or stories that demonstrate how you benefited from their class.
      • You might explain that you’ve visited colleges or spoken with particular admissions representatives (or watched the YouTube video above) and that they indicated these questions are important in letters. You’d like to share with them what you’ve come up with as ideas.

Do I need a letter of recommendation from my counselor?

  • Most colleges require a recommendation from your school counselor.
  • A counselor letter covers your entire high school career and can discuss what is not elsewhere in your application. It covers the bigger picture – family, community, and activities.
  • Their letter may reference cultural differences or priorities, examples of your leadership outside of the classroom, or indicate your influence on the community.

What preparation should I complete before asking my counselor for a letter?

  • Check in with your school’s counseling office – do they already have a form to fill out in order to provide more information about your high school experience?
  • If not, you and your parents/guardians should fill out the following forms to give them more information:
  • Ask to set up a meeting with your counselor to discuss the letter of recommendation, review the forms you filled out, and to let them know which colleges to which you are applying.

Tips for Writing Letters of Recommendation:

    • Questions to ask yourself:
      • Is the letter describing the student as distinguishable?
      • Could another member of the student body tell who the letter was written about?
      • Will a college admissions officer be able to picture the student on their campus after reading the letter?


Colleges use specific prompt(s) that answer questions they want to know about applicants and can allow you to provide more information about yourself, such as why you chose to apply to a college or department.


This conversation with a college admissions officer or alum gives the college a chance to get to know you better, and gives you an opportunity to ask informed questions about the school.

Types of College Applications

The vast majority of colleges employ services that provide standardized online forms. These services allow students to apply to multiple colleges without having to retype common information while still providing a means for colleges to ask questions particular to their programs. Some institutions accept applications from a particular service exclusively, while others accept alternatives. Colleges may offer students three primary types of application for undergraduate admissions.

The Common Application is the most widely used application service today.

The Common Application, known informally as the Common App, is an electronic application system for undergraduate admissions to over 800 member colleges and universities.Depending on the college and/or major, the student may be required to answer supplemental questions.

The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success is a group of over ninety colleges and universities committed to providing access to students of all backgrounds. They believe this can be done through free technology that introduces students to college planning and guidance early in their high school years.

College-Specific Applications: Some colleges provide their own, college-specific application systems, allowing them to control and customize questions, forms, and final data collection. These are offered instead of or as an alternative to services provided by the Common Application or the new Coalition Application. To verify which application types a college accepts, search the college’s website for freshman or undergraduate admissions instructions.


  • Regular Decision – You will apply to the school before their admissions deadline generally in January, February, or March.
  • Early Decision – You can apply early to your first-choice school. This means you will hear an admission decision earlier than if you applied regular admission. If you are accepted to a college Early Decision, you are obligated to attend this school and withdraw your applications from any other school. Upon admission, a contract of commitment is signed by the student, parent/guardian, and school counselor to guarantee attendance.
  • Early Action – You can apply early to schools that offer Early Action deadlines. You will hear back from that school earlier than if you applied regular admission. You do not have to enroll if admitted to a school to which you applied Early Action.
  • Rolling Admission – Schools that offer rolling admission consider applications as each file is complete rather than waiting until after the admissions deadline. These decisions are often returned quickly. The sooner the application is submitted, the sooner you hear about the decision and financial aid.
  • Deposit Deadline – After receiving all your letters of admission, you must make your decision about which college to attend by May 1. You indicate you are going to attend a specific school by submitted your deposit.

Students who apply earlier have a few advantages:

      • Early applicants aren’t in the thick of admission decisions and colleges may take more time to review their applications.
      • Your chance of admission increases.
      • Being accepted earlier means you will have first pick of on-campus housing options.
      • However, only apply Early Decision if you are willing to marry that school.

Once your application has been submitted, updates can always be provided to the admissions office.

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There are four main decisions you might hear from the colleges you apply to:

  • Admitted – You’re in! The admissions committee decided you would be a great fit at their college or university.
  • Waitlisted – You have not been offered a spot in their incoming class, but you are on a short list of applicants who may be offered a spot if one opens up. However, you will not find out if you’ve been admitted until after May 1. This gives you a few options:
    • Stay on the list: If you really want to attend this school, it makes sense to stay on the waitlist. Make sure you know if there are any circumstances to consider once admitted off of the list (such as limited financial aid or housing options). If you decide to stay on the list, here are some ways to increase your chances of being admitted:
      • Call the admissions office to understand the likelihood of being admitted off of the waitlist.
      • Let the admissions office know about any new achievements or additional information that happen in the Spring semester. Make sure they know how interested you are in the school!
      • Keep working hard both in class and in your activities.
      • Request an interview, even if you have already had one at the school.
      • Remain in contact and demonstrate interest at every opportunity.
    • Remove yourself from the list: If you are sure you do not want to attend this school, you may take yourself off of the waiting list.
  • Deferred – It depends.
    • If you applied ED or EA, your application will now be reconsidered with the regular applications.
    • If you applied Regular Decision, this means the college may need more information from you (updated test scores or final grades) before making a decision.
  • Denied – This college or university was not a good match for you. Take a look at all of the schools to which you were accepted and find your new home!

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If you are deferred:

A notice of deferral is not a rejection and can be a great opportunity to let the college know some additional information about you. Tell the school that they are still your top choice, if they truly are, and explain why that is true.

Update your application with any new material you feel would be helpful. (For example: an additional letter of recommendation, honors or recognition, continued rise in grades from first to second semester, etc.), new accomplishments or awards in activities and competitions since you first submitted your application.

Be sure to send your first semester, senior-year grades.

