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Frequently Asked Questions About College Applications

Last updated April 23, 2024

Before you start researching schools and building your college list, it's important to understand how college applications work and what will be expected of you when it's time to submit them. Here are some frequently asked questions (and our answers) about college applications. 

Where do I find my colleges' applications?

Depending on where you're applying, you will either use a college's specific application or the Common App. If you plan to apply to multiple HBCUs, we recommend using the Common Black College Application, which allows you to apply to up to 66 for $20. Learn more here.

How much does it cost to apply to college?

College application fees vary depending on a variety of factors, including how many schools you're applying to, which application(s) you're submitting, and what supplemental materials you must submit with them. For example, in addition to standard application fees, you may have to spend a bit more to request transcripts from your high school or send your SAT/ACT scores to colleges. 

The actual cost of applications alone will vary depending on where you're applying. Of the ~900 colleges that accept the Common App, 325 don't have an application fee. (Common App offers fee waivers for eligible students.) If you're using a college's individual application, there may be fees to submit. However, some schools may offer fee waivers to eligible students. If you're not sure whether you qualify for a fee waiver from any of your colleges, check in with your counselor. Overall, be sure to do your research in advance of submitting so you understand more or less how much it will cost to apply to each of your colleges. 

What should I write my application essay/personal statement about? 

The goal of application essays and personal statements is to present your truest and most authentic self– things about you that can't be simply explained in your resume, test scores, or transcripts. These types of essays should show reflection, personal growth, and a commitment to your goals in college and beyond. 

The Common App has multiple essay prompts that students can choose from. We recommend choosing prompt(s) that resonate with you and will best help you tell your story. What you decide to write about based on these prompts is totally up to you, but it's important to make sure your essay is well-structured, shows personal growth, and doesn't repeat things that can be found in your application. Your college may also have their own prompts they want you to answer. If you are given a choice, choose one that helps you best tell your story. 

Check out all of our resources to help you write a strong college application essay or personal statement! Finished your draft and need a second opinion? Send it to us for free review!

How many colleges should I apply to?

The amount of colleges you apply to is totally up to you! However, the more schools you apply to, the more fees there are likely to be. Organize your list of schools into three categories: DreamTarget, and Match schools.

  • Dream schools are the ones you dream of going to, but are a bit more competitive to get into, due to things like small acceptance rates, minimum GPAs or test scores, or even high costs of tuition.
  • Target schools are the ones you feel confident about getting accepted to, even if they’re not necessarily at the very top of your list.
  • Match schools are the ones you have a strong chance of getting admitted to. Your test scores, GPA, or coursework typically match those of other incoming students at these schools.

These categories will be different for everyone. Find out where each of your colleges fit within these categories by taking a look at their average admitted student GPA and ACT/SAT test scores and comparing them with your own. We recommend applying to at least 1 of each type of school above to give yourself options. 

How can I stay organized during the application process?

Use our free college application requirements tracker (available both as a Google Doc and Google Sheet) to stay organized while you apply!  

Who should write my letters of recommendation? When should I ask for a letter of recommendation? 

Letters of recommendation should come from those who know you best in an academic, professional, or extracurricular setting. This can include people like educators, coaches, bosses, supervisors, and mentors. Your recommenders should be able to speak to your talents, work ethic, accomplishments, and goals. We recommend creating a brag sheet to give to your recommenders so they know which skills and experience you'd like them to highlight based on your relationship with them. Ask for letters of recommendation as early as possible– at least a month before your applications are due.

Do I need to take standardized tests (SAT/ACT)?

It depends on where you're applying. While many colleges are now test optional or test blind due to the pandemic, some schools have begun bringing back SAT/ACT requirements for admission. Be sure you're aware of what your colleges require so you know whether to take these exams or how much they will be taken into consideration when applying.

When are my applications due?

Each college will have their own application deadlines. Generally, however, there are four college application deadlines you should be aware of: 

  1. Early action. This is a period of time (usually in October or November) where you can submit an application and be considered for admission before other applicants. Applications submitted through early action are non-binding, meaning if you get accepted to a school, you can either accept or decline to attend. Early action is ideal for students who want to submit their applications early while keeping their options open. 
  2. Early decision. Early decision is similar to early action in that you can apply before most applicants. However, with early decision, you must commit to the school you are accepted to and withdraw all of your other applications. Early decision is ideal for students who are certain about where they want to attend. 
  3. Regular decision. A majority of students apply to college under regular decision deadlines, which are usually in January or February of their senior year. Colleges typically send their decisions in March or April and require students to commit by May 1. (Note: Due to delays in the 2024-2025 FAFSA, some colleges have adjusted their timelines for when they'll send decisions and when they'll require students to commit. Check in with your college(s) to learn if any dates or deadlines have been adjusted.)
  4. Rolling admission. When a college has rolling admissions, there's typically no deadline to apply. The application window will stay open until all spots in a class have been filled. Colleges with rolling admissions are great options for students who are uncertain about their college goals and need a bit more time to get their applications together. 

Have any other questions about applying to college? Text #College to 33-55-77 to chat with one of our advisors. If you're using a mobile device, click here to have the text message set up for you!

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