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College Applications 101

Spring is in the air and the next college admissions cycle is fast approaching! While current seniors weigh their options and decide where they will attend school next year, freshmen, sophomores, and juniors should be preparing for their own college admissions process. Today’s post offers an introduction to college admissions and will provide starting points for all high school students to ensure they can start the application process with confidence.

College list and research

With the increasing competitiveness of the college admissions landscape, a well-balanced college list is more important now than ever before. This means students should have (at minimum) 2 safety schools, 2 match schools, 4 reach schools, and 2 long shot schools

When crafting and refining your list, a great place to start is with the US News & World Report, where you can filter for various factors from specific majors/programs to the Best Liberal Arts Colleges and Top Public Schools. As you learn more about your own preferences and (re)categorize the schools on your list, use this resource and your own research to fill in the gaps in your list.

*If your school utilizes tools like Naviance, take advantage of this opportunity to compare your profile to students with the same academic and extracurricular opportunities that you had. 

What’s included in a college application?

Although you should always refer directly to the schools you are applying to for individual requirements and deadlines, there are a common set of materials most schools require and/or accept during the admissions process.

  • Typically required:

    • Transcripts with GPA and course selection (remember to include any college transcripts if applicable)

    • Test scores (SAT/ACT, AP, IB, etc.)

    • Activities list(s) that describe extracurriculars, volunteering, leadership experiences, and awards and honors

    • Personal Statement/Long Essay

    • School-specific supplemental essay(s)

    • Recommendations: typically 1 school counselor, 2 teachers (1 humanities and 1 STEM), and ~1 extra recommender 

  • Optional:

    • Additional information response(s)

    • Resume

    • Portfolio

    • Video essay

    • Interview

More than 1,000 schools in the United States utilize the Common App portal, but some schools (like MIT and Georgetown) have their own unique portal, and others (like the University of California) have a system portal that allows students to submit one application for any of their 9 undergraduate campuses. These portals are where you’ll create a student account and complete and submit your applications.  

When are applications due?

There are a range of admissions plans students can select when applying to college. B2A recommends that students apply early as often as possible to improve their admissions chances. As stated above, always check with each school on your list for their admission plan options and deadlines.

What can I do now?

Depending on where you are in your high school career, there are different tasks you can focus on for college preparation. As a freshman and sophomore, your first priority should be assessing your current profile and seeking meaningful opportunities to expand your skills and experience over the summer. This can include camps or programs, research or internships, service work, and personal projects. You can also reflect on your college preferences, draft a tentative college list, and start college research. 

For juniors, the next few months are vital. Focus on the following tasks:

  1. Secure a competitive SAT or ACT score if you have not already and prepare for upcoming AP/IB exams

  2. Maximize your academic, personal, and extracurricular potential for the remainder of junior year—identify gaps in your profile and brainstorm ways to fill them for the rest of the semester and into the summer

  3. Research colleges and finalize a balanced college list with strategic major selection

  4. Foster stronger relationships with your teachers and ask at least 1 STEM and 1 Humanities teacher if they would be willing to serve as recommenders

For personalized recommendations and an individualized college admissions strategy, reach out to B2A to schedule a 1:1 meeting. B2A also offers College Admissions Service (CAS) hours for application assistance and the Gateway Program, an all-inclusive college admissions counseling program designed to help students complete 5 applications.


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