Get Ready for College Applications!

Gather your application materials: it’s time to submit essays, meet deadlines, and achieve your dreams of getting into college! While applying to college might seem like an intimidating process at first, breaking it down into a few simple steps can make the entire journey much more manageable. With a clear idea of your goals and the college application timeline, you’re sure to find success.

Types of College Applications

Perhaps the most challenging part of applying to colleges is deciding where to attend school. Once you’ve narrowed your list, it’s time to determine which application materials you’ll need. This depends on what application you are submitting:

  • The Common Application – Want to complete one single application and send it to multiple schools? The Common Application is the solution. Gather your transcripts, college application essay, test scores, letters of recommendations, and with the click of a button, you can instantly submit to many schools nationwide.
  • System Shared Applications – Some state college systems permit students to submit one application for any school in the system. The University of California and California State University follow this model, allowing students to apply for any school within their systems using a singular application.
  • Individual School Applications – Many universities and colleges still rely on their own specific college application requirements for prospective students. Don’t be put off if the school you’re interested in doesn’t offer admission via the Common Application. With a little extra work, you can submit your application with ease.

Information and Application Materials You’ll Need On Hand

Every school has its own individual college application requirements. Most, however, are pretty similar; beyond the application itself, expect to submit college entrance exam scores, high school transcripts, a college application essay, and letters of recommendation. Gathering these materials in advance can help set you up for success when it comes time to actually submit your application. Have these details and application materials handy:

  • Your Social Security number
  • Personal information: In the first portion of a college application, you’ll have to provide basic information about yourself, your high school, and your family.
  • A copy of your high school transcript
  • ACT/SAT score report: Note that while many scores are submitted automatically on your behalf, it’s still a good idea to have the information on hand
  • Extracurricular resume

The Importance of Transcripts

As mentioned above, your high school transcript is one of the most essential application materials you can submit. It’s a record of all the classes you took along with the grades you earned in each course. You can request transcripts from your high school, but they often take a few weeks to process. Get ahead of the game by talking over your college plans with your guidance counselor or academic advisor as soon as your senior year begins. They can let you know specific procedures for requesting transcripts and offer advice on how to submit to the college of your choice.

Choosing a Major

Choosing what to study in college can be a challenge, especially if you’re unsure of what career path you’d like to pursue. Before committing to a particular field, it’s important to consider the program costs, salary expectations, and employment rates in that line of work. Your interests, personal and professional goals should also factor into the equation. Most college application requirements don’t actually include a commitment to a particular major, so you have plenty of time to figure out what to study.

If you’re eager to make a decision, consider the following questions:

  • What do you hope to get out of the college experience? What are your priorities?
  • What interests you?
  • What are you good at?
  • What fields pay the highest?
  • How rigorous will a particular field of study be?
  • What does your mentor or academic advisor recommend?

College transitions can be challenging. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the options, but keep in mind that most schools don’t actually require you to declare a major until their junior year. As you gather application materials, be sure to ask about requirements for specific programs of study that you’re interested in pursuing – that way you won’t miss out on any important deadlines!

College Application Deadlines

While there’s no singular college application deadline for all schools, most universities expect applications between October and February. You can start preparing to apply as early as the summer before your senior year, though. Refer back to this timeline for guidance throughout the process:


  1. Double-check with your school counselor to make sure you’re on track to graduate and fulfill college application requirements.

  2. Continue to take every opportunity to get to know colleges. Attend local college fairs, talk with current college students, meet with college reps who visit your school, follow schools on social media, attend virtual tours and events, and visit campuses in person.

  3. Create a checklist and calendar to keep track of college application deadlines (UC, CSU, and Common App schools). Make note of the other materials, such as recommendations or college application essays, you’ll need to complete your applications.

  4. Start working on your college application essays (UC Personal Insight Questions and Personal Statement for the Common Application). Get feedback on your drafts.


  1. Financial Aid Applications (FAFSA and CA Dream Act) open on October 1st. Submit your application as soon as possible—don’t wait until the March 2nd deadline! In addition to determining your eligibility for federal funds, many colleges and states use the form when distributing grants, so don’t delay. Expect your Student Aid Report (SAR) a few days after you’ve submitted your Financial Aid Application. In order to complete your CA Dream Act application or your FAFSA, you’ll need your parents’ tax documents from 2020

  2. If you plan to apply for Early Decision or Early Action, some colleges will have deadlines as early as this month. Mark these dates!

  3. If you can’t afford the application fees that many colleges charge, ask your counselor to help you request a fee waiver.

  4. Finalize your college application essays.

  5. If your schools require letters of recommendation, ask for those now. 
    • Seek out recommenders (teachers, school counselors, coaches, employers) who know you well and can comment not just on your academic abilities but also your personal qualities and other types of achievements.
    • Provide recommenders with a Brag Sheet or a copy of your resume to help them cover all the bases.

  6. Research scholarships. 
    • Ask your counselor, your colleges, and local religious and civic groups about scholarship opportunities. 
    • Check out scholarship websites like
    • Remember, you should never pay for scholarship information.

NOVEMBER – January

  1. Finalize and send any early decision or early action applications due at this time.

  2. Submit your University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) applications by November 30th! No late applications will be accepted—ever! Have a parent, teacher, counselor, mentor, or femtor review your applications before you submit.

  3. Many popular and selective colleges will have application deadlines as early as Jan. 1. Others have deadlines later in January and February.

  4. Every college will require a copy of your transcript from your high school. Follow your school’s procedure for sending transcripts.

  5. In January, ask your counseling center or registrar to send first semester transcripts to schools where you applied. At the end of the school year, they will need to send final transcripts to the college you will attend. 

Before Submitting Your College Application

The college application process is a marathon, not a sprint. With the finish line in sight, it’s easy to lose sight of the minor details. As they say, the devil is often in the details, which is why it’s important to spend a few extra minutes going over college application requirements before submitting.

Check for any extra required essays, make sure you’ve shared your SAT/ACT/AP scores with the university, check on the status of your recommendation letters, and always be sure to proofread your entire application. A little extra effort now will pay off in spades!


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