Applying to College

Applying to college or a career school means more than just filling out forms. For a successful college application, you first need to understand each school’s admission requirements, gather information, meet deadlines, and pay any necessary fees. Plus, each school has different application requirements and deadlines, so it’s important to get organized.

While the application process may seem a little overwhelming, you can use the following information to get ready and figure out your next steps.

Narrow Your Application Choices

There’s no magic number when it comes to how many school applications you submit. One isn’t enough, because that school might not admit you. More than 10 might be too many because applications take a lot of work and you need to do a great job on each one. Also, most schools have application fees, so costs can add up. (Many schools waive fees for low-income students.)

The bottom line: Applying to a few schools that really interest you is better than applying to as many as you can.  If you’re not sure what schools might be right for you, see our information on choosing a school.


Research Admission Requirements Carefully

Every college has its own application requirements. Different programs within the same school may even request different items. Learn exactly what a school requires by visiting its website or checking with its admissions office.

Start preparing well before the application deadline and make sure to check and double-check everything before you submit it.


Bookbag in empty classroom
Many U.S. colleges require undergraduate and graduate students to submit standardized test scores as part of their application packages. Learn more about taking required tests.

Develop a Timeline or To-Do List

Careful planning will help make the college application process less stressful. To help you out, we’ve developed several college preparation checklists. The checklists are for students (of all ages) who are considering college or career school. We also have information for parents. Even if you are getting a late start, we have a checklist for you.


Picture of hands texting in front of notebook
Remember: The financial aid application process is separate from the admissions application process. The financial aid process includes the essential step of completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) to apply for federal student aid. You also should consider applying for scholarships and other types of aid.


Consider Applying Early

If you are confident that you are academically prepared and want to get into a particular school, you might want to consider early application programs for undergraduate admissions. When you apply early to a school, you’re speeding up the entire application process. Instead of submitting your application in November or later in your senior year, you usually need to begin the application process in September.

Applying early can sometimes give you an advantage. At some schools, a higher percentage of early applicants are accepted. And if you do get early acceptance, you can skip a couple of months of stress and uncertainty. You also can get a head start preparing for your freshman year.

While procedures at individual colleges may vary, the two most common procedures are early decision and early action. Some schools have both procedures. Another option is called dual enrollment.

Early Decision

If you have a particular school in mind that is your “first choice,” early decision might work well. If you are accepted under early decision, you must attend that school, unless its financial aid package is too low for you to attend. (If you’re not sure whether the school’s financial aid offer will be enough, make sure to submit applications to other schools.) Usually, you can apply to only one school for early decision. You can still apply to other schools at their regular application deadlines.

Early Action

Early action is similar to early decision, but you aren’t “locked in” to attending a school that accepts you. Some schools allow you to apply for early action at other schools at the same time, but some don’t. Know the rules. In addition, under early action, you can still apply to other schools at their regular application deadlines. Keep in mind that there is less incentive for an early action college to accept you because you aren’t committing to attend the school.

Dual Enrollment

A third option, dual enrollment, is typically for high school juniors who have most of the credits needed for graduation. If this applies to you, then you may want to consider taking college-level courses during your senior year. Then you could continue your college education at that college after you graduate from high school, or you could transfer the credits to another college. Work with your high school guidance counselor to see if this would be a good option for you.

Considerations When Applying Early

If you are thinking about using the early application process, consider the following tips:

  • Sit down with your guidance counselor, who can explain the pros and cons of applying early to certain schools.
  • If you’re really interested in a particular school, contact that school well ahead of September to discuss its early application procedures and to see if applying early is the best option for you.
  • Ask yourself: Am I ready to make up my mind about where I want to go to college by October or November of my senior year? Will I be able to complete my applications, along with essays and recommendations, by late October or November?
  • Make sure you have thought about your career goals and whether the schools you are considering will help you reach those goals. For example, School A has an excellent journalism department, but School B has an outstanding mix of cultural and academic offerings. Our college search tool will help you find schools that may meet your needs.


Row of students in class with laptops
Remember: Early applications are not always first-come, first-admitted. And there are no “sure things,” so take the time to do your best on your applications. 

