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The College Application Process

The college application process can be filled with a confusing new language (Early Action, Early Decision, etc.). This, in addition to keeping up with the various application deadlines and remembering what additional documents (test scores, essays, letters of recommendation, etc.) each school needs can make the application process stressful (that is if you don’t read this article ).

However, if you are reading this, and have read my other article on choosing the right school, you are well on the path to making informed decisions during the college application stage.

Q: How many schools should I apply to?

A: This is a question I get frequently. We often see the headlines of students getting accepted into 100 colleges and being awarded large sums of scholarship money. Don’t get me wrong, we LOVE to see it, but does that mean that YOU need to apply to hundreds of colleges?

My answer is no you do not need to apply to many colleges, in fact, the real tea is, many of the students who are offered large sums of scholarship money are only able to accept a fraction of what was offered.

What I mean by that is, if Clark Atlanta University (CAU) offers you a $25,000 scholarship, in most cases, that scholarship will only be awarded to you if you attend CAU. So, when we see students receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarship money, keep in mind, most of the scholarships are institutional-based and may have some caveats.

Generally, when I work with students, I have them categorize their schools of interest into one of 3 types: Reach, Target, and Safety.

This speaks to the importance of getting information (not quite what Beyonce meant when she said “get in formation” but the concept still applies) about the schools before you apply. For example, if your dream school requires a GPA or standardized test (SAT or ACT) score that is a bit higher than what you have, that school may be a Reach School. We definitely would NOT want to put all of our eggs in the Reach School basket. Target schools are schools that you do meet the published admissions criteria for, but keep in mind, just because you meet the admission criteria doesn’t mean that you will get in. We will talk about the importance of the admissions essay in another article. Lastly, as you can imagine, Safety Schools, are schools you are certain that you would be accepted to.

You would not want to sell yourself short by applying to only Safety Schools, nor would you want to apply to only Reach Schools and risk not being accepted to any, so it’s important to find a balance among the 3 categories. I usually recommend students apply to at least 2 schools in each category.

 Q: What are Early Decision and Early Action?

When applying to colleges as a prospective freshmen student, you may notice that some colleges offer multiple admission decision programs. Early admissions programs (Early Action and Early Decision) should only be used for schools you are likely to attend if offered acceptance. However, some decision programs are restrictive, and in some cases will only allow you to use an early assurance program for their school. Here is a brief overview of the 4 main decision programs from least to most restrictive.

Rolling Admission: these are schools that do not have a concrete deadline and will admit students on a space-available basis.  If classes start in September, schools with Rolling Admission may continue to enroll students up until August if there is still space available in the class.

Regular Admission: these are schools that have a concrete deadline. Many schools that utilize Regular Admission will have an application deadline as early as January (for September start) and will begin notifications around March.

Early Action (EA): if you choose to apply Early Action to a college, instead of the aforementioned January deadline, you will typically apply by early November and expect to be notified between mid-December and early January. Some schools have a restricted Early Action program which would only allow you to apply Early Action to their institution, whereas some schools will allow you to apply Early Action to as many schools as you want. This can get confusing, so it is best to consult the Admissions Office at the school (s) you are considering. What attracts students to EA is that they will not have to wait until March to find out if they were accepted. Some EA schools will review a student early, but if they are unsure if they will accept the student, will change the application type to regular decision.

Early Decision (ED): is the most restrictive of the four programs. ED is essentially a binding contract. You can only apply Early Decision to one school. Applying ED states, if accepted, I will withdraw all applications to other schools even before finding out if I was accepted. The only way to get out of an ED agreement, is if you can prove the financial aid package offered to you does not fit your needs (this may be difficult to prove). Also keep in mind that reneging on an ED contract with one school may jeopardize your decision with another school. Long story short is only use ED if you KNOW you are going to go to that particular school. ED typically follows the same application deadline as EA with an application deadline around November 1st and notifications around December 15th.

Q: Any other tips before applying to colleges

A: Some other tips I share with my students include:

  • Visit the campus(es) you are considering. While many colleges offer virtual tours, schools can make anything look pretty with a social media filter. If possible, consider visiting the campus to see how you (especially LGBT People of Color) feel on campus. You would be surprised how many students apply and accept admissions to colleges before ever visiting and are ready to go back home just as soon as they are dropped off for their first day of class.
  • Find out if you are eligible for any opportunity programs the school may offer. Many LGBT and People of Color have benefited from opportunity programs such as SUNY’s EOP program and CUNY’s College Discovery & SEEK program. There is no shame in participating in an opportunity program, your degree doesn’t look any different than those who didn’t.
  • Reach out to the Admissions Office for tips on applying to the school (how to submit a strong application).
  • Find out if you are eligible for an application fee waiver. Applying to schools can be expensive, and although some schools require you to fit an income criterion for a fee waiver, other schools may offer you a fee waiver just for visiting their campus.
  • Consider creating a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet with important data about the schools you are interested in including, application deadline, admissions decision type, tuition, etc. It will keep you organized as you apply.
  • Reflect on why you are choosing a particular college. Is it because your parents went there? Is it because you heard it was a good party school?
  • This may sound silly, but it does happen often, make sure the school has your major. A great resource for finding out what schools offer your major of interest is College Navigator Search Tool.

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