College Application Breakdown

What documents do you need to apply to college? College applications ask for the usual basic information about you such as name, gender, age, mailing and permanent address, phone, email, ethnicity, citizenship, high school, secondary school or college, list of extracurricular activities and academic interest area. This, however, is merely the beginning. We’ll list all the items that colleges will want from you in the application process. Some of them you will personally send to the college, and your high school will supply the college with others. From all of these various elements, the college will get a good, well-rounded picture of who you are as a student and as a human being.

Basic Information

As listed above, the college wants to know your name, address, phone and email, gender, ethnicity and citizenship and your academic schooling so far. It also asks for your academic interest and extracurricular activities to get a glimmer of who you are and what you’ll be studying at college.

Application Fee

Many colleges and universities are now charging a higher fee for a printed application than for an online application. For example, the college’s print application could be $70, and the online application $35. If you’re applying to eight to ten colleges, these costs could add up quickly. Many colleges are now using the Common Application, which we’ll discuss in detail in another article. Briefly, the Common Application is a standard application form that a student fills out, which can then be used for many different colleges. You don’t have to fill out a separate application for each college, which means a lot less work on the student’s part. Each college accepting the Common Application may also ask for a supplemental application, which pertains to that particular college only. You will still have to pay the college’s application fee, which is usually $35 to $50. If you can’t afford the application fee, talk to your guidance counselor or principal. Some colleges will waive the fee in case of need.

High School Transcript

A college wants to see how you’ve done academically, and the record of your high school classes and grades is found in your high school transcript. It lists your class schedule for each year as well as your grades. The college can see if you’ve taken challenging courses like advanced placement or international baccalaureate or honors. Your transcript will show if you’ve improved your grades or if you backslid. They’ll see if you took English, science, math and social sciences every year. The high school transcript is a snapshot of your academic career. Your high school will send this to the college along with the high school’s profile. At the end of your senior year, the high school will send a final transcript with your senior classes and grades to the college.

Admission Test Scores

Unless you’re applying to one of the 800+ colleges that don’t require admission test scores, you’ll be taking the SAT, the ACT or both. The testing organization will send your scores to the colleges you’re applying to. Go to College Board for further SAT information and to ACT for further ACT test information. Most colleges will take only your highest scores into consideration for admission.

The Dreaded College Essay

For some reason, many students dread even the thought of writing the college application essay. It is an opportunity for you to showcase your strengths, aspirations, talents and writing ability. Instead of stressing out, just remember that the college essay is only one part of your application. Yes, you need to do the best job you can. Don’t fall for the temptation to use a college essay writing service, since the admissions folks can usually tell those right off the bat. Write about you in your own words and do your best to make it shine. The essay length is usually about 500 words. Practice writing 500 words about various subjects you like, skiing, dancing or raising prize orchids. If you can write some of these practice essays before you being to work on the one for your college, you’ll be a giant step ahead.

Recommendation Letters

Colleges want to see what the adults around you think of you, so they want recommendation letters, usually two or three. They’ll want to see them from your teachers, guidance counselor or coaches, perhaps from your pastor or the volunteer coordinator at the food bank where you worked. When you ask for a recommendation letter, be sure and give the person a list of your achievements at school, at work, on volunteer projects or athletics. Give them any information you think they might need to write a good letter of recommendation for you.

Auditions and Portfolios

If you’re a musician, you might have a CD of a musical performance. If you’re an actor, you might send a DVD of a performance. If you’re a published poet or writer, published clips of your work could be included in a portfolio. If you have a special talent, draw the college’s attention to it with an example of your work. Budding architects could send pictures of that classic Victorian garden shed they built last year for the neighbor. You get the idea. Showcase your special talent and send it along.


While many colleges require a formal interview, some do not. Even so, it is a good idea to ask for an interview with an admissions counselor, or if you can’t visit the college before applying, with an alumnus of the college who is trained to do interviews. This is a strong indicator of your interest in the college, which counts when it comes to the admission decision.

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