Application Tips

Here are some tips for completing college or career school applications:

  • Keep it real. Don’t exaggerate accomplishments or claim things that aren’t true.
  • Give letter-writers time. If you are asking teachers, coaches, or counselors for letters of recommendation, ask several weeks before the letters are due.
  • Beat the deadline. Reduce the chance your application will get lost in the shuffle: Submit it well before the deadline.
  • Apply online. It’s easier and faster.
  • Emphasize your uniqueness. Colleges like to have students with different viewpoints, backgrounds, and experiences. If you can add to that mix, let them know.
  • Keep it clean online. Don’t have anything on your social media pages that you wouldn’t want a college admissions officer to see.
  • Submit one application for many schools. Some colleges and universities share common online applications. Once you complete the application for one school, you can submit copies of it to other schools. It saves a lot of time. Learn more about The Common Application.
  • Protect your hard work by keeping complete copies of everything you send to each school.

Additional Resources

Resources to Visit Colleges When Most are Currently Closed 

  2. College Virtual Tours List File
  3. Common App’s Explore Colleges profiles
  4. Upcoming Virtual College Admission Events

3 Helpful College Search Resources 

How to Find Your College Fit

O’s List website & YouTube Channel

College Search Video


Looking for more college information? There are recordings of some past visits and workshops on the CCC YouTube Channel. The tutorial on how to enrich your Virtual College Tours is especially useful for finding ways to better connect with schools when travel is not possible.    


I also suggest going to each school's website that you are interested in and joining their email list. They will have pre-recorded presentations there. Plus, you will learn a lot about the school by the messages they send out to prospective students. This is a great way to demonstrate interest in the school. Read those messages! The schools often are able to tell whether or not you have been opening your emails from them and use it as a point of reference for your interest in their school. Plus, they provide tips for your application and sometimes give you fee waivers.


College application checklist:

  • If you add any schools to your college list, email your school counselor or Ms. Bencomo to add them to Naviance. All schools must be listed - this is how we support you and your applications.
  • Add deadlines and tasks to calendar or spreadsheet (COLLEGE PLANNER WORKSHEET )
  • If your colleges require Letters of Recommendation (not all do, it’s your responsibility to know), be sure to ask teachers and talk to your school counselor. Complete your Brag Sheet on Naviance! PLEASE NOTE: TEACHERS/COUNSELORS MAY SAY NO TO WRITING LETTERS IF ASKED LATE IN APPLICATION CYCLE
  • Look at each application thoroughly to know how much writing is involved (not all schools require essays and some have supplemental writing)
  • Complete FAFSA & Dream Act. Guide to FAFSA more information Completing your FAFSA/Dream Act is essential for all students continuing their education at 4-year colleges, community colleges, and career training schools.


Additional Resources & Tips:


Art School Application Resources:

Guide to Small and Safe Campuses -
Guide to FAFSA -
Guide to Online Research Practices -

College Bound & Covid-19: Post-Secondary Planning During a Pandemic

College & Financial Planning Resource - Edmit

test-optional colleges

UC Santa Barbara YouTube Channel - lots of tips for your UC App!

Senior Event Series - great application support series

Common App Resource Page

UC For You, UC Info series for applicants and families

College & Career YouTube Channel 

How Colleges Can Help Visually Impaired Students Succeed
This guide discusses a variety of resources for blind and low-vision students, including:
-       A list of schools that provides online learning opportunities
-       Scholarships & Grants
-       Information on assistive technology
-       Tips for successful college learning
-       Common accommodations provided by universities



College Admissions Timeline - A high-level timeline and list of resources that tracks the college admissions process from 9th through 12th grade.

Finding Your Purpose - Research shows that finding your purpose can lead to greater health, less depression and less anxiety. Check out the Purpose Challenge from the very awesome Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley.

Learning How to Learn - This free course from Coursera covers some useful topics for any high schooler, including learning how to "chunk" studying tasks, tackle procrastination, and better understand the relationship between sleep and learning potential.

The Values Exercise - It's great to begin the college planning journey by thinking about your core values. How do you find those? This video will help you find them in less than 5 minutes.