The College Admission Process, from Application to Acceptance

The college admissions process can be as complex and daunting as choosing the right school. If you’ve narrowed your search down and have your applications ready to go, then you are ready to begin! The process of applying to each college may vary from school to school, but many academic institutions or colleges have a few components that are the same.

While part of the admission process is completing the application itself, most schools will require:

  • Letters of recommendation. Some schools may require only one, while others schools may require several. This largely depends on how hard the school is to get into and the stature of the academic programs that are being offered. Some colleges may require none at all, but it is common to have at least one. The letters are important for the admission staff when choosing between multiple qualified applicants. The letters can come from anyone, such as teachers, counselors or community organizers that you have worked with. It’s important that you provide adequate time for each referral so he or she will have enough time to craft a well thought-out and positive review (we recommend 2-3 weeks). Typically, letters of recommendation will highlight details that will distinguish you from other applicants (this is mainly what the admission staff is looking for).
  • Essays are apart of almost all college applications in some form. How many are required will again vary from school to school. The topics will vary as well. Admissions is looking for who the student is in their own words, as well as the quality of the writing and how the student expresses their thoughts. The essay portion is your chance to let them know about you. The harder schools to get into may require more essays, each on a different topic or subject.
  • Outside activities and extracurricular activities are important as well. Schools want to see that you are well-rounded student and that you can sucessfully balance a work/life schedule. Students that have helped and worked in the community, or participated in sports or have a part or full-time job may be given more consideration. Although academics are important, admissions staff want you to paint a clear picture of what you will be able to contribute to their school if admitted.

Once you have completed all this information within the applications, you will need to make sure to send all documents (and associated fees) in by the required deadlines. Each school will have different deadline dates. The majority of colleges accept applications between December and February for the coming fall semester. It is important to know when the cut-off dates are and the applications are sent in on time.

There are some schools that do accept applications as early as the summer after your junior year. This is important to know since this could give you a jump start on applications and more time to complete them. Some colleges or universities also have a rolling admissions process. This means that they accept applications throughout the year and will notify you within a few weeks time of whether you have been accepted or rejected.

Keep in mind that schools which may be harder to get into will usually have two very strict cut-off dates when applications must be turned in. They look at them as early applicants and regular applicants. Early applicants will find out sooner and be notified if they are accepted, while regular students will find out a little later. These still fall between December and April of the coming school year.

Once your application is sent in, there is a sorting process that the schools go through. At this point the process is out of your hands. Admissions staff will be collecting and sorting through all the applications, creating separate student folders for each and putting them in some sort of order.

Again, how the schools handle the applications will vary, but once sorted and ordered there will be admission staff that will begin reading through the applications. The applications are looked at as a whole; the essay, grades, and any extracurricular activities. The harder schools to get into will have staff read the applications and then there will be a second round of admissions staff reading the applications. At this point, this is when your application is accepted or rejected.

After the admissions staff have been narrowed down to the applications to accept, they are handed over to undergraduate admissions for another review. Usually most schools will admit a student if the admissions staff has made the recommendation. However, the undergraduate admissions has the final say. They can determine wheather or not to admit you or possibly move you onto a selection committee.

After the admissions and undergraduate admissions staff have decided on the strongest students, they will look to the weakest pool of students, however not all schools may do this. Many times a school will look through all applications once again to make sure no other changes should be made. Once they are sure of their decisions, the acceptance and denial letters are sent. The process can take up to three months or more depending on the school and how hard it is to get into.

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