Step 1: Get the Application
The first step in applying to college is to get an application.
Can you apply online? Can you call to request an application? Where else can you get an application? If it looks like there is an application in the course catalog, can you use that?
For answers to these questions read below or click here to access the interactive activity.
Many colleges have online applications on their websites. You may also be able to download the application. Usually you'll need a program on your computer to open PDF or Microsoft Word documents. (See the Links and Worksheets page in the Resources unit to get these programs.) You can call the school's admissions office and ask them to send a college application to you. You can go to the college’s admissions office and pick one up. Course catalogs often include an application. But make sure it is up-to-date and for the year you wish to start attending.
If you are submitting a paper application, get two copies of the application. Use one for a practice copy and the other for the one you submit to the admissions office.
Even if you are planning to fill out an online application form, it won’t hurt to fill out a practice copy of the application on paper (see Step 3, below), and then use it as a guide to filling out your online application.
Step 2: Gather Your Information
Take some time to gather your information. Not all schools will ask for the same information but here is a list of items you will most likely need:
- Social Security Number
- Visa or permanent resident information
- State driver’s license or identification card
- Dates of high school attendance. Some schools may also ask you for the CEEB code for your high school. To get the CEEB code, visit the College Board website. If you did not attend high school in the U.S. you will not need a code.
- Dates of college attendance (if you’ve taken college-level classes before)
- The program and degree you’re interested in
If you are incarcerated or if you are an ex-offender:
Some applications may ask about your criminal history. Pay careful attention to the way they ask the question. Here is one example: Other than traffic offenses, have you ever been convicted of any felony or other crime? If you were charged with a felony but then acquitted, you can answer No to this question. If you are not sure about the type of convictions you have, you should get a copy of your record and learn about what is on it. You may want to correct mistakes, or change what people can see on it. For more information on how to do this, go back to the Occupational Exploration section.
If you are from another country:
College applications usually ask your status: U.S. citizen, resident alien (they may ask for your green card number), refugee, or foreign citizen. (The college may ask for your passport, visa, and an I-20 form. You can find more information about student visas on the Education USA website, http://educationusa.state.gov. Click on “Getting a U.S. Visa.”)
You will probably have to show your high school transcript to prove that you graduated from high school. If the transcript is not in English, you will have to have it translated by an official translator. Private organizations will do credential evaluations for a fee, usually $100 or more. You can search on the Internet or in the phone book under credential evaluations for these businesses. The National Association of Credential Evaluation Services is one organization. Their website is http://www.naces.org. Click on “Current Members,” then put your pointer over a company’s name to get contact information.
If English is not your first language:
You may be required to submit a score from a special test, like the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the Test of Spoken English (TSE).
The TOEFL tests to see if you can use and understand English at the college level. You have to pay to take the test. If it’s difficult for you to pay, ask to see if you are eligible for the fee waiver. Depending on where you take the test, it may be on a computer or on paper. Visit the Educational Testing Service website at http://www.ets.org for more information, including test-taking tips, information for people with disabilities, how to register for the test, and more. From the home page, click on “TOEFL,” then click “Register for the test,” “About the test,” “Prepare for the test,” and other links for information you need.
Here are two other websites to help you prepare for the TOEFL:
- 4Tests.com: http://www.4tests.com/
In the column on the left, click on “TOEFL.” Read the Exam Description, then click on “Begin Exam” to take a practice test.
- ESLAbout.com: http://esl.about.com/
Click on the "Continue Learning" tab, then click on "English tests-TOEFL". Click the links for TOEFL resources and practice.
Your local library also has materials to help you prepare. There are face-to-face and online courses for a fee. You can search online or look in your phone book to find them.
The TSE may not be required at some institutions anymore because the TOEFL now includes a test of spoken English. You may have to take the TSE-A if you are a graduate student who is going to be a teaching assistant, or you may need to take the TSE-P to get a professional license or certification. For more information, visit the Educational Testing Service website at http://www.ets.org. Click on “TSE,” then look for the Learners and Test takers section on the left and click the links there.
Finally, be sure to check with the school to learn about other requirements if English is not your first language.
Step 3: Fill Out a Practice Copy of the Application
Read the instructions for the application carefully.
Do not submit messy applications or applications with mistakes. Do a practice copy first. Doing a practice copy allows you to:
Sometimes your handwriting is too big.
Sometimes your handwriting is too small.
Sometimes there are
- Change your answers. For example: if you put your home phone number on the practice form, you can change it and put your cell phone number instead.
After you have checked your answers carefully on the practice form, copy them to a clean form that you will submit to the college.
Step 4: Submit the Application
Keep a copy of your application. You want to make sure that you can fill out another copy quickly if your application is lost in the mail or if your computer is not working properly and won’t send the application.
If you are filling out an application form online, do not click the "Submit" button until you or someone else has checked your application carefully to make sure that you answered all of the questions and that your grammar and spelling are correct.
You should check the application instructions for a deadline date. If there is a deadline, make sure you submit the application by that date.
At some colleges, and at most community colleges, applications can be submitted anytime. This is called rolling admissions. However, you cannot start classes as soon as you receive your acceptance letter. You must wait until the beginning of the next semester.
At most community colleges you will receive a letter of acceptance or a phone call within a few weeks after you've submitted your application. Four-year colleges can take longer, and may have specific schedules for responding to applicants. The acceptance letter will probably include the name of your advisor, information about financial aid, a school calendar, and information about placement testing.