The application process can be long and involved — that’s the bad news. The good news is that hey, if I can learn it, you can too! My daughter Kate was accepted at all five private Catholic colleges to which she applied and won some merit scholarships. Here’s a handy checklist to scare you — I mean, show you how it’s done:
• Take standard college-prep courses.
Take as many Advanced Placement classes as you can and note them on your transcript or application. Colleges offer better financial aid.
In general, these include at least three years of math, social studies and science plus labs, and four years of English. In addition, many schools require two years of a foreign language, plus arts and humanities courses.
Check CollegeBoard.com for information on the admissions requirements of particular schools.
• Prepare, prepare, prepare for the SAT. Many schools have base scores, which means they won’t consider an applicant whose scores are lower. Kaplan offers effective, but expensive, personal tutoring. We purchased Kaplan’s inexpensive online course and were satisfied. Your community college may offer tutoring, as well. Kate took the PSAT twice, beginning in her sophomore year, for practice. (Note: the PSAT may qualify you for a National Merit Scholarship.) Then she spent junior year writing practice essays to prepare for that section of the new SAT. Then, beginning in her junior year, she took the SAT twice.
• Do community service, get a part-time job, and/or participate in extracurriculars. Colleges want active, lively, engaged students.
• Get transcripts. If homeschooling, it may be helpful to enroll in a diploma program with official transcripts.
• Start looking! Start prior to senior year. Pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance in selecting schools that will form your character, as well as teach life skills.
• Visit. It will reveal much more than reading a glossy brochure. Sit in on classes. Talk to students and teachers. If you plan to live on campus, stay overnight in the dorm.
• Mark dates. Once you know where you wish to apply, get a calendar and mark all deadlines (application, scholarship, deposit, etc.) to keep from missing any.
It’s Time to Apply
• Pray for success.
• Avoid “early decision.” Unless you have your heart set on only one school, don’t do “early decision.” This is different from early application. With early decision, you are locked in once accepted.
• Apply early. Do apply as soon as regular application allows. Many schools waive the fee if you apply online.
• Entrance essay. The essay part is really important. Take out library books on winning college entrance essays and imitate them. Write and rewrite. Don’t settle for good enough. Make sure it’s the best you can do.
• Get letters. If letters of recommendation are required from teachers, tutors, employers, clergy or parents, ask for these at least one month in advance. Provide them with stamped envelopes and the name and address of the admissions department. Include a SASE if you want a copy. Ask them to notify you once their letter has been sent. Send a note of thanks afterwards.
• Call admissions offices within a week or two to make sure all forms were received.
• Keep a file for each school you’ve applied to so that when all facts are in, you can compare them side by side.
After You Apply
• If accepted, send thank you notes to the colleges for being willing to invest in you. Tell them you will notify them of a decision soon.
• Get aid. Even though financial aid packages are sent after acceptance, it is necessary to begin the process before. You can fill out a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) online for free and have the results sent to various schools at once.
Warning: This entails getting taxes done way early. You may also send your FAFSA via post, but it will take longer to process.
• Apply for school scholarships and private scholarships. A good web resource is FastWeb.com, where you can fill out a questionnaire and all the relevant scholarships come up. Be aware that private scholarships may reduce your school’s financial aid award.
• Follow up with the necessary financial aid paperwork the school may send.
• Take out loans, if applicable. The financial aid department will be able to assist you.
• Medical. Have a physical. Update vaccinations.
• Deposits. Send in your enrollment or housing deposit.
• Study. Don’t get senioritis and let your grades slip! You still have to send in a final transcript.
• Go on retreat. Thank God for your gifts, and ask him to help you serve him in your college career so that you can be the person he wants you to be!
— Susie Lloyd
This article appears in the September-October issue of Faith & Family magazine.