Understanding College Admission Process

Discover how your academic profile, college essay and recommendation letters effect your college admission. Learn more about financial aid for college.

For many students, applying for college is a stressful process. Even if you are applying at a larger university, the process is competitive. Which college you attend can have a significant impact on your career path, which adds to the stress. There are also many expenses associated with college, including general tuition, room and board and school supplies. Applying for financial aid is a great way to reduce college costs, but it takes time to research all your options. Fortunately, college tuition has dropped for public and private universities in 2021, largely due to the economic impact from Covid-19.

While it may seem daunting, there are many steps you can take to increase your chances of getting into college as well as receiving financial aid. If you feel overwhelmed, break down the application into a series of steps. Focus on each step one at a time to build the perfect college application.

Academic Profile

The majority of your college application focuses on your high school grades. Having a high GPA improves your odds of getting accepted, but the classes you take matter as well. Colleges pay close attention to students who take college prep, honors or Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Some high schools also offer International Baccalaureate (IB) courses as well. In some cases, these courses also count for college credit.

While these classes look great on your application, do not overwhelm yourself taking courses you can’t handle. You must still maintain a high GPA. Not only is it important for getting into college, but your GPA is often treated as a prerequisite for most grants and scholarships. For financial aid, most programs want a 3.0 GPA. This is acceptable for most colleges as well, but some of the top schools expect a minimum of 3.5.

Your SAT and ACT scores also impact your college admissions. These scores are not as important as your classes and GPA, but it is still worth taking the tests multiple times if you are unhappy with your results. As of writing, the average scores are 1540 for the SAT and 20-21 for ACT. These are acceptable for most colleges, but if you apply for a top college, you may need a higher score.

Apply to Multiple Colleges

Do not make the mistake of getting attached to one college. Even if you are confident in your grades, there is always a luck aspect of getting into college. If you only apply for a single college and do not get accepted, you are left scrambling to find a replacement. During your junior year, meet with your counselor and put together a list of schools. It is okay to prioritize one or two colleges, but make sure your list includes a few safety schools as well. Having safety schools, where you know you meet or exceed the criteria to get in, allows you to also apply for top colleges you are less confident about getting into without putting your whole educational future at risk.

It is also important to apply as early as possible. For the best results, try and send your application around November. Check to see if your high school has an early decision or early action system. These systems allow you to apply for a single college early. With early decision, you must agree to attend the college if you are accepted, but early action does not have this stipulation.

Essays and Letters of Recommendation

Both colleges and the majority of scholarships require you to submit either an essay, letter of recommendation or both. College essays are an excellent way to demonstrate your academic abilities. These papers allow you to stand out from the competition, and may decide whether you are accepted over a student with similar grades. Never send your first draft. Make sure to consult your teachers for feedback. If you are unsure what makes a good essay, consider looking online to see other standout essays from other students.

Letters of recommendation also help you stand out. In addition to your teachers and counselors, consider asking important members of the community you interacted with for letters. Many students do work with a nonprofit organization to get a letter of recommendation. You can also get a letter from employers.

Financial Aid

Even with college prices on the decline, tuition is expensive. If you attend a college in state, the average tuition cost is close to $10,000. If you attend out of state, it doubles to roughly $21,000. Private schools are even more expensive, costing around $35,000, with the top ivy league schools costing closer to $55,000. To help cover these costs, you can apply for financial aid.

Almost all grants and scholarships use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine your eligibility. Education grants are primarily needs based, so the biggest determining factor is your expected family contribution. There are some merit-based requirements, but they are not strict, often requiring at most an average GPA.

Grants are available from both private parties and the government. Government grants are known as federal grants. These grants are typically preferable, since the government has more resources, meaning more grants are available. The best example of a federal grant is the Pell Grant, which in 2021 provides up to $6,495.

Scholarships are also available from both private and federal sources. Scholarships sometimes have need requirements, but are primarily based on educational merits. Many scholarships are intended for specific career paths. Others are based on groups, such as only going to female students. There are often other requirements, like completing an essay or similar project. The government has compiled a list of scholarships you can search through.