The Seniors’ Guide to College Applications

INTRODUCTION 

With August long behind us and September coming to a close, high school seniors are facing the most stressful time of their high school careers. 

It is time for many of us to consider the next step in life. The number of students attending four year universities grows every year, and schools get more and more competitive as this number goes up. With recent years being full of COVID restrictions, the class of 2022 is almost completely in the dark about how we’re supposed to actually get into college. Luckily, our counselors are here to help. I talked to several of our best here at Heritage to compile the Senior’s Guide to Applying to College. Whether you haven’t started at all, or are finishing up with your first applications, we’ve got you covered. 

Seniors, your salvation is here. 

PICK YOUR MAJOR

The first step to deciding which college is for you is picking what you want to do. It might seem like an obvious step, but going into college undecided is the last thing you want to do. It doesn’t show commitment or ambition. It’s better to go in knowing what you want to study, or at the very least, a few options you’d be interested in pursuing.

Ms. Santos recommends considering classes that you enjoyed to pick your major. What classes interested you in high school? Would you want to continue a path involving those classes? Ms. Greene says you should also consider your career options post-graduation. Take a career interest inventory (CFNC) if you’re unsure. This can give you a good outlook of your skill sets and what careers would align with your interests, as well as give you stats for those careers. You don’t have to have your major decided at this time, but it’s important to have some solid ideas you can explore later. 

RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH

Okay, you’ve picked your major. What colleges offer it? If they offer it, do they have a whole department for it? Can you specialize within the major? Can you double major, or take on a minor? All of these are things you need to know to pick the school with the best fit for you. Some additional things to consider are sports. Are you athletic? If not, do you care about how well your college does in athletics?

Looking into specific questions about your major shouldn’t be the only part of your research. It’s incredibly important to look into location, cost, housing, environment (what is the school known for? Will you fit in well with that?), and the size of the actual campus.

EARLY APPLICATIONS VS EARLY DECISION

Some schools offer the option to submit an application at an early deadline. If you are prepared to submit early, it can be a great choice, and you will hear a decision back early. However, if this is the route you are choosing, it is important to make a clear distinction between early action and early decision. 

Early Action: applying to an early deadline, and hearing back an early decision so that the decision can be made earlier. 

Ex. UNC Chapel Hill

Early Decision: applying to an early deadline, but if the applicant is accepted, they are LOCKED-IN to the school, and must attend it. 

Ex. Duke University

Got it? Good. 

THE APPLICATION BEFORE THE APPLICATION

So you’ve picked your schools. But when you open up the Common App, there is a whole extra section to be completed before you even get to the application. All of these steps are crucial to your application, and without it, you probably won’t be able to turn it in.

NOTE: As of this year, Common App is merging with Major Clarity. You will need both of them to successfully complete an application. 

Before you finish your application, you should: 

  • Complete a RDS (Residency Determination Service) if you plan on attending in-state so that you qualify for in-state tuition. 
  • Add your counselors and teachers through Major Clarity.
  • Ask for recommendations from teachers, coaches, counselors, advisors, or anyone in your life that you believe can give an honest and informed opinion of you. Leave your recommenders with enough time to complete a letter of recommendation for you and remember that ultimately, they are doing you a favor. 
  • Under each college you are applying to in the Common App, add your recommenders and sign the FERPA. In the FERPA, you can choose to waive or not waive your right to read your recommendations. It is strongly recommended that you waive the right to see what recommenders write about you; this will lead to a more honest assessment of you. 
  • Start applying to scholarships. There are plenty of early deadlines. Ms. Weaver also suggests that you have a dual calendar so that you can plan scholarship and university deadlines. Applying to college and scholarships is a dual process!
  • Complete a FAFSA form if you plan on receiving any kind of financial aid, as soon as possible. Money is first come, first serve, and the FAFSA is open for free as of October 1st!
  • Talk to your parents. Most of the information you provide to a college will be about you, but it will need information about your immediate family, sometimes this can include your parents and siblings. 

ACTIVITIES AND EXTRACURRICULARS

It’s time to talk about yourself! A common issue that many first time applicants face is listing their activities and credentials. Universities love to see initiative and active involvement in the community, and if your GPA or standardized test scores are not where you want them to be at the time of your application, your activities, recommendations, and personal essay can still be considered and/or be the reason that a school accepts you. 

Consider: 

  • What clubs were you involved in? How long have you been involved in them? Did you have a leadership position at any point? 
  • Did you have a job(s)? How did they affect your work ethic? 
  • Are you in an Honor Society? Which one(s) and why do they matter to you? 
  • Did you play a sport? How long? What position? Did you win any awards or receive any recognition? 
  • Have you taken Honors, AP, or Dual Enrollment classes? Which ones? What were your AP Exam Scores? Check the Collegeboard website… you may qualify as an AP Scholar!
  • What was your SAT score? ACT? Do you wish to include this information to colleges? Remember that many are going test-optional. 
  • Did your school ever offer you any awards? 
  • What hobbies do you have outside of school? How long have you stuck with them and what impact have they had on you?
  • Have you done any volunteer work? Worked for a non-profit, or maybe even organized one yourself? How many hours have you done? 
  • What are your talents? How have you used them to better yourself and others? 


All of those count as activities that any college would love to see. Don’t sell yourself short! 

HOW TO ACE THE ESSAY

The application is nearly finished, but your school requires you to write an essay. Check the Common App for each school’s individual prompts. Some of them will leave the topic open to you, and there is a lot that admissions offices will be looking for in your essay. 

The topic can usually be anything, but make sure it is UNIQUE TO YOU. 

DO:

  • Seek feedback from teachers, peers, or your parents. 
  • Make sure you have fully addressed the prompt. 
  • Write something that is personal and unique to you. Your individuality will be appreciated!

DON’T: 

  • Don’t make it a pity party. If you write about a challenge, setback, or failure, focus on how it helped you grow and be better as a person.
  • Don’t copy other essays. Even if you’ve done the prompt before. Always seek to improve!
  • Don’t restate your academic resume, or the activities section! They already have that information! Talk about something they haven’t heard from you yet. 

The college application process can seem overwhelming, but every year, thousands of students are accepted to a university of their dreams. You could easily be the next. Prioritize your time, start getting your resume together, and think about what makes you, you. That will get any admissions officer in your corner.

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