Once you've narrowed your college choices down to a manageable number, it's time to start the application process. Most likely you are applying to at least two schools, probably more. Even if you have a clear favorite, you should find other schools that fit your needs as well, so that you have some choices if you don't get into your preferred school. Many students will be applying, and there can be competition for admission. Likely not everyone who applies will be accepted. Therefore, it is important to pay particular attention to the application process for each of your prospective schools. Here are some things you'll want to do:
Make sure you know the deadlines.
The deadlines for receiving an application each year can vary. Make sure you check the website or talk to an admissions person for each school, so that you are comfortable that you completely understand the deadlines and what is expected. It's no fun to rush and try to meet a deadline for which you were unaware, and risk doing something wrong or missing a step in the process. It is much better to finish the application process with some time to spare. This way, should there be anything missing from the application or more information requested, you'll have time to correct the issue before the deadline actually passes.
Choose who writes your letters of recommendations carefully and give them plenty of time.
Many students choose teachers, counselors, or coaches to submit a letter of recommendation for their college applications. Whoever you choose, it should be someone who knows you well, and can tell your prospective school why you would be a great choice for their degree program. Choose someone who can tell a story about you; your academic accomplishments, your ability to persevere in the face of adversity, your character, or some other attribute that defines you and sets you apart. Be sure to ask for these letters of recommendation well in advance of the application deadline - a month or more if possible. Letters of recommendation are a very important part of the application, so give your recommenders time to write something really great.
Write an original essay for each school.
Like the letter of recommendation, an essay is an opportunity to show yourself to the school and explain to them why you should gain admission over others. Many will have similar academic backgrounds and test results. The essay is your chance to show your individuality; to set yourself apart from other students.
Proofread your application.
This doesn't mean "run spellcheck." Make sure that every aspect of your application, from the application itself to the essay, is correct. Don't trust yourself to catch every error, let someone else read it as well. Better yet, have a few people read over it. An application full of typos or grammatical errors does not leave a good impression
Read the Directions.
Your prospective college wants to know that you are serious about attending and that you have respect for the time it takes to review your application and make a determination. Make sure you completely understand how the college wants you to fill out the application. If you have any questions, ask an admissions person.
There are many moving parts to your college application. You will need to request your high school transcripts to be mailed to the colleges for which you will be submitting your application. Your SAT or ACT scores will also need to be sent to the school, as well as your FAFSA application. It may be required that letters of recommendation be sent directly from the writer to the school. Don't assume that everything went swimmingly and all of those pieces of information were received on time. Follow up with the school to make sure they have everything.
Applying for college can be complicated, but it is manageable. The key is to stay on top of the process. Start early, and follow up often to make sure the school is getting what it needs. This is the best way to avoid surprises, and to avoid scrambling at the last minute to fulfill some missing requirement. Providing a complete and thorough application is the best way to leave a good first impression and improve your chances of being accepted into the school.