Consider contacting, or having your counselor contact, the school to see if it would be helpful to provide any specific information or explanations about you based on their initial reading of your application.

Once you have been deferred by a college, you are no longer bound by that school’s early application rules. You are free to consider any offers and financial aid from all colleges that you have applied to.

If you are waitlisted:

There are various reasons why students are waitlisted. Now that more students are applying to more colleges, it has become harder for colleges to predict which admitted students will enroll. Consequently, colleges are waitlisting more students as a form of insurance. Colleges may waitlist qualified students whose grade point average or test scores are a little lower than the students who received an offer. Then, the lower statistics do not bring down the average test scores of the new freshman class, but the college can accept such students if they absolutely have to in order to fill all available slots.

Other students may be waitlisted because they have not shown enthusiasm for the school by visiting the campus, meeting their respective college admissions representative when they are in the student’s area, conversing with their representative via other avenues such as email, or just not showing enthusiasm for attending the campus in the written format of the application. They may calculate that the student is not interested enough to enroll if the college admits the student.

In addition, overqualified students are sometimes waitlisted because the college assumes the student has applied to many very competitive schools and will not choose to attend their university. In these cases, by waitlisting the student the college is acting to protect its yield—the percentage of accepted students who actually enroll at the college. Colleges like to show a low acceptance rate of students who receive an offer of admittance and a high yield of admitting those who do receive an offer.

When a college offers an early action or early decision plan, many admission offers have already been made by November. So when regular decisions are offered in March, a waitlist can serve as a way to play it safe until the college has acceptances in hand and knows how much financial aid money is left.

  • Ranked Waitlists – Students should check with the college’s admissions office to find out whether it ranks their list or not. If students can find out where they are ranked on the list they can better gauge their odds of admission. However, many schools do not rank their waitlists. Rather, they use the waitlist as a means of replacing a student who declines admission with a student who is similarly situated, e.g., to fill an orchestra spot, to replace someone on a sports team, to admit another student within a particular major, etc.

Take Action: 
The first action waitlisted students should do is accept an offer from one of the colleges or universities that did accept them and pay the enrollment deposit to that school by May 1st. The student must then decide whether or not to accept a place on the waitlist of the other school. Students are advised to only accept a place on the waitlist if the student intends to enroll at the college if admitted. If the student decides to accept a place on the list, the student should follow the college’s instructions for accepting the waitlist invitation. It is important to keep in mind that colleges may have very little financial aid left for students admitted from their waitlist.

Strategies for Getting Off Waitlist:

Most students will not get off the waitlist, but there are ways to improve the odds. Most importantly, a waitlisted student needs to be proactive; the student should be eager and creative without appearing distraught or desperate.

To Do:

  • The student should mail an eloquent “letter of enthusiasm” to their assigned college admissions officer. If appropriate, this letter should state that the college is the student’s first choice and that the student will definitely enroll if admitted. The letter should also state why the college and the student are a great fit, identifying specific academic programs or activities. The letter should point out what the student will contribute to the campus community.
  • Some sources also suggest having the school counselor contact the college’s regional admissions officer on the student’s behalf. It may also be a good time to send an extra letter of recommendation if it will add a perspective they have not already heard. It could be from a teacher different than the one who submitted a recommendation at the time of the application, or anyone else who knows the student well and can speak of their recent accomplishments, character, academic abilities, or special talent.
  • The student should update the college with any recent accomplishments, such as took the SAT/ACT again and scored higher, won an academic competition, founded a new club, nominated for a special honor, raised a grade in a class, etc.
    The student should study hard to maintain strong grades and stay involved in high school and community activities.
  • The student should continue to touch base every two weeks with the admissions officer, indicating continued interest and enthusiasm. Some students continue to communicate with colleges even after the official date for consideration is closed.
  • If the student is still on the waitlist after graduation, the student should update the college with a final transcript and any new AP and IB test scores.

    What Not To Do:
  • Ask alumni of the school to make calls on your behalf.
  • Let your parents interfere. YOU need to be the point of contact.
  • Tell the admissions officer personal stories.
  • Keep the reasons for wanting to attend related to special programs and academic opportunities.
  • Pester the admissions office. Keep the communication on task as described above.
  • Try bribing the admissions office with gifts.

If accepted off the waitlist, be ready to make a decision very quickly. Typically the offer will be made via a phone call and the timeframe to respond will be very short; 24-48 hours is common.

If you change your mind, and no longer want to be on the waitlist, immediately contact the admissions representative and ask to be removed from the list and/or do so via your online portal with that college.


If you are planning on playing sports for your college or university, you will not only complete a regular application to the school but you will also complete a talent-specific application. Here are some basic steps:

  • Register as a future student athlete at
  • Research schools and make connections with the athletic staff to make yourself stand out.
  • Fill out a Prospective Student Athlete Questionnaire found on each school’s athletic page.
  • Complete an athletic resume in addition to your college application. This resume will include information about your body measurements, academic performance, and individual and team accomplishments. The goal is for coaches to know enough about you to get a picture of what kind of athlete you might be on their team. In filling out the following template, be sure to include a list of all your key finalist events as well as the place you earned at each.
  • Athletic Resume Template

Athlete Resources


If you are applying to visual or performing arts programs, you will not only complete a regular application to the school but you will also complete a talent-specific application. Here are some basic steps:

  • Research schools and make connections with the VPA staff to make yourself stand out.
  • Put together a portfolio or audition based on the requirements of the schools you are applying to.
  • Complete a resume outlining your experience in that area thus far. In filling out the following template, change the categories of performance types to match the experiences and training you have: Visual and Performing Arts Resume Format

Visual & Performing Arts Resources