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Once you've narrowed your list of possible colleges down to a few schools, it's time for the application. The colleges fall into one of the three admission categories:
  • Selective admission, with firm applications deadlines, generally these fall in January.
  • Rolling admission, where there is no firm application deadline, and applicants are accepted or rejected until the freshman classes are full.
  • Open admission, used by many two-year colleges, where there is no admission deadline and the colleges accept anyone with a high college diploma until classes begin.
Generally speaking, you probably should start preparing your applications in November and December, and submitting them by the end of January. Check with the college of your choice to find out their recommended application date.

If you would like to apply online, check the following sites:

Before preparing for your college application, get your high school transcript ready, which contains much of the information that admissions counselors are evaluating. They're looking at: 1) your high school grades, 2) the variety of courses you've taken, and 3) the difficulty level of your classes. They also need your SAT or ACT Scores, completed Application Form, and Recommendations.

Many colleges also require several SAT II: Subject Tests (formerly known as Achievement Tests). These tests are frequently used for college-level placement rather than admissions purposes. In most cases, you'll be required to take three different Subject Tests of your choosing, although the Writing test (the English test, which now has a 20-minute essay) is often mandatory. Since the SAT II tests content covered in high school classes, be sure that you select the most appropriate tests and take them as soon after finishing the related course as possible.

Some colleges require your personal statement, otherwise known as the essay. If you feel like your GPA and SAT or ACT score don't tell the whole story? That's what your essay is for. This is your chance to show the real you. Be yourself, but "yourself" with good grammar and perfect spelling.

Some colleges offer Early Action and/or Early Decision plans, which enable you to apply to your first-choice colleges early and receive early notification of your acceptance or rejection often as early as December. These plans have benefits for both you and the schools, but they also have drawbacks. Before you decide to participate in the planes, carefully read the college's published guidelines for the program.

Participate in the Early Decision plans if:

  • You've found a college that excites you far more than the others you've visited and researched, and you fit its application profile.
  • You don't need to negotiate the highest possible financial aid package. Money is not a big issue for you.
  • Your academic record is impeccable. You can't imagine that your grades will improve in the first semester of senior year. You've also taken all of your college entrance testing and the results seem to be in line with what this perfect college expects.

Don't participate in the Early Decision plans if:

  • You have some hesitation about attending the college, and you are wondering whether you need more time to think this through.
  • You're unsure about what you'll be able to pay for college and you need to shop around, since you know that you'll have to apply for financial aid.
  • You need as much time as possible to boost your academic performance.

If you like doing your research through the Internet, here's a quick way to find most colleges' Web site. In your browser type http://www.college.edu, where college is the college's name or initials. For example, type http://www.cornell.edu and you will enter Cornell University's Web site.