College Applications: How to Begin

Find the right college for you.

College Applications: How to Begin

Applying to college is a big job. It can feel overwhelming. However, you can make the process much easier by breaking it down into small steps. Here's how.

How to Start Applying for Colleges

The good news is that most U.S. universities follow the same standard application process. If possible, begin the following four-step approach several months before the submission deadline.

  1. Get Informed
    Colleges want to know the real you. When you apply to colleges, don’t try to make yourself look better by listing the accomplishments or writing the essay you think they want to see. If you're honest about who you are and what you've done, you're more likely to end up at a college that's a good fit for you.

    Here's how you can prepare to apply to colleges:
    • Understand the common terminology you'll see during the application process. Learning how to apply to college involves having a good grasp of such things as frequently used acronyms, supporting documents, and government departments.
    • Review the appropriate application timeline you should follow when signing up for college. Every school has its own deadlines, but you may have certain milestones to hit during your senior or even junior year.
    • Discover the individual components of a complete application. For example, schools usually ask for supplemental application materials like letters of recommendation, transcripts, and written essays.
  1. Get Organized.
    How do you apply for colleges efficiently? If you can keep track of everything you need and get organized, you'll be ahead of the game. For each college you're applying to:
    • Create a real and a virtual folder for storing documents.
    • Print a checklist to track your progress on each part of the application.
    • Build a spreadsheet to stay on top of submission deadlines.
  2. Gather the Necessary Documents. 
    • Your Social Security number.
    • Your high school code.
    • A copy of your high school transcript.
    • Your score report from a college admission test.
  3. Review Your Application Before Submitting.
    Don’t forget to review your application before you hit the submit button;
    • Make sure you’ve included all required information and that the information filled out on the forms is accurate and spelled correctly.
    • Confirm that any required attachments are the correct files and have been properly uploaded.
    • Double-check that you filled out all fields and followed all instructions.
    • Take a deep breath. Click submit!


Where do I start with college applications?

The first step is to do your research. Knowledge is power. Knowing what to expect from the application process makes a difference. Research the schools you're interested in applying to. Learn as much as you can about their admissions process.

Read more

What are the steps in the college application process?

Keep in mind that signing up for college is a multistep process. Among other key steps, you must fill out a standard application, acquire crucial support documents, and write personal essays. Although schools have different requirements, here are the main steps of the college application process:

  • Create a list of colleges you're interested in.
  • Research and visit schools to narrow down the list.
  • Fill out the FAFSA®, and consider finances and scholarship opportunities.
  • Get letters of recommendations, if required.
  • Take college admission tests.
  • Write your college application essay, if required.
  • Complete your online application(s).
  • If any of your target schools have their own institutional applications, complete those.
  • Check and recheck your application documents before submitting them.

Read more

What should I do before I fill out my college application?

How do you apply for college without wasting time? Advisers often recommend gathering relevant documents before you begin. You can knock out the informative sections in one go, reducing your chances of making an error. Some of the basics you need include:

  • Identity cards and Social Security number.
  • School transcripts.
  • Test scores.
  • List of extracurriculars.
  • List of awards and achievements.
  • Recommendation letters, if required by the college.
  • Application and school portal login credentials.

Read more

What are the most important parts of a college application?

College admissions officers consider many factors when reviewing applications. Among the most important factors are your grades and the courses you took.

The best approach to have when completing applications is to treat every part as important. Put your best foot forward in all areas. Make every part shine.

Now you're informed, inspired, organized, and ready to begin. For more on the college admissions process, visit Applying to College: FAQs.

Read more