College is definitely one of the most enchanting experiences that I have been through. For most people, this is the rare period of time when one has no adult supervision or boss supervision. It is entirely up to you which course you want to enroll in, which society or club you want to join and how much you want to be involved in the party/dating scene. For students who are serious about their future, it is a good time to absorb knowledge, find good mentors and network (after all, good friends made in college could last a life time!)
Yup, college sounds really exciting, but getting there can be quite confusing. From choosing the right school to choosing the right program, there are many factors that need to be taken into consideration. A great way to begin is to look at a timeline that lists activities to complete as you navigate the college admissions process.
Let’s go through the high-level summary of the process here. Don’t worry, it’s our mission @OSAU to guide you through the maze! Note: the time line below is most applicable to students who are currently studying in the United States' high schools.
1. Things to prepare throughout high school years (freshman or grade 9 to senior year or grade 12)
Take courses that can prepare you for college and get good grades: courses such as honors, Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), HS/college dual enrolment etc. Try to focus on advanced courses in the core academic areas such as English, math, science, history, and world languages. Going extra mile will make you a more impressive applicant. It might even earn you some college credit while you are still in high school. While doing that, make sure your grades are good. High school transcript is considered to be one of the most important parts of your college application.
During school holidays, find volunteer opportunities/jobs/internships— If you could get yourself to intern in something that you might be interested to pursue professionally in the future, that would be great exposure. You could find out if it is really cut out for you. If not, you will also get exposure to the working world. Exposure to different careers will aid you in choosing the right major.
Begin to explore options on how to pay for college -- Initiate conversations with your parents. Is it going to be paid by parents? If not, the earlier you start planning the better. You can start saving daily and taking jobs during school holidays. Every little bit helps. You could also search and apply for non-traditional scholarships. Though most scholarships are available only for seniors applying to college, there are some scholarships available regardless of where you are in your high school career.
Go and talk to your guidance counsellor in school —getting to know your guidance counsellor early in your high school career makes it easier to talk about your plans for high school, college, and career.
Build up your extracurricular and leadership activities—Freshman year is a great time to try several different extracurricular activities. Your extracurricular activities show colleges aspects of your personality that your grades and test scores can’t. What are the specific things that colleges are hoping to see in applicants’ extracurricular activities?
Passion. Choose activities that you are really passionate about. Do not join some extracurricular activities just to pad out your resume. Colleges love students who are passionate about what they do, because, more often than not, they are the ones who will stick with something through thick and thin, especially when things get tough. They are the ones who are more likely to change the world. Demonstrate your passion by sticking with activities you love and dedicating significant amount of time to them.
LeadershipSince colleges are looking to educate and shape the leaders of tomorrow, they love to see students who are taking initiative to be leaders through their extracurricular activities. You can do this by leading a group or activity
Impact During the time that you are involved, did you contribute significantly and have a positive impact on the club/society? Once again, colleges are looking for the people who are going to change the world someday. In your activities, you can show them that you're the type of person who take initiative to make things better and fix problems.
For students who are unsure about what types of activities to pursue in high school, you can easily impress admissions officers by making sure that you have the following three kinds of activities on your list. They are:
The Academic Activity: The first key type of extracurricular activity is the academic activity. This is an activity that is somehow related to what you're hoping to study in college. For example, if you want to get a degree in journalism, you could be working for your school newspaper. A future medical student may have volunteered at the local hospital. Why do schools love this? Because again, students who are actively and passionately involved in their studies through an extracurricular are much more likely to make a difference in the field and potentially change the world.
The Community Service Activity: Colleges are always looking for students who are going to be making a difference in the world. Community service is a great extracurricular that can show that you're a concerned citizen who cares not only about your own achievements but also the world around you. In addition, if you actively solve an issue that you see while doing community service, you are demonstrating to colleges that you are a person who takes initiative and has the dedication and perseverance to see it through.
The Personality Activity: Commit to an activity that you love, which does not necessarily have anything to do with what you want to do academically or professionally. This will show college who you are as a person. Colleges love to have interesting students on campus as this creates vibrant communities. Also new ideas may form and develop when interesting people who have strong interests and hobbies meet each other on campus. Some of these ideas may go on to change the world.
2. Things to prepare in Junior year (grade 11)
Fall (September to November)
Take the PSAT—Take the PSAT as a junior to practice for the SAT and qualify for the National Merit Scholarship program.
