Three Things You Need to Know about College Admissions

It’s only August, but the time is ripe for high school seniors to create a list of schools to which they want to apply and begin working on their college applications. For those of you who aren’t seniors, there are still plenty of things on your to-do list. Juniors should take the PSAT, decide between the SAT and ACT, and begin their college searches. Sophomores and freshmen should focus on becoming competitive future applicants by taking challenging classes (and doing well in them) and maintaining extracurricular involvement. For those of you who are getting ready to apply to college, there are a few things you need to know.

1. There is a new application that serves multiple colleges: the Coalition Application.

When it's the time of year to begin applying for college admissions, students may find that they are required to use the Coalition Application.

Bronson Chang /

The Common Application has been around for a long time, and the Universal College Application has been used since 2007. Starting now, the Coalition Application is also throwing its name into the “application platforms that serve multiple schools at once” hat. The Coalition Application is offered as an alternative to the Common Application and the Universal Application. (It should be noted, however, that some schools allow students to choose between multiple application platforms while others offer none at all and require students to apply through the school itself.) This list shows which schools will accept the Coalition Application this year.

The Coalition Application isn’t just an application platform, but also an online storage facility for videos, art or photography portfolios, copies of awards you’ve earned throughout high school, and essays or assignments you’ve completed. You can save copies of your application essays and share them with a mentor of your choosing, who can then give you feedback. You can choose to share any of your saved files with the schools to which you are applying if you think it’ll give your application a boost. Not only does the application allow students to showcase their creativity and what sets them apart from other applicants, but schools that use the Coalition Application are committed to making college affordable. They have agreed to either meet the entirety of a student’s demonstrated financial need or maintain low tuition rates.

2. Starting this year, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will be made available on October 1.

It’s not anybody’s favorite part about preparing for college, but it is something that you’ll need to do: Apply for federal financial aid by filing the FAFSA. In past years, the FAFSA has been released on January 1 for the upcoming fall semester. This year and in the future, it will be made available on October 1 for the next year. If you plan on attending college in August 2017, you can begin your financial aid quest this October. This doesn’t just go for incoming freshmen either, but any student who will be attending college in 2017/18.

The FAFSA requires that you input information about your (and your family’s) financial situation, taxes, the number of siblings you have, your income, and your household assets. It will then do calculations to determine how much federal financial aid you are eligible for in the form of grants (free money), loans (money you have to repay), and work-study (money you have to earn). Schools may also require you to fill out the CSS Profile (also available October 1) in order to qualify for school-based aid. Not taking the time to fill out these forms may leave you with a much higher bill when it comes time to pay tuition.

3. There’s more than one way to apply for college, and there’s more than one deadline.

You can choose to apply Early Action (EA), Early Decision (ED), single-choice early action, or regular decision. Most common is regular decision (applications are typically due between December 1 and February 1).

Students who know that they want to attend a specific college and don’t want to play the field, per se, may choose to apply early (applications are usually due either November 1 or November 15). There are several ways to apply early, so check with your institution to confirm which types of admissions it offers and learn the differences between them.

A boy listening to headphones works on his laptop

Dusan Petkovic /

Early action and early decision differ slightly. Students may choose to apply early action to any number of colleges, and even if they receive an offer of admission, they are not obligated to attend. Thus, applying EA is low-risk. Students who apply early decision, however, can apply to only one school. If they receive an offer of admission, they are legally obligated to attend that school. Single-choice early action is a combination: Students may apply early to only one school, but they are not obligated to attend.

Even if you apply early, you should plan on submitting applications to other schools by their regular decision deadlines just in case you don’t receive an offer of admission from your preferred school.

There are also schools with rolling admissions, meaning that there is no set deadline to submit your application. As applications are submitted, students will either be given or denied an offer of admission. However, it is within your best interest to apply early, as the longer the application window is open, the fewer spots will remain. It is good to know, though, that you still have the option to apply to some colleges if all of your early and regular applications were denied. Or you could take a gap year!

You have a lot on your plate during senior year, but trust me, you can handle it! You don’t have to apply to 23 different schools (and you probably don’t really want to). Pick a couple of reach and match schools, and apply to at least one safety school, and you’ll probably be good to go. Keep track of what you need to do by printing off an Application Checklist for each school and then dive right in. The earlier you get your applications done, the earlier you can enjoy the rest of your senior year!

About Megan Clendenon

Megan C. is obsessed with Cincinnati-style chili, Louisville basketball, and Scandinavian crime fiction. She has lived in six different states and held 12 different jobs since beginning her undergraduate degree at Carleton College in 2008. The wanderlust abated somewhat in recent years, as Megan settled in Texas from 2013 to 2016 to finish a master’s degree in geosciences, write a thesis on the future horrors that stem from climate change, and get married. During her free time, you will find Megan sitting on the couch, cheering for her Louisville Cardinals, planning future adventures abroad, and snuggling with her dog, Tiger. She currently lives outside of Washington D.C.

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