College Admissions Process

The college admissions process can be quite daunting. Read advice from other students who successfully navigated through the college admissions process.

Last updated on July 17, 2024 by College Financial Aid Advice.

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To My Terrified Freshmen: This Is What You've Waited For

Written by Monique from Maryland

I know that the last thing on your mind as a high school freshmen is what campus you see yourself at four years from now. All you are trying to do is make it through your first day in a school filled with bullies, mean girl cliques, and more responsibility than you think you can handle. The sad fact of the matter is that freshmen year is probably the most important time to start thinking about college. But let’s be realistic; there’s no way the majority of fourteen-year olds are going to know exactly what they want to do when they graduate high school. But there are places to start.

From my experience, I have learned that quite possibly the best thing any student can do to prepare themselves for college in their first two years of high school is keep their GPA up while still challenging themselves. Nobody is asking every student to be the next Einstein, but colleges will look for progress and going above and beyond in order to strive for a good grade. Sadly, college admissions are not able to see all you’ve done to strive for that C+ in AP Government; they only get one piece of paper: your transcript. For those reading this who do not know, your high school transcript shows every class you have taken since the 9th grade, including the curriculum level (standard, honors, GT, or AP/IB) and final grade you received. Your class rank, GPA, and even how many days you were absent in each year are included. You can basically say it’s your entire high school career summed up on one piece of paper. Colleges will receive an official copy of this in order to get an idea for the kind of student you are, but this is not the only thing taken into consideration.

Colleges also like to know what authority figures, outside of your family, think of you, so it is smart to create good relationships with your instructors and teachers because once senior year comes, you will need them for recommendation letters. Procrastination will try and get the best of you, but be sure to ask early for these letters. Just like you, teachers have a lot of other deadlines to meet and they need to allot time for your letter. Not only that, but they will need a copy of your resume in order to personalize what they write and include all your many achievements. Your resume is another one of those very important pieces of paper, but it goes beyond the grade. This is where colleges are able to find out more about YOU and your personal life. All your extracurricular activities are listed, along with any community service you’ve participated in or jobs you’ve held. Freshmen through junior year is your chance to figure out what you want to do so that you can start figuring out what college best fits you.

Getting accepted into college is something that takes baby steps, and you’re not alone in it. As you progress through high school, don’t forget that your guidance counselors and teachers are there for any questions or struggles you may be having. I realize that the actual application process does not start until senior year, but now is the time to start thinking about it. The slate has been wiped clean; middle school is over and high school is the time for you to become the most well-rounded person you can be. It’s kind of early to think about this, but it’s just something to keep in mind because right now is where it all begins.

High school is what you guys have waited for; this is your time to shine. Be involved in as much as you can, not because you feel like you have to, but because you want to. Not only is this the kind of stuff colleges look for, but it will make your time in high school that much more enjoyable. I left middle school not knowing really who I was or what I wanted to be; I am now leaving high school with a group of loyal friends and many memories I will take with me to college. Being a freshmen can be a daunting task, but it’s all a process so that you are able to become the best you that you can be.

College Admissions Secrets

Written by Carissa from South Carolina

Worried about how to get into the college of your dreams? Here are some useful college admissions secrets that helped me.

1) Work hard to keep your grades up!

When I was in 7th and 8th grade I really did not care about the grades I got and I did not have any motivation to get them up. When I got into 9th grade, I realized that my dream of becoming a nurse was not going to happen unless I got my grades up. With a lot of hard work and dedication I have had mostly straight A's throughout high school. Having these grades was VERY important for getting into the college I wanted.

2) Visit!

Probably the most important thing you can do in the application process is visiting the college you want to go to. Stay overnight and ask LOTS of questions. The more you get involved, the more they will remember you.

3) Apply early

Start applying to schools that you want to go to in your junior year of high school. If you do not get accepted the first time, wait, then try again.


I HIGHLY recommend taking the SAT/ACT very early, as in your 8th-9th grade years. The more times that you take the test, the higher your score will be! I also highly recommend getting the practice books for the tests. I did a little snooping and found out that Baron's was one of the top choices in practice tests. Develop a study method and keep at it diligently. Again, the more you test, the higher your score will be. This is also one of the MAJOR things admissions looks for. It will get you an interview and MORE SCHOLARSHIP OPPORTUNITIES! Some schools will even take your individual scores to determine what year of a certain subject that you should start on.

5) Keep in contact

Constantly be talking to your admissions counselor and get to know them and develop a relationship.

6) Passion

Try to have an idea of what you want to do when you go to college. Pick a career that you love! Don't pick something you don't like because you don't think that you are talented enough or because you want the most money you can get. Pick something you are PASSIONATE about and express that passion to your admissions counselor, they want to see that you have more than just academics and that you are going to do something that you LOVE.

6) Get involved

Get involved in your community as much as possible! That is a HUGE thing that helps you in the college admissions process. The more community service and volunteering you do, the more likely you will get into the college of your dreams!