Prepare for the SAT and/or ACT—Begin preparing for the SAT and/or ACT at the start of junior year. It is a good idea to take a full length practice test of each, and use the results to help you decide which test is best for you. Many students take their test of choice two or three times, with the final test in early fall of their senior year.
Learn more about colleges—Use OSAU resources, attend college fairs, speak with college reps, and ask friends already in college for their thoughts on different colleges to begin formulating an opinion of where you want to go. Continue this process throughout junior and senior year.
Visit some college campuses and talk to college students—Experience the campuses first hand to have some feelings about college life that you are planning.
Winter (December to February)
Take the SAT and/or ACT—Take the SAT and/or ACT for the first time in the winter of junior year. Do not worry, you can do it again and most students do better their second time. You can get a fee waiver if you speak with your guidance counsellor.
Take SAT Subject Tests for courses ending in the fall— It is better to take the subject tests immediately after you have taken the relevant classes.
Formulate an initial selection of colleges -- Identify 10 to 20 colleges of interest. Separate the schools into 3 categories: “safety schools”, “match schools” and “Reach schools”. Continue to work on this list throughout junior year and at the beginning of senior year.
Campus tour and talk to representatives at target colleges, if possible – Set up appoints with admission offices and schedule visit if possible. You can also check if some colleges offer “fly-in” programs to cover cost of travel for students with financial need.
Look into traditional scholarships — Once you are midway through your junior year, it's time to begin searching for more traditional scholarships that are specifically made available to students in their senior year of high school.
Spring (March to May)
Take the SAT and/or ACT—Take the test for the second time if you feel like improving the result of your first test.
Take SAT Subject Tests for courses ending in the spring—Again, take the subject tests when the materials are still fresh in your head.
Take AP Exams—AP Exams, which provide an opportunity to earn college credit, are offered each year in May.
Summer (June to August)
Visit target colleges if possible and check individual college websites for details on info sessions, tour times, and interview opportunities.
Check and record the application deadlines for your target schools— Early decision and early action applications are typically due in November of your senior year, while most regular admissions applications are due between January 1 and March 1. You could use the Common App to consolidate the deadlines for you; it is usually available at the beginning of August.
Get ready for your interview—Identify schools that require or have optional interviews. Start practising.
You can start to prepare the college application essays—It’s always good to start earlier and you can perfect your essays as you go along.
Have a list of teachers who could provide recommendation letters—These should be teachers from your core classes who know you best.
Start to prepare your financial aid plan—Look into financial aid options and create a list, taking down notes the deadlines for each. Talk to your family on how much they could provide and use the financial aid calculators found on individual college websites (net price calculators) to determine how much you need. You could also check out OSAU $$ page for information.
Start to apply for traditional scholarships—Apply as much as you need. Many seniors apply more than 30 scholarships. Go for less popular ones such as ones requiring essays or local ones.
3. Things to Prepare in Senior year (grade 12)
Fall (September to November)
Take the SAT and/or ACT— You can take it again if you feel you can improve your score. But try to take 3 times at most.
Revise college application essays—Make revisions to your applications essays and if you could, ask a teacher to proofread and comment on it. Do this before the deadline.
Ask for letters of recommendation—At least a month prior to the deadline, provide your recommenders with bullet points listing how you excelled academically in their classes along with the letter of recommendation forms and stamped envelopes addressed to the colleges where you are applying
Construct checklist for each application and get all application materials ready. A typical checklist consists of the following:
Application forms: Most students use online applications, but paper applications are usually available too. There are also services that let you complete one application online and submit it to several colleges.
Application fees: College application fees vary, but generally it costs from $35 to $50 to apply to each college. Fees are non-refundable. Many colleges offer fee waivers to students who can’t afford to pay. If you need application fee waivers, speak with your college counsellor.
High school transcripts and final transcript: The record of the classes you’ve taken and the grades is one of the most important parts of your application. Your high school should send your transcript, along with a school profile, directly to the colleges you are applying to. Ask your counsellor on how to arrange for this. And check the transcript for errors before it’s sent. At the end of your senior year, your high school will send a final transcript to the college you’ve decided to attend. This shows your college what classes you took and whether you kept your grades up during your last year in high school.
