How Do Most College Admissions Processes Work?

Each college across the nation has its own specific admission process, but most share common elements. For most college admissions processes, you will need to take standardized tests, write an application essay, and send the college an application, transcripts and references.

College Admissions Process Overview

College admissions boards look into several factors before admitting prospective students into their institutions. Outlined below are some of the most important factors that admissions councils consider.

Important Facts About College Admissions

Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent; applicable paperwork and examinations; program specific requirements may apply
Degree Options Associate's and bachelor's degree programs open to undergraduates
Online Availability Full college programs available
Admissions Assistance Personal tutoring and assistance organizations; study guides for entrance exams

Standardized Tests

Preparation for college admission should begin during the high school years, when the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholar Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) is given, typically in the tenth grade. The SAT and ACT are taken during the junior or senior year. SAT and ACT scores allow college admissions officers to assess your potential performance in college, according to the College Board, which runs the SAT. The College Board and ACT Inc., which runs the ACT, report scores directly to the colleges that you designate. Students may also take Advanced Placement (AP) tests in subject areas.

The Admissions Application

College applications usually request general demographic information and information about your educational background. You may also be asked to give details about your activities, interests and any honors or awards received. Most college admissions applications require recommendation letters and an official transcript from each high school you have attended. The U.S. Department of Education reports that exact admissions application requirements for particular programs can vary, even at the same school.

Application Essays

Many colleges require you to write a personal statement or essay for admission, like the University of North Carolina. The essay shows the college that you're a good candidate for admission, and it allows you to highlight information about personal interests and activities that might not be covered on other parts of the application.

Application Submission

Colleges often accept applications for regular admission between December and February for the upcoming fall semester. According to The Princeton Review, some schools have a rolling admission policy, which means the institution doesn't have a specific cut-off date for accepting applications. Students applying to schools with rolling admission are encouraged to apply by an established priority date to have the best chance of both being admitted before their class is full and getting financial aid.

Early Decision versus Early Action Admission

The difference between early decision and early action is important. Both plans allow you to apply for a college in November. An early decision application is binding, while an early action application is not. By applying for early decision, you agree to attend that college if the application is approved. You can only apply for early decision at one college, but you may apply to other colleges using the normal admission process, according to the College Board. When you apply for early action, you can apply to other colleges, and you have the option to wait until late spring to confirm your choice.

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