Winning the College Race: Ready, Set, Go!

College Admissions Process

Written by Kimberly from New Jersey

As a parent of a high school senior, I stand in awe of her single-minded purpose. From the time she was a little girl, she was determined to go to college and become a success.

I can take a bit of credit for that because I talked about college quite a bit from the time she was a baby. When she reached middle school, she told me she was surprised to discover that not everyone went to college. She thought it was a requirement, kind of like a "13th grade," since she had heard about the wonders of college since the moment she was born.

My first tip for other parents is to speak of college casually, positively, and often from the moment your child can understand you. Set the bar high from the moment your child enters elementary school. You expect your child to get good grades. You expect your child to have a set study time to do homework every school night. No discussion. Make this a habit just like you expect your child to brush his/her teeth every night.

Once your child reaches high school, it should be easier to continue good habits than to try and start them fresh in ninth grade. From ninth grade on, your child needs to be an active, well-rounded student. Definitely, colleges look for a high GPA, rigorous courses (honors and AP), and impressive SAT scores.

In addition, be sure your child is a leader in a sport or a club, or both. This next tip is important so I will say it three times: Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer! I highly recommend community service because it gets the applicant noticed. It can also garner him/her some great scholarships in addition to admission to college. Most important of all as we help to shape these young minds and morals--community service may start out as a way to make one look better to colleges. Yet, young people often find themselves loving their volunteer work and continuing with it even after they start college. I know that through helping others do their schoolwork as a tutor, my own daughter has discovered she has talent as a teacher.

Another little known tip that can improve chances of getting in to that dream college is this: Take the ACT in addition to the SAT. Prepare for it by studying an ACT book or taking a prep course. Some people score much higher on the ACT, and this can make all the difference in getting in. Most colleges accept ACT scores just as well as SATs.

Last but not least is the infamous college essay, a key part of the college admissions process. Students need to start their essay early and write about a subject they are passionate about. The admissions officials can tell if a student feels strongly about his/her essay, or is just writing it to get it done.

A student who follows all these tips should have no problem getting in to his/her selected schools. It worked for my daughter. Of course, our work as parents is never done. Next up, the scholarship search!

College Admissions Help - Choosing a College

Written by Shanelle from Georgia

When choosing a college, make sure you do not reach beyond your means academically and financially. Choose at least five colleges and include at least two safe schools. These safe schools are schools that you can easily be admitted into based on low-end test scores and your GPA. Start preparing yourself for college early. You must take school seriously at least from the ninth grade up to the twelfth. Your GPA starts from your ninth grade. Take advantages of the resources that are offered by your teachers and your counselors.

Start studying for the SAT and ACT by your junior year. Take the prep classes for these tests. It is important to take both the SAT and the ACT because you may tend to score higher on one that the other. Take the test early and take more than once; sending the highest scores to the schools of your choice. Take the time to speak with both current and alumni of the colleges. They can give you very important information about what the school is looking for in prospective students. Research their school profile as well because that will give you important information on what they need. I must reiterate that you must takes your tests early and apply for the schools early. The later you wait, the less opportunity you will have in being chosen due to the number of applicants.

Once you have applied to your colleges of choice, follow-up on all steps that you have made regarding your application. Once you send off your application, call to see if that have received it in their office. Make sure you do your FAFSA as soon as possible and check to see if that school requires the CSS form. If so, make sure you send that off ASAP, even before they ask. Check with the schools to see if their is any other information that they are requiring of you. Whenever you call the office, make sure you get the name of the person that you speak with each time. More importantly, make sure they know your name. The more they hear your name, the more they become familiar with you and your name, the more they will feel like you're already a part of the school.

Once you get your financial package, review it very carefully. If they do not offer you what you wanted or needed, file an speak with someone and inform them that you want to file an appeal. Once you have filed and appeal and get your findings, make sure you speak with them at length of your decision. Once you have decided on your school of choice, pay your enrollment fee as soon as possible. Many schools let you pay on-line. Reserve your housing as soon as possible; pay the reservation fee. Some schools may run out of housing.

Conquering the College Admissions Process

Written by Zendra from California

The road to college can be very stressful and daunting from the perspective of a high school senior or junior. The thought of writing tons of essays that expound upon why you should be chosen can be a large lump to swallow. However, in retrospect, I am so grateful for the journey and for the amazing opportunities that I now have as a result of the hard work I put into the paperwork required to get into college. Although my situation may have been a bit more unique, I have plenty advice to pass on to the youth in high school with ambitious aspirations to become a member of their dream college.

