Parents, guidance counselors, teachers, and even your friends have been discussing applications for months now. Probably longer. 

What exactly is the college application? Sometimes it feels like this mysterious puzzle that everyone knows how to put together except you. What paperwork do you need? What are you actually responsible for? What are the key components?

First, you’re not alone. We’ve all had that feeling before at one point or another in our lives. Not to mention, you have about 3.7 million other high school seniors who are taking this journey with you! 

The most important thing to remember is to check your future school’s requirements as they can vary drastically from college to college. This includes, among other things, the application deadline! 

So, here’s our breakdown:

High School Transcripts

It’s true that as college is getting more and more competitive, grades aren’t everything. No longer will a solid report card guarantee you a spot in the school of your choice. That doesn’t mean they’re not important though. Your high school guidance counselor and/or administrator will most likely be sending your official transcripts based on your request. Some colleges have specific instructions on how the transcript needs to be sent because they want to make sure it’s authentic. Have you challenged yourself? Have you improved your working habits and raised your grades? Did you slack off your senior year after you sent in your applications? These are the types of questions they will answer based on reviewing your transcript. 

College Application

Many schools are using the common app, so it makes it easier when you’re applying to multiple schools. You don’t have to fill out all your basic information over and over again. Read the instructions carefully because some schools may have additional fields that need to be filled out. This will also be where you showcase your extracurriculars, community service and responsibilities, awards and honors, specialized skills, and extra coursework. Some schools may also ask separately for a resume. Give schools a 360° view of your interests, passions, and accomplishments! 

Personal Statement Essay

Everyone’s favorite part! Actually, this is the number one component we get asked to help with the most. The college essay is the perfect chance for you to show yourself as a whole, well-rounded person in the eyes of the admissions board. If you’re looking for a little more information on the essay, last week we reviewed why it’s so hard to write a personal essay.

Test Scores

Relax, this is the easy part when it comes to standardized tests. Your school isn’t responsible for sending out scores, but it’s super simple to do. You can choose up to four schools to send your scores to at no charge upon registering for the SAT. If you haven’t chosen your prospective schools by the time you take your test(s), you can send scores through your My SAT account and your ACT account. If you plan on sending test scores out to more than four schools, check to see if you’re eligible for the fee waiver. 

NOTE: Schedule your test with ample time to attain your results (2–8 weeks for the ACT, about 3 weeks for the SAT according to the Princeton Review) and then to request your results be sent to your schools of choice. College Board and ACT offer rush or priority delivery requests, but at a cost.

Letters of Recommendation

This deserves a blog all on its own. Don’t worry, we’ll get to that. Simply put, a letter of recommendation is from a teacher, counselor, manager, supervisor, coach, or even a pastor. Your community wants to see you succeed. It’s just as big an honor for them to be asked to write your letter as it is for you to receive one. When you ask, be sure to provide a list of your achievements, awards, projects, and any other information you think may help them write a great recommendation. 

Well, there you have it: the college application basics laid out for you. Comment below if you have any questions!