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College Application Guide: How to Apply Online
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Follow These Steps to Success

A large component of the college application process is done exclusively online. Applying to college can be a daunting thought. It can take some time, but this guide will help give you the essential information you need to successfully apply online to the college of your choosing.

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Decide Which College Application Platform to Use

The most widely used college application platform is the common application, which is used by over 750 schools in the United States and abroad. You can apply through this centralized platform to multiple colleges.

Although many colleges have their own application process, the common application is a very useful tool to keep track of the documents you need, and submission deadlines. You may still be required to send a supplemental application in addition to this, depending on the requirements of your college of choice. However, some schools don’t use this platform.

The common application window opens on August 1. Its recommended to register and look through the requirements before school starts, so you have plenty of time to review the requirements and seek out advice on the different parts of the application.

Other options are the coalition application and the universal college application.

The coalition application is a relatively new platform that has been accessible since 2016. It has a focus on supporting students from lower income families, and all participating colleges have an ethos of making college more affordable. It also offers a unique option of providing you with a ‘mentor’ who can advise you on aspects of the application and offer support along the way. You can upload files that might be considered on other platforms and can demonstrate some of your achievements.

Similarly, the universal college application offers you the chance to showcase athletic or artistic achievements in a video piece.

You can check on your chosen institution’s preferred method of application via their website.

Ensure You Can Afford the Fees

College application fees range from $50-$100, so if you’re applying to multiple universities, these costs can quickly add up. However, there are possibilities to have your fees waived completely, or at least reduced.

If you are considered a student from a low-income family, you can state this in your common application. Many high schools and colleges also offer instant decision days for all students where you can apply directly at special events and gain exemption from these fees.

If you have taken an SAT or ACT test you may also be eligible for a fee waiver.

Prepare Your Documents

As part of your online college application process you will also need to provide your high school transcript, a record of courses you’ve taken, and your most up to date GPA. Usually this needs to be requested from your school counselor’s office and sent on your behalf.

Some colleges may also ask for a transcript of any extracurricular activities you attend.

Some schools will also require you to provide standardized test scores such as your SAT or ACT.

College admissions teams also pay close attention to your letters of recommendation. You will need to ask two or three people to write a letter or statement outlining your personal qualities, and to comment on your ability to succeed at your chosen college. These will need to be from someone in a professional capacity such as a teacher who knows you well.

As your referees may already be quite busy and potentially have to do this for other students, it is highly recommended to request these well before your application deadline.

Keep Track of Submission Deadlines

If you are sure of the college you want to go to, you might be able to apply under an ‘early decision’ deadline’ (ED) in November of your senior high school year. Some colleges offer this option, however there are few things to be aware of:

  • You can only accept an offer from one college, and you will need to withdraw any submitted applications to other colleges.
  • You may not be able to apply to other colleges if you change your mind and withdraw your offer later on in the process.

Through the regular submission process, most colleges have a deadline somewhere between December and January

The College Essay

As part of your online college application, you will need to write an essay based on a prompt provided.

The standard essay has a limit of 650 words, and there is a wealth of information online on how to tackle what many consider the most challenging aspect of the application process.

Recommended Application Schedule

June

Pre-application research, and time to start thinking about your application and who you can ask for letters of recommendation.

August

Common application window opens. Start to fill in basic personal information to save time and look through the requirements and start requesting your professional references.

September

Begin working on your essay prompts and follow up on your professional references.

October

If you are applying for an early decision or early deadline, aim to have most of your information ready by this point.

November

Early decision applications, or complete most of your application for other colleges.

December

Submit final information.

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