The Four Pieces to a Complete College Application

checklistWith one month to go before the November 1st application deadlines that many students are trying to meet, it’s time to review the parts necessary to make an application complete.  For a student’s application to be reviewed, the following items need to arrive at the colleges by or BEFORE the deadline:

1-An Admission Application

2-Financial Aid Applications

3-Official Test Scores

4-School Report/Transcript (and possibly Letters of Recommendation)

1-Students are responsible for submitting a complete (and thoroughly checked) application that may or may not require supplemental essays. This is the most important piece of the application for students to get in on time! Sometimes colleges will give students a short grace period for test scores and recommendations to come in, but not always…so don’t count on it. But they will never accept a late application.

Well before the application deadline, it is wise for students to spend time reviewing every question they are asked to answer on an application, as well as carefully read the “Application Requirements” page on the college’s website. Each college has different preferences and requirements; it’s the student’s job to understand and follow these directions.

If supplemental essays are required, these should not be answered directly in the application, but first researched, reflected on, and drafted in a Word or Google document, then edited and reworked several times. Colleges know they are “a top-ranked institution” and are in sunny California or bustling New York City. Students need to go beyond generic answers and show how the programs and qualities of the college will help them achieve their goals.

Students will also be asked to answer, “What are your first and second choice majors at X College?” Many colleges carefully consider how prepared a student is for their intended major (i.e. if a student selects “Business,” colleges will be looking at the student’s math courses and scores on the SAT or ACT). Students should spend time researching if they will be evaluated based on their major choice, and make sure there are schools on their list that will admit them into their desired program.

Have someone double-check your application. It is easy to miss something when you are anxious about getting a college application turned in; a second set of (calm) eyes can be very helpful!

2-Financial Aid Applications (FAFSA and CSS Profile) for students entering college in the fall of 2021 just opened today (10/1/2020). Every college sets its own financial aid application deadlines, which vary depending on what application method your student is choosing (Early Action, Early Decision, Regular Decision, etc.) You can research college application deadlines and financial aid application deadlines, or simplify part of the process by getting all financial aid forms submitted during the month of October. This will ensure that you meet all financial aid application deadlines, but it requires that your student knows where they are applying.

To be considered for any financial aid (grants, loans, work-study) you need to file a FAFSA and have the results sent to each college on a student’s list. Some schools require an additional, more in-depth form called the CSS Profile. Check here to see the list of schools requiring the Profile, and read here for more information on how to file these forms. Make sure you select the 2020-21 Applications, as past applications will still be available.

Pay attention to how your student answers this question on their applications: “Do you intend to apply for Financial Aid?” If you answer “no,” your student’s file will not be sent to the financial aid office for review, and you are indicating you do not need financial aid of any kind (grants, loans, work-study, and sometimes scholarships). If you answer, “yes,” then you must submit the appropriate Financial Aid Applications (FAFSA and possibly the CSS Profile, if required by colleges) by the financial aid deadlines. Around 100 schools have large enough endowments to be “need-blind” when reading applications, meaning they do not consider a student’s financial situation when considering them for admission. The vast majority are need-aware, meaning they do consider a student’s financial need in the admissions process. But if you do need and want to be considered for aid, please answer “yes” and submit the correct paperwork.

3-Unless your student is applying test-optional to a school, an official test score(s) must be submitted with their application. Most schools require that families pay to send official reports directly from the testing agency (College Board sends the SAT, and ACT.org sends the ACT). However, more and more schools are allowing students to “self-report” their scores on the application, thereby saving students $12 per SAT report and $13 per ACT report. If students are admitted and plan to enroll in a college where they were admitted based on a self-reported score, an official score report will need to be sent before the student officially enrolls. Here is a list of schools allowing self-reporting, but it is always wise to check each college’s application requirements page for the most up-to-date information.

4-Information from your student’s school/counselor. This most often includes an official transcript, a school report/counselor recommendation, and teacher recommendations (if required or accepted by the college). What each college requires and allows (again) varies wildly, so it requires some research. The best resource is the College Admission Requirements page on the college’s website. The second best resource is the “My Colleges” tab on the Common App.Application Requirements on Common App

If you select one of your colleges from the “My Colleges” tab, you can see the list of transcripts, test scores, and recommendation requirements as well as application deadlines. It is also very important for students to understand the process at their high school for requesting transcripts, school reports, and letters of recommendations so that they will be sent by the counselor by the deadlines. This is super important, as some schools require a 3-week lead time for information to be sent on a student’s behalf! 

It is the student’s responsibility to make sure all of these items are not only requested on time, but it is their responsibility to make sure the college receives it on time. Once students submit their completed application, they will receive a confirmation and unique login “portal” to check their application status. Students should check this portal AND their email regularly to confirm that all materials (test score, recommendations, financial aid applications, transcript, etc.) have been attached to their files.