College admissions is a highly competitive and complicated process, and overlooking one aspect of your application can result in an unfortunate rejection. But while completing a college application might seem daunting, if you’re organized and prepared it’s simply a matter of checking off items on a list.
Most college applications are submitted online now, through unique application forms or portals such as Common Application, which allows you to apply to several schools at once. Actual requirements might vary from college to college, but most of the information and documents you’ll need to submit is included in the following application checklist:
The application will ask for basic personal information including your name, contact info, and citizenship information. Personal information will also include participation in activities outside of school, including part-time or summer jobs, internships, church or community service programs, and even details such as caring for siblings or other family members.
Of course, your school information is important too. This includes academic accomplishments and extracurricular engagement, such as standardized test scores and school-sponsored activities like sports, clubs, and student government roles. You’ll also want to list any honors and awards you received in school, adding context about how many students competed for the honor and why it’s an important distinction. Be sure to include any college credits you might have already earned (through AP classes or community college classes). Lastly, though you might want to leave it unsaid, your school records will include disciplinary infractions, so it’s a good idea to explain any suspensions or expulsions on your record.
Your college application essay will probably be the most important thing you write in high school, so give yourself plenty of time to brainstorm, outline, draft, revise, and polish your essay before submitting it. While some colleges’ essay requirements are generalized enough to use the same essay more than once, many colleges have specific topics or instructions so you might have to write more than one essay. If you don’t know where to start for essay ideas, here’s a great primer on college essay help.
Standardized test scores
While including SAT and ACT scores used to be mandatory for college applications, many schools have decided to make test scores optional this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some universities—including the entire University of California system—will phase out test scores entirely within a few years due to research indicating substantial racial inequities in the testing program. If you already have SAT and/or ACT test scores, you can still include them in college applications, but only if they fall within the acceptable range for each school. You can either list the colleges you wish to receive the scores at the time you take the SAT/ACT test, or you can wait until after you receive the scores to request that the College Board (for SATs) or ACT administrators send the scores to the colleges of your choice.
Official high school transcript
Your official high school transcript must be sent directly to the colleges on your list from the guidance counselor at your school, but it is your responsibility to make sure your counselor is aware of deadlines and follow up to ensure the transcripts were actually sent. It’s important to note that while the transcript is typically sent during the first half of your senior year—and only includes grades through your junior year—most colleges ask for mid-year and final-year grade reports to round out their assessment. That means you shouldn’t let academics slide once the applications are sent, because colleges reserve the right to withdraw acceptance if your academic performance suffers from “senioritis” for the rest of the school year.
Guidance counselor recommendation
In order to see the big picture when it comes to applicants, many colleges request that high school guidance counselors submit an additional recommendation along with transcripts, which will place your academic experience in context. Information can include academic strengths, how you compare to other students, and data about how many students at your school end up attending college. Your counselor can also address any special circumstances that might have affected your academic performance, along with how you personally impact the academic and social community at school. If you feel like your guidance counselor doesn’t know you well enough to offer personalized information, it’s a good idea to set up an appointment well before college applications are due to discuss your achievements and goals.
Some colleges also require letters of recommendation from teachers at your high school to offer even deeper context about your high school career, including insight into how you perform academically. If you don’t have any favorite teachers in particular you want to enlist for the task, you can ask the teachers you respected the most or who taught classes where you earned the best grades, or teachers who also served as advisors for clubs and school activities. The recommendations will be submitted to colleges directly from your teachers, but it’s your responsibility to give them ample time to write the letter and submit before the deadline.
Get a head start on the application process with college admissions counseling
The college admissions process is complicated, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed long before you even choose your preferred colleges. At Hawk Educational Solutions, we offer customized college admissions counseling that will not only help find the best college fit for you, but help you present a compelling, high-quality college application. For more information, call us at (619) 300-7231.