Admission test scores: For colleges that require or recommend that you send scores from tests such as the SAT or ACT, please arrange to have the scores sent directly from the testing organizations to the colleges. Visit the testing organization's website for more information.
Letters of Recommendation: Get letters of recommendation from teachers and other adults who know you and your achievements well.
Essays: Prepare thoroughly and remember to proofread before you send them in.
Audition and portfolio: For those who are applying to music, art or theatre programs, the colleges may need you to send in your portfolios and arrange for audition.
Interviews: Even though interviews are not required, it is always good to ask for one as it shows your seriousness and enthusiasm. Even if a college is far away, you may be able to interview with a local alumnus.
Submit early decision application for your dream school—Early decision applications, usually due in November, require a binding commitment in exchange for early acceptance.
Submit early action applications— Early action applications, on the other hand is much more flexible. You receive a decision but can wait for regular decision deposit deadline to make your final choice.
Submit CSS (College Scholarship Service) Profile for early applications—Certain schools may require the CSS profile in the fall if you plan to go through their early application process. The FAFSA cannot be submitted until after October 1. Along with the FAFSA, the CSS PROFILE is the most common financial aid application that students in the United States fill out. You can read more about them at the links below: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CSS_Profile https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FAFSA
Make sure that official SAT and/or ACT score reports are sent to early application schools—Go to College Board (SAT) and ACT Student (ACT) websites to send colleges your official test score reports.
Go to early admissions interviews— Interviews for some early action/decision schools happen in the fall. Practice, practice and practice and be confident.
Winter (December to February)
Take SAT Subject Tests for courses ending in the fall
You will receive response on early applications— Usually by December you will receive decisions on most of your early applications. Also, you should receive an estimated financial aid package as well.
Submit enrolment deposit for early decision school—If you’ve decided and found the early decision suitable, you will need to submit enrollment deposits which are often due in winter of your senior year. You could get a fee-waiver if you have trouble with payment.
Submit regular decision applications—most colleges have regular decision due dates sometime between January 1 and March 1 of each year.
Make sure official SAT and ACT score reports are sent to regular decision schools
Attend the regular decision interviews
Fill out and submit the FAFSA—FAFSA, the main determinant of federal financial aid, can be submitted after October 1 of your senior year. Submit ASAP, as some schools give aid on a first-come, first-serve basis. Some info on FAFSA:
Fill out and submit the CSS profiles or other school-based aid forms—Certain schools require the CSS profile (as it is much more detailed than FAFSA) in addition to FAFSA to determine financial aid. Submit ASAP, as schools often give aid on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Spring (March to May)
Update FAFSA, CSS profiles with your most recent year tax returns and send in copies to colleges that require it— If your initial submission contains estimation, then you need to revise your financial aid applications with data from your most recent year tax returns. Certain colleges may require verification of your financial information. Follow up your financial aid applications by sending the requesting college copies of your or your parents' tax transcripts.
Receive decision on regular applications—Regular decision applicants typically receive an accept/reject/wait-list response in March or April.
Compare financial aid packages from multiple schools— If you are accepted by a few schools, it’s time to compare the financial aid packages. Usually colleges will offer a financial aid package consisting of grants along with suggested loans and work-study.
Consider work-study— If you cannot fully cover the cost of college with financial aid, scholarship, you can consider work-study. You can indicate your interest for work-study on the FAFSA and by contacting your college's financial aid office.
Consider loans— You will need to consider loans if grants, scholarships, and work-study cannot sufficiently cover your attendance. The best deals are often from subsidized federal loans, specifically Stafford loans (now often called Direct Loans) and Perkins loans.
Consider financial aid appeal—Reach out to the financial aid office ASAP to appeal the offer.
Submit your enrollment deposit— Typically by May 1, you will need to submit enrollment deposit and lock in a plae for regular decision application. If you cannot afford the deposit, talk to school to get fee waiver.
Take AP Exams— You could take AP Exams, offered each year in May, to earn college credit.
Summer (June to August)
Complete ongoing paperwork for your college enrollment— You will receive information on orientation, scheduling, housing etc once you accepted the offer and locked in your place. Complete all paperwork by deadlines.
Start work-study search and finalize your job—Work with the financial aid office to identify work-study options and finalize your job search the summer before college begins or in the fall of your college freshman year.