For high school juniors and seniors, sending out college applications is the last hurdle before graduation. In order for this important process to go smoothly, students need to make sure that they complete each piece of their college applications in a timely manner: no one wants to sit at home alone during winter break, frantically filling out forms! For students who know that they have difficulty meeting deadlines, it may be worthwhile to consider some kind of application support. Working closely with another person will help keep students on track, especially once college essay deadlines start approaching.
College Visits and Finalizing the College List: Summer
Junior year and the summer before senior year are good times to visit as many schools as possible. These visits are the best ways to decide between big schools and small schools, urban campuses and rural campuses, etc. Tours and info sessions will help students learn about each specific school, but overnight stays with current students at a college can be even better. Many colleges offer overnight programs to interested high school students, and these programs are worth researching. Of course, asking questions of friends who attend certain colleges can be the best way to get to know a school, so students should make sure to reach out to friends and peers.
By the end of the summer before senior year, students should have at least a general idea of what schools will be a good fit. While each high school will have slightly different recommendations for its students’ college lists, it is always a good idea to include several different types of colleges: “safety” schools, where a student seems to have an excellent chance of getting in; “reach” schools, where a student isn’t likely to be accepted; and then a mix of colleges where a student has a fair chance at getting in. Looking up grades and SAT/ACT results of current students at each college can help categorize each school.
The Common App and Supplements: End of Summer/Fall
Nearly every college requires prospective students to submit the Common Application (usually called the “Common App”), which covers students’ demographic information and extracurricular activities, and also includes a short essay. The essay questions for the Common App are released every year in August, and the deadline to submit the Common App to most schools is at the end of December. A good plan is to begin writing an essay for the Common App as soon as the questions are released at the end of the summer, because it is difficult to devote extra time to essay writing once the school year starts.
Some schools also require a supplement to the Common App. These supplements usually consist of an extra essay or a few short responses, as well as additional questions that a specific college may have for its prospective students. As each college manages its own supplements, the deadlines vary, but students should plan to finish everything between Thanksgiving break and winter break.
Financial Aid: Winter/Spring
The last step in the college application process is sending in all the necessary financial aid forms. Most colleges will have unique financial aid application forms, but all will require the CSS Profile (College Scholarship Service Profile) and the FAFSA (Federal Application for Student Aid). As most families will not have tax returns finalized until the spring, it can be difficult to fill out all these financial aid forms ahead of time. Colleges tend to be understanding of this, so most deadlines for financial aid documents are in the spring. Generally, students should submit these forms as soon as possible, but these deadlines are more flexible than those of college applications.
The final step is to sit back and relax! Once every form is submitted, there’s nothing left to do except wait for acceptance letters. Try not to get too worried or stressed, because senior year of high school is worth enjoying!