Know About College Admission Guidelines

In this post, you will learn everything you need to know about college applications and admissions. Below is what we will be discussing in the entire post: 

  • Components of college admission/ application
  • College application checklist 
  • College admission timeline
  • Additional admission/ application expert tips

Let's dive right in. 

Components of College Admission 


While tons of colleges today direct students to apply online, there are still a few that would want students to fill out paper forms. Either way, you will need to fill in your information - from your names, your family, citizenship, among others. 


Application fees vary from one college to another, but the good news is that 2,000+ colleges now consider application fee waivers for students with low income.  

It is also important to note that application fees are non-refundable, which means that you can't get it back, even if you choose not to join the college later. A sigh of relief, though, because some colleges accept to refund application fees, but under specific circumstances. 

In a report by GoodCall, the standard application fees should be $41, but some reputable colleges such as Stanford University will charge as high as $90. 

High school transcripts 

It is a requirement in every college that every student provides his or her high school transcript. Now, there are two types of high school transcripts - the official and the unofficial transcript.

High School Official transcript

If you are applying to a college while you are still in high school, you will only need an unofficial high school transcript because your full results aren't finalized yet. You will need to provide an official high school transcript as soon as all the results are out. Usually, an official and unofficial high school transcript may look the same, but that is not true. An official high school transcript has authenticity in the form of a stamp or seal. So if your high school transcript is missing any of these, then you should know that it's an unofficial transcript. 

Test scores

Test scores, especially SAT or ACT, are very critical. These tests help colleges decide whether or not they will admit you. It is advisable that you take your SAT or ACT during your junior or sophomore year to get the hang of questions, and give you an idea of the categories of colleges - safety, match and reach. 

The advantage with SAT or ACT tests is that they can be done up to December, and allows students to have adequate time to retake the tests if they don't like their scores. When you register for these tests, you will be allowed to select four colleges, which will receive your results when they are out. But you will need to pay an extra $12 for this service. 

Recommendation letters 

Recommendation letters have become vital of late, and nearly every college needs students to submit one during their application. That said, you need to build stellar relationships with your teachers and ask them to write you a recommendation letter that you can use during your application. And because a recommendation letter contains your academic excellence and character, it is best to visit your teacher and let him or her have a better understanding of you before writing the letter. 

Finally, take note that your letter should be enclosed in a stamped envelope for authenticity. 


You'll agree with me that essays have become a vital component of the college application. An essay allows you to provide a detailed view of yourself. Instead of going through the hassle of writing something that meets your understanding, I recommend that you come up with an exciting subject that will highlight your uniqueness. 

In your essay, you can focus on elements that you haven't addressed in your application so that you have everything covered. Finally, ask your senior - your teacher or parent to go through it before you submit. 


Some colleges may need additional information to help their panel decide whether or not they will accept your application. Therefore, a few colleges will engage you in an interview to get a better understanding of who you are. 

Now, interviews are as important as your application. I advise you to remain courteous and answer the questions with details. I'm not saying this will give you a direct entry, but it will count when the panel is deciding whether or not to accept your application.

Your College Application Checklist 

Define colleges of interest 

Of course, you'll have to visit several college websites to leverage your interests. However, it is worth noting that talking to your school counsellors for guidance can be of significance. Meanwhile, spend some quality time with your family members as you also consult with them. 

But before then, make sure that you have a list of colleges that you'd love to attend, keeping your dear ones in mind.  

Take the ACT/ SAT

This is a must-test that you'll need to take by December, meaning you have to be fully prepared before reviewing the test. You probably don't want to be caught pants down, so it would help if you know the testing date to help you manage your time well.

GPA matters

‍Perform well in all your high school years and not just in the last two years. You cannot undo these grades and it will be out there for all to see in your transcripts. There’s no way you can fudge transcripts.

