College applications can seem long and daunting, but filling them out is totally doable. Let’s take this application apart and look at all of its bite-sized pieces.
This tends to be the first section that admission officers check out. It starts to paint a picture of who you are. It tells the college where you were born, where you live, who you live with, what your parents do for work, etc. It’s a very important section and helps to provide some context (outside of the numbers) of who you are.
Most colleges require either the SAT I exam or the ACT exam. Sometimes they require SAT II exams as well. You send these scores to the appropriate colleges through the testing agencies.
Scores are typically not the most important part of an application, but they do help admission officers understand how you compare to other students around the country and around the world. It’s a baseline means of comparison. It might be helpful to do a bit of research and see what the average scores were for the college's most recent freshman class. For specific tips on standardized test scores, check out these Shmoop articles:
Grades! Admission officers will spend quite a bit of time on this section looking at what kinds of classes you have taken, the grades you earned, and whether you pursued any advanced level work. The transcript is often examined alongside a school profile that your high school counselor provides. That way, the admission officers know what courses are available at your school and the choices that you had in your academic career.
Admission officers are going to pay the most attention to the five core academic subject areas on the transcript:
In general, colleges like to see at least three years of Science, Foreign Language, and Social Science, and four years of Math and English. However, this is not set in stone. If you love one particular subject and doubled up every year on that subject, the colleges will notice this trend and this enthusiasm. Just be sure you meet the school's admission requirements.
Colleges will pay attention to your GPA and your rank in class too. They want a big picture of where you sit relative to other students in your class.
Typically, colleges require two of these recommendations from two of your core academic teachers. The evaluation form involves a series of brief, evaluative questions and the opportunity for your recommender to wax on and on about how spectacular you are. Check out Shmoop's articles on teacher recommendations for specific tips and information:
This form is typically attached to the transcript and is filled out by your high school counselor (whether your know him well or not). This form is supposed to give the “big-picture” of your academics in the context of your high school: your class rank, the rigor of your course load, scores, etc. Admission officers often read this form as they look at your transcript. The form often explains any unusual grading policies or scheduling policies that might help admission officers better understand the transcript, in addition to the types of classes available at your school (AP level, IB level, etc). If you’ve taken some classes at a community college or neighboring high school, this form will explain it all.
Some colleges give you the opportunity to submit an additional recommendation from someone who is not a core academic teacher. This could be a coach, employer, advisor, mentor, music/art teacher, spiritual advisor, etc. Hearing the perspective of this additional person can help college admission officers understand what you are like outside of the classroom. Good stuff!
This is the most time-intensive portion of the application, and it's your chance to speak directly to the people who are evaluating your application. Check out Shmoop's tips on the college essay to find out how to optimize this piece of the application:
Yes, college is largely about classes, studying, and loading your brain with lots of juicy knowledge, but it is also about many other things too. You will be part of a campus community. College admission officers want to find students who are going to engage with their community in the best possible way. Because of this, they will pay very close attention to what you do when you are not in school. What do you do with your free time? In most cases, you will be asked to list:
Be sure to be as honest and complete as possible when filling out this section of the application. If you run out of space, you can list your remaining activities in the "Additional Information" section of the application (if there is one available).
Red Alert: Certain time commitments that you might not consider to be "activities" may indeed belong in this section. Here are some examples of non-traditional "activities":
Try to paint as clear a picture of yourself as possible, and you can't go wrong.
In some instances, there may be information that you need to give a college but that you can’t fit into any other part of the application. This may be information about a personal issue that has impacted your academics (such as: a family member falling ill, your parents going through a divorce, your family losing their home, extended family members moving into your home, etc). You may choose to talk about how a physical disability or learning difference has affected you. You might have to explain certain behavior that resulted in disciplinary action (i.e., why you got in trouble). You may simply choose to tell a story about an experience that greatly affected your grades, your scores, or your health. If the college offers a space for you to tell them about this kind of “additional” information, don’t feel shy about truthfully and honestly chatting it out.