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This is part 2 of a 2-part series on 9 Insider Tips for Mastering the College Admissions Process.

Related: 9 Insider Tips for Mastering the College Admissions Process, Part 1

How do colleges weigh candidates against each other?

Many schools hold admissions committees where they will review the application recommendation from the application review process and the needs for the school. Schools have certain requirements to ensure they have a diverse and well-rounded incoming class. 

How long does the applicant process take for students and how early should they apply?

The application process varies by candidate. It is helpful to start the application process early even in the summer before your senior year since once school starts it can be hard to carve out time to apply to colleges. Most applications will go live around August 1st. 

Insider Tip: Some schools provide incentives for applying early such as priority housing or scholarship incentives. Make sure you are checking out the school’s website to get a full list of all of their application deadlines. Also, do not wait until the last minute to apply! Counselors, much like your teachers, know if you left the application to the last minute. 

What should candidates look for in a college?

It is helpful to make a list of what is important to you before you start your college search. Think about the following questions and rank your answers in order of importance. 

  • What academic programs are you interested in? 
  • What clubs/sports are you hoping to participate in? 
  • Do you want to be closer to home or farther away? 
  • Are you looking for a school in a city, rural, or college town?
  • Do you prefer a larger or small campus? 
  • Are you interested in special learning opportunities such as study abroad, research opportunities, co-ops, or internships?
  • What type of career are you looking for post graduation? 
  • Do you want to go to a public, or private college?

Once you figure out what you are looking for in a college and prioritize what’s most important to you, that will help you narrow your college search to find the perfect school for you! 

What advice do you have for candidates starting out?

Do your research! Look at the school’s website, attend either in-person or virtual events, reach out to your admissions counselor and express your interest in attending. By interacting with the school, you are able to learn more, pick up helpful admissions tips, and show your interest in the school. 

Insider Tip: Some schools look at demonstrated interest in their admissions process,  so each interaction you have with a school will be a beneficial component in making their decision. 

What advice do you have for candidates who can’t afford college, but still want to go?

Schools have many different ways to help reduce the sticker price of the college to make it more affordable for students. These financial aid packages can include grants, scholarships, or loans. In order to qualify for these financial aid options, students need to complete the FAFSA form and sometimes the CSS Profile. If students have questions about the financial aid process, they can always reach out to the financial aid office at the school. It is very important that students complete their financial aid application (FAFSA and the CSS profile) by the deadline in order to be eligible for their full financial aid package. It can be very difficult to receive funding if a student applied for financial aid after the deadline. 

It is also important not to discount a school based on their sticker price. All schools are required to publish a net price calculator to help determine your overall cost based on a few questions. You can also speak to a financial aid advisor to give you a better idea of what your cost might be. 

Insider Tip: Some schools are need-aware, meaning that the student’s financial need will be taken into consideration during the admissions process. This is typically reviewed at the end of the admissions process to ensure that the institution can fully fund the incoming class. With that being said, it is very important that families are submitting both the FAFSA and CSS profile on time to ensure that their financial need will be met by the school. 

Have a question for our admissions insider? Send them to PR@petersons.com.