If you underperform in the first year, be sure to do progressively well in the following years as colleges want assurance of your commitment to strive and do well. Consistent improvement in performance is what the college admissions offices look for.

Choose the college you want to study at

Based on your inclinations as well as your aptitude, you will have a fair idea of what higher studies you want to pursue. Discuss your options with your family, teachers, and counselor and then begin perusing the colleges you may want to study at. Doing this research is vital, as you must have a list of 8-10 colleges that you will finally send college admissions to and know what their test score requirements are in advance.

Your list should comprise:

  • Dream colleges where your academic scores may not match the required average range
  • Match colleges where your academic scores will match the required average range
  • Safety colleges where your academic scores will be way above the required average range

Besides addressing your academic credentials while choosing the colleges, be sure to ensure that each of these colleges feels like you will fit in well there and that the college offers what you are looking for.

Extracurricular activities are a must

How you spend your spare time is a reflection of your personality. So the college admissions offices look hard at your extracurricular activities. Quantity is not key here but how you utilize your time and on what is. It could be sports, music, a hobby or doing community work but pursuing it with passion will reflect your intent.

Working during your summer holidays is positively an asset. It will take your application a few notches higher up in the competitive race for college admissions.

Craft your college essay

The chances are that writing your essay will take you much more time than the application itself. And because it is essential, I advise that you do research and give yourself some time to think about what you want to write for your essay. 

Prepare letters of recommendation

Like I said above, recommendation letters have become part and parcel of every college application in most schools, so you should get the best recommendation letter. My advice remains the same - approach your teacher early enough, so that they can have adequate time to write you a thoughtful recommendation letter. 


You need to be mindful of deadlines. That's why you need to have a calendar to guide you when you should apply to every college of interest. Additionally, you will need to pay the application fees if you haven't qualified for a waiver. 

Complete FAFSA

FAFSA is an application that is usually filled on 1st October. You should complete this application as soon as possible because some colleges will offer funds depending on the first-come basis. 

FAFSA Homepage

Give the necessary information

You should have a set of ideas or information set aside before the interview. This will enable you to focus on the topics of interest, thus maintaining relevance. 

Review your letters and take action

Depending on the time of your application, you may start receiving your letter of acceptance or rejection in the early semester of senior year.  If you receive an acceptance letter, you'll be required to attend the school in early May to give your consent and listen to what the institution has to say. Usually, several decisions are based on financial capabilities, so make sure that you have your facts right before you can finalize your decision.

College Admission Timeline (for seniors) 

During summer 

It will help if you make good use of the summer months to visit some of the schools you had previously outlined in your list.  

Alternatively, you can do some online research by reviewing the institution's website to obtain information. However, visiting prospective institutions will provide you with the best insights to help you leverage on your interests. Note that this is only necessary when you receive a bunch of acceptance letters from institutions that are within your interests. 

Map it out in August 

Like I mentioned earlier, knowing the testing date will be of significance, and as such, you need to review the deadlines for prospective institutions and make a calendar for yourself. Meanwhile, seniors hoping for early acceptance should also do some online research if any special requirement is needed for such admission. ‍

Get your essays done in September 

Senior students tend to write a variety of essays, depending on the number of applications they intend to make. 

It is worth noting that the same essays revolve around different schools, and as such, you need to make sure that each of your essays is exceptionally tailored to the prospective school.It would also help if you review the essays earlier enough and outline their answers before writing the final copy.  

Take your tests in October

Depending on the students' geographic location and that of the school, the testing date may vary significantly. 

SAT and ACT test dates

Usually, students who tend to achieve exceptional grades in the field of vocabulary, as well as writing, are tested for the SAT examination. Meanwhile, seniors who are more into scientific and analytic are often examined for the ACT.

Even so, students are advised to set their priorities right before they can decide on their perfect fit. 

Make your inquiries and ask for recommendations in November

The number of recommendations needed will depend on the college you want to join. Still, in most cases, colleges will require at least two recommendations - a character recommendation and an academic recommendation. 