Fulfilling Pre-requisites

Although each college can have different requirements that distinguish them from other programs, many of the pre-requisites are the same. They can range from a GPA over a 2.5 to exceptional community service and recommendation letters. The good thing about these is that they are all linked. If you want to get into your dream college, start by being an exceptional student. Get involved in extracurricular activities such as volunteering or honors clubs. This will give you sufficient experience in community service, provide you with excellent connections with prominent people that can write recommendation letters, and best of all; make you a well-rounded student. I was involved in several clubs and organizations on campus that kept me busy and well rounded such as National Honors society and many sports. As a result, I was pushed to work harder in school and expand my spheres of influence. Colleges like to see that you are well rounded enough to conquer the demanding pressures of college life and be a good investment for the future. Participating in the previous activities can equip you with the right tools to stand out on your college applications.

Yes, you have to take the dreaded college entrance tests. These tests are mainly testing your skill in test taking. So the best strategy is to find some SAT/ACT test taking courses either online or at school to prepare yourself. Other than the information you learn from school and whatever test taking classes you take, it’s purely up to fate. As long as the more essential parts of your application are great, you should be fine.

Paperwork and Visiting Schools

Once you have achieved all of the skills to be cream of the crop, the hard part is arguably out of the way. Now that you have the tools, you just have to apply them eloquently and efficiently. How do you do this? Start by brainstorming a base story from your experiences that makes you unique and really impacted your life. Turn this into a quite general personal statement. Take time to refine this essay and have your peers and parents proofread. You want to be sure that you do not use any struggles you experienced as a crutch to develop a “sob-story.” Focus more on how those struggles developed your character and how you will apply what you learned to your future for success. Also, try and narrow down your interests of study in order to morph your essay in the direction of that study. Explain how your skills can catapult you into ultimate success in that form of study. Then, for each application to schools, you can add more detail to this base essay to thoroughly answer each question.

For recommendation letters, be sure to maintain good relationships with all of your teachers and club leaders. When asking for recommendation letters, be SURE to give the writers plenty of time in advance to write it for you. This shows them you are preparing ahead and respecting their time. It is good to ask for letters from teachers who have a good idea of your work ethic and can speak very well for you.

Then, it comes time to pick a school. My best advice is to keep your mind open. Stay true to yourself and your most important preferences. However, remember that your experience is very narrow and keeping your mind open can only benefit you. Beg your parents to take you on tours of the schools and/or do research on the web to find out more about the schools. The most important information to know is:
• Location, weather
• Retention rates
• Professor to student ratio
• Opportunities for Financial Aid
• In depth information about the courses offered
Once you get this information, make lists of what sounds best for you and apply. Most of the information needed for each school can get redundant. This information is also great for scholarships and financial aid applications. That is why it is beneficial to keep a good record of your essays and recommendation letters to send everywhere.

My Application of This Advice

I attended four high schools, was a foster child, and moved over 20 times in high school. On top of all of this, I maintained a 4.7 GPA, community service involvement, and intensive sport involvement. My situation was unique, but I was very determined to succeeded. What helped me most was staying determined and resourceful. I always did research and reached out to the professionals at my school that are paid to aid students on their journey to college. I applied all of the advice I mentioned previously and I was met with plenty of success. These are the triumphs that I can attribute this advice to:
• Acceptance into six prominent Universities
• Award of over $300,000 in scholarship offers
• Won a full ride scholarship to any school in the country through grad school
• Now attending the number 8 public school in the U.S.: UC Davis

Although I did go over the top, it is definitely possible to accomplish the feats necessary to get into college. With proper motivation, the sky is the limit. So go on my young high school apprentices! Take the world by storm and happy college planning!

Graduate School Admission

Written by Yulia from Kansas

I always wanted to become a nurse anesthetist. Having earned my bachelor’s degree and put my time at work as a registered nurse in intensive care unit, I was ready for admission to nurse anesthesia school; or so I thought.

Graduate school admissions are very competitive in some areas, especially nursing, medicine and engineering. I did not realize as to how much more prep time and certifications I would need to obtain before even thinking into applying. So, if you are looking into applying for graduate school here is what you need to do:

First of all, read the application in its entirety and make sure you can meet minimum requirements, like GPA, test scores and letters of recommendations. I cannot even begin to tell you how frustrating it is when applications are either not completed, or the person does not even meet GPA requirement. If you cannot complete an application, you cannot be a graduate student.

Second, take the GRE or MAT, MCAT test early enough, so if your score is not stellar, you still have time to retake it before admission deadline.

Next, treat your first time of applying as if it is your only time. No test runs. Have all of your certifications, awards, etc. in the application packet, so you stand out. Everyone is going to have good grades and letters of recommendation, so you need to shine.

Don’t ask for letters of recommendation from people who cannot give you a good one. Have your resume, personal statement or CV proofread by someone else. Don’t make it too lengthy, two pages maximum.

The most important part is to meet with the program director as well as graduate admissions counselor. They need to see your face and know who you are.

More Tips College Admissions Process

Thanks to our readers for sharing their experiences and tips with the college admissions process. Read more at the links below for college admissions help.

College Admissions Help

Common App

College Application Essay Topics

College Admission Essay

Alternatives to College

How to Get Admitted to Your Dream College

HomeCollege Admissions Help College Admissions Process


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