Tips for Applying to College

Start Early and Know Your Deadlines

The College Board recommends students begin applying to college the summer before their senior year of high school. Once the school year arrives, students’ schedules begin to fill with sports, clubs and homework, leaving less time to apply research and apply to schools.

Starting early also removes one of the largest stressors in the college application process: deadlines. Many colleges and universities have application deadlines in the fall and spring. These deadlines are easy to miss if students decide to wait until they’re closer to graduation to begin applying. By staying aware of these deadlines and creating an application timeline, students can set themselves up for success and ensure that they’re able to take advantage of every opportunity.

Prepare application materials

For most college applications, a student needs to submit:

  • Their high school transcript
  • Their SAT or ACT test scores and dates
  • Extracurricular involvement (After-school programs and jobs count
  • Volunteer hours
  • Parent/Legal guardian information
  • Any honors, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or dual enrollment courses taken
  • Summer activities
  • Letters of recommendation

Gathering these materials in advance saves time and effort when it comes time to work on the application.


Common App is a website that streamlines the college application process by allowing students to apply to over 700 colleges and universities through a single application. Instead of filling out the same information like the student’s address, GPA and extracurriculars for each application, The Common App only requires applicants to enter the information once.

If a college doesn’t use The Common App, applications can typically be found under the “admissions” tab on a school’s website.

Once in the application, the process is relatively straightforward. Applicants upload transcripts, plug in information regarding extracurriculars, academics and follow the step-by-step process in the application.

Some schools may ask students to write an essay as part of the application. For the essays, it’s best to be grammatically and structurally sound, while being honest, creative and allowing personality shine through. With most college applications, the essay portion is the only chance students can showcase their personality.

A Note About Application Fees and Waivers

Application fees for college can range from free up to $75 per application. These fees can add up, with Nerdwallet reporting that the average student should expect to pay at least $678 throughout the application process. For many students the cost of simply applying for college can be prohibitive, but they can avoid these costs by requesting application fee waivers or seeking out schools that have free applications.

When registering for the ACT or SAT, request a fee waiver. An SAT or ACT fee waiver allows students to take up to two of each test for free. It’s up to the student’s guidance counselor to distribute waivers, but students may qualify if they live in a foster home, public housing or are homeless, are in or qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch program or if they receive public assistance, including medicare or food stamps or are in a government program for low-income families. In addition to the test fees being waived, students can skip the application costs for four colleges.

If a student does not receive an SAT or ACT waiver and wants to avoid application costs students can request fee waivers directly on the college application or by filling out an NACAC fee waiver request form and submitting it directly with their application. Students who received SAT or ACT test waivers can use the same form to request application fee waivers in addition to the four they receive initially.

Another option is to reach out directly to the college’s admissions office. Sometimes, college admissions officers can waive the application fees. Enlisting the help of the student’s high school counselor can also help sway the admissions offices to waive fees.

Visit the college board for a list of colleges that have no application fees or accept application fee waivers.