The most important thing here is to identify people who know you quite well and can write positive statements about you. In other words, look for referees who have interacted with you most often to write your letter of recommendation. 

Send out your applications in December

If you are applying for an early decision, you should apply by December. On the other hand, you can submit your application by January if you are applying for a regular choice. In case the college you want to join uses a rolling admission policy, be sure to apply as soon as the acceptance period is open. 

Expect interviews in February 

Like I mentioned before, interviews are not very common, but there are a couple of colleges that still conduct interviews. These interviews are usually meant to help the college know more about you. That said, do your homework and know which colleges are likely to conduct an interview and prepare adequately. 

Choose your college in March 

Many colleges make their decisions on whether they will accept students in March and April, so you should keep an eye. The moment you start getting responses from prospective colleges, it's time to begin choosing the colleges you are most likely to join. 

You will have to go through all the letters and determine which colleges are worth it. You may want to filter out colleges based on their academic excellence, location, cost, alumni success, etc. 

Consider the financial aids 

Once you have settled with some colleges in mind, you need to know how you will finance your studies. Check out the available financial aids and see how they compare with the total fees you will be required to pay at the college. Just to be safe, compare several financial aids, and see which one will help you the most. Some colleges offer financial aid to international students, and I'm sure you'd want to keep an eye on this kind of financial assistance. 

Revise in May

Here, you want to complete any unfinished business so that you make sure that everything is set. Maybe you'd want to secure your housing at the college or near the college, or you want to send any documents you didn't submit yet. And because you don't want to miss out on any college, make sure that everything is set. 

Transfer Colleges 

The transfer can occur in various backgrounds. For example, you could be transferred from your local college to university or from university to university. And honestly, the transfer in colleges is very crucial because the admission process for transfer students is different from the standard admission processes. 

So I thought it wise to list down some differences between a transfer student and a freshman student. Let's dive in. 

Watch this video about what college admissions office look for:

Watch this video about how a college admissions office takes decisions:

Head to Head Comparison Between Freshman Student and Transfer Student


In Freshman, seniors are required to present written essays, gain recommendations, and provide certification of diploma ACT or SAT grades. On the other hand, Transfer lets you apply with the same Freshman details along with your college transcript. 


Freshman evaluation is exclusively based on high school grades, recommendations from school counselors, and co-curricular activities. Transfer, in contrast, evaluates students on their level of education, with addition to their college syllabus.   


Being a first-time applicant, first-year students find the application process overwhelming. However, Transfer students are familiar with the entire application process, and as such, they understand what's required of them for a successful application process. This is because they have a higher inner-confidence compared to the Freshman students.  

Need Assessment

While first-year students are assessed based on their gathered information, they still need some time before they can get used to the school ethos and the community as well. Meanwhile, Transfer students fit into the surroundings quickly, thus opportuned when it comes to selecting their optional school.  

Additional Expert Tips 

Secrets of getting your applications accepted

Now, there is no common secret as to how your application can get accepted, but one thing for sure is that colleges are looking for well-rounded students who can work hard and make their college name great. For example, Forest University once disclosed that they were not just looking for smart students, but they were also looking for renaissance students. That's kind of unique, so the bottom line is to be an intelligent thinker who's ready to take challenges and explore opportunities. 

In the Breakfast Club, things are quite different. Instead of looking for smart students, they are looking for athletes, famous students, the nerds, the anarchists, among others. In my opinion, these people are looking for individuals who are driven by passion. Is that you? 

How to make yourself stand out

You can stand out from other students if you present your application in the best light while making sure that it is as thorough as possible. Usually, most college applications lack cohesion, and this should be your ace in the hole now that you know that most students don't leverage it. 

And to make sure that you include all these, take time with your application and fill your activity list with all the things you managed to do while in high school or your previous college if you are a transfer student. 

What's the most overlooked admission tip? 

