American colleges are becoming more competitive and expensive every passing year. And the pressure on students to continue education beyond high school is also increasing.
Furthermore, getting into a reputable college is also becoming a challenge! Goal-oriented students start preparing for college well before the actual applications; sometimes, they start preparing from middle school.
You may find the entire application process intimidating; however, with impactful guidance, support from friends and family, and prep, you’ll find yourself ripping open letters of acceptance from your desired colleges in no time!
This is why we have created this comprehensive college guide to help you find your dream college, as we know how important it is to your future success.
Once you find your ideal college match, acceptance letters, financial aid, and happiness follow close behind!
Without further ado, read through our comprehensive college or university guide and find a college that suits your interest and budget!
Your road to college starts right from the first year of high school. Keep in mind that test scores and grades are crucial factors in getting admission to a college of your choice.
However, admission officers also look for engaged and curious applicants who will bring more than just their grades to the table.
Many admission officers across the US report that your high school record, along with grades, is what counts most in your college admission application.
Therefore, you should consider these factors:
- Choose your high school classes very carefully. Try to take honor classes, IB classes, and AP classes whenever available
- Not just the first year, but all four years’ grades matter. That’s because colleges thoroughly evaluate your transcripts and not only focus on your junior-year and sophomore grades but also the latter year’s grades
- One good piece of advice is “start early.” Focus on obtaining a set standard each year of your high school
- It doesn’t matter if the first year was rough, as there is still ample time to turn your grades around. Many colleges in the US reward students who have shown improvement
Though ACT and SAT matter most, admission officers also consider students’ performance in various other tests:
- The PSAT test is optional to the sophomore year; however, the junior year PSAT test scores can play a significant role in qualifying you for various scholarship programs that can cover tuition costs and help you get into some of the best colleges in the US. If you want to secure good scores in PSAT tests, prep for SATs
- Most (selective) colleges require SAT scores on the application, while some other colleges offer course-credits to students who perform well.
- A good performance in AP exams is also an essential indicator for college admission officers to judge your potential. More than 1300 universities and colleges look for good scores in AP tests for credits
- Colleges accept both ACT and SAT equally. You can choose between the two, or you can also take both. Although the essay portions of both SAT and ACT are optional, some universities, as well as colleges, may ask for it
- Test optional colleges don’t require test scores in their admission application. However, as test scores are the best way to qualify for scholarships, you should take at least one standardized test
Whatever you do outside your classroom helps shape the personality that you will bring to the campus.
- Commitment to a sport, religious organization, job, or hobby over the four years of high school shows that you can multitask, work in a team, and take responsibility
- If your after-school job keeps you from doing extracurricular activities, there is no need to worry as work experience indicates responsibility and maturity, which is seen positively by admission officers
- Remember, summers count! Most students across the US enroll in academic programs to achieve college credits. While some others find or volunteer for a summer job. Always remember, competitive colleges expect you to accomplish something during your off period as well
Every college is different. Some are built with a particular ideology, some depend on progressive mindsets, and some produce specific kind of graduates
Choosing your ideal college is complex and requires a concentrated effort. To get started, have meaningful conversations with college counselors about campus culture, financial aid, and academics, as they are instrumental in your college search.
Apart from that, here’s what you need to do to find your best-fit university or college:
- Do research — a lot of it! Attend various college fairs, visit campuses and consult college profiles to seek and compare multiple schools and find the best one. Check out dorms, majors, career services, clubs, and other features
- At the end of your research, you’ll have an adequate list of primary as well as safety colleges, all of which are in-line with your particular interests and personality
According to one survey, 40% of students apply to 5-8 schools, whereas 30% apply to more than nine colleges. So, apply to all the colleges you have shortlisted according to your needs.
When the time comes to finally apply, you’ll have to make some critical decisions. Curious to know what those decisions are? Read on:
- When will you apply? Most colleges allow students to submit applications for an earlier deadline – sometimes in the fall – well before the usual deadline (Jan or Feb). At times applying early can be the difference between getting accepted or not
- The most essential college application requirements are score reports, transcripts, application essays, and recommendation letters. Colleges may also ask students to list their extracurricular activities, so it’s better to begin the application after compiling all their experience
- Always check every school’s admission requirements. That’s because every college may have separate requirements concerning SAT scores or if they want you to appear in the ACT or SAT essay
- “Common Application” is an excellent way to apply in multiple colleges; however, colleges will have separate test scores and essay requirements
- You can request an interview with your chosen colleges’ admission representative to get to know more about the college. This way the college can also learn about you
Applying For Financial Aid
Did you know that student loan debt has reached $1.56 trillion in 2020? Student debt is arguably one of the biggest concerns today.
Therefore, educating yourself on the potential financial strain of college will help you make an informed choice about the institute you choose.
Ensure that you explore financial aid offers from your potential colleges. Here’s what you need to do:
- Many colleges typically have their net-price calculators, which families and students can use to know how much the college will cost over the years. Make sure to check out every prospective college’s financial aid offerings
- Remember applying for ‘financial aid’ and admission are two distinct processes
- Start with FAFSA aid, which begins on Oct 1 each year. Fill out the details on the form, such as income, household size, etc., to establish the “expected family contribution (EFC)” towards the college tuition
- Colleges may even use their forms or CSS profile, especially for non-federal aid
- Financial aid is aimed to meet all your needs and will comprise federal work-study, scholarships and grants, and student loans
- Several external organizations provide scholarships tailored specially to talents, academic interests, extracurricular activities, geographic location, career goals, and other factors.
- Lastly, keep visiting college websites to stay updated on deadlines and other essential notifications
Choosing Your College
As notifications start coming in, begin working towards finalizing your decision based on the offers you may have received.
We discussed the financial implications, social requirements, and future plans. Now, you must weigh up all three of these and choose an institution that meets your needs.
According to one stat, 42% of students reported that they would prefer a college best suited for their interests, while 40% said they choose a college known for various activities.
Are you still confused? No worries! Here’s what to do to choose your ideal college:
- Visit the campuses that accepted your application and talk to students, especially seniors. Learn more about on-campus activities and primary programs, touring dorms, etc.
- Compare the financial aid packages of all the colleges that offered you a seat to establish which one is better and makes more economic sense
- If your first-choice college waitlisted you, chin up! You can still make it as many other applicants may choose not to accept their offers
- Many colleges require additional information about the candidate, so they defer it until making the final decision, so wait patiently if you haven’t received your offer yet
- You can also defer your notification for one year to travel, volunteer, or work
From beginning to the end of your college search, remember that whether it is your family, friend, coaches, teachers, mentors, or college counselors, everyone is trying to help you find the right college.
While you may find the wait between application submission and acceptance letters long, you should remember that the efforts you put into the application process will result in no more than the best offer you deserve!
Then you decide to join the college or not!