Now, most students think that it's always the scores and grades that colleges look to accept applications. While this is an essential factor, take note that it is not always the bottom line of everything. Colleges are usually looking forward to getting the right fit. In other words, they look at a variety of things to consider in your application. 

The mistakes you should avoid 

There are a ton of mistakes you can make during your application process, but I'll highlight the most critical ones that may cost you. For example, you'd not want to submit your essay without having a senior go through it to identify grammar and spelling mistakes. Additionally, you should make sure that you align yourself with the college you want to join. 

The Bottom Line 

Let's face it. Applying for colleges that are within your interest can be a daunting prospect. As such, you need guidance from your school counselors, as well as parents, for a practical application process. Most importantly, you need to set your priorities right and implement these strategies to meet all the essential requirements.  

Frequently Asked Questions About College Applications and Admissions

When can I take the SAT/ACT test? 

Most colleges accept SAT/ ACT tests taken one month before applying. For example, a college with a May application deadline will accept tests done in April. All the same, I recommend that you reach out to individual colleges you want to join and inquire about their SAT/ACT test policy. 

When are college applications due?

Now, this is not known because they do vary from college to college. Additionally, deadlines could differ depending on the early decision, early action or regular decision. That is why it would help to inquire from the university you wish to join for clarification. 

What are colleges looking for? 

Different colleges are looking for different qualities, but there are common qualities each college will be eyeing in a student. Colleges like Havard may be ruthless in their review process, but that isn't a surprise considering the reputation they have achieved so far. On the contrary, 

Regardless of the college, you choose to join, except that they will need an excellent academic apogee, proof of leadership and extracurricular interests, relevant recommendations from institutions and professionals, among others. 

What are the safe schools? What are reach schools? 

Schools that match your academic achievements are called match schools. Schools that are slightly higher than your academic results are called reach schools. Finally, schools that fall below your academic achievements are called safe/ safety schools. 

How many colleges should I apply to? 

There's every reason to apply to more colleges so that you have a wide range of options to select from during your final choice. According to the College Board, you should apply to at least one safety college, at least two match colleges and at least one reach school. 

Is it acceptable if I also participate in a less time-consuming extracurricular activity because I simply want to? Even if it has no connect with my core activity?

Yes you can. It will be a good break for you – as long as it is just a short break of an hour or two in a week. You could utilize this time to explore some other activity that you are keen on and that is quite unrelated to your core activity. It could be doing community work or joining a club.

But steer clear of any such activity that will eat into your time and will need continuous rehearsals or make you feel burdened with it in class and outside.

Can’t I hang out with friends? Is it essential that I should choose solitary activities? Why should I stay away from group activities? It will be such fun.

Yes, being with friends can be de-stressing. So let’s face it – as a high school student who is immersed in back-to-back activities, you most probably bump into friends at school, while interning, at part-time jobs, volunteering, etc.

So it’s a good idea to register for similar courses and a low priority activity so you can be in it together with friends. You will even benefit from it if your friends are as committed as you are since you will be exchanging notes constantly and thereby broadening your outlook.  

Overall, my GPA and test scores are no match for other students who will have done better than me. I’m now in my senior year but have the option of pursuing a time-consuming and outstanding extracurricular task to make an impact. The hitch is that I’ll be unable to see it through. Should I pursue it at the cost of losing an academic year in the bargain?

When you are certain that your chances of being accepted by a reputed college are slight, then, it may be a good idea to take a year’s break and commit your time and energy to pursue a singular and significant activity. When this activity is in sync with the extracurricular profile that you have already been building from your early high school years, you will still catch attention despite having grades and scores that aren’t competitive.

I prefer to follow my own path and still have a significant impact on my school. Is this acceptable?

If what you have passion for and want to do is not part of what extracurricular activities your school provides, only then, use your resources to address your need. In doing so you will display enterprise and willingness to pursue your interests anyhow.