Applying to college involves many steps: self-assessment, research, writing essays, asking for letters of recommendation, and paying fees. Make sure you have a system for keeping track of requirements and deadlines and always follow up immediately if a school contacts you.
How do I find the right college for me?
For a college to be a good fit for you, it should match your interests, skills, and needs. Sometimes we hear that a college is a great or prestigious school, but the question to ask is, “Would it be great for me?” Finding colleges that would be a good fit requires three basic steps:
- First, assess yourself. Ask yourself some specific questions that will help you clarify what you are looking for in a college. For example, you might ask yourself whether you want to attend a small or large college, what kind of majors you want your college to offer, or how far away from home you are willing to go.
- Second, do research to find schools that meet these criteria. When researching colleges, you should look broadly at first, find lots of colleges that fit your wants and needs, and then narrow down your list. (See FAQ on college research below.)
- Third, create a balanced list of schools to apply to. Narrow down your research to a list of approximately 8-15 schools that best fit what you are looking for. It is important that your final list include affordable options and be divided into different levels of difficulty. For example, your list may include a “reach”, “target”, and “safety” category. Review your list with a college adviser.
When should I get started on my applications?
The best time to start working on your applications is right after they are released, about a year prior to when you plan to enroll. For example, for students starting college in fall 2013, colleges released their applications on August 1, 2012. Check with the schools on your final college list to find out their deadlines – all of your applications must be in by their deadlines! If you are in high school, it is likely your school may have some internal deadlines as well. Starting a year ahead of time is ideal, but if you are getting a late start, it is possible to complete the process in much less time so long as you meet the deadlines.
How do I begin applying?
Find out what documents are required for an application to each college on your list. Generally, colleges require your application to include an official high school transcript or GED, SAT or ACT scores, an essay, and letters or recommendation. Create a folder for each college you are applying to. At the front of each folder, put a checklist of what you’ll need for the application and when it’s due.
How do I research colleges?
You should use a variety or resources including online college search sites. Consider factors like size, location, available academic programs/majors, costs, and campus life. Spend time researching different colleges to get a sense of which ones might be right for you. There are also helpful books like the College Admissions Data Sourcebook, College Board’s Book of Majors, or The Insider’s Guide to Colleges. Other valuable ways of learning about colleges are to attend college fairs and visit college campuses. Reach out to students attending schools that interest you through mutual friends, campus visits or the NYC College Line forums.
How do I find college fairs?
Many high schools host college fairs where representatives from different colleges are available to answer your questions. Ask your school’s colleges office if they will be hosting a college fair. Colleges will have fairs at designated sites that are open to students from any high school. Call college admissions offices to find out about upcoming college fairs. A national college fair is held each year at the Jacob Javits Convention Center.
How do I visit colleges?
Call the admissions office at a college you are interested in visiting to find out when they host campus tours or open house days. You can also check with nearby community based college access organizations to see if they are hosting college trips.
What are the NYS Opportunity Programs?
The New York State (NYS) Opportunity Programs were designed to increase college access and success for students who have been educationally and economically disadvantaged. Opportunity Programs allow students to be admitted to colleges that they would not normally be admissible to because their grades and/or test scores are a little too low. Once in college, Opportunity Programs provide substantial support including pre-freshman summer programs, tutoring, advising and additional financial aid.
What are the differences between SEEK, CD, EOP, and HEOP?
SEEK, CD, EOP, and HEOP are all names of different NYS Opportunity Programs. SEEK and CD are for CUNY students. SEEK (Search for Elevation, Education and Knowledge) exists at CUNY four year institutions, CD (College Discovery) at CUNY two year schools. EOP, the Educational Opportunity Program, exists at SUNY schools. HEOP, the Higher Educational Opportunity Program, exists at certain NYS private schools.
Does participating in the NYS Opportunity Programs mean I’m going to school for free?
No. While many Opportunity Programs do offer financial aid to students, it is not a requirement of the program. Opportunity Programs are admissions programs – not financial aid programs.
How many colleges should I apply to?
There is no exact number of colleges a person should apply to. 8 – 15 schools is the common range. Make sure the list is “balanced”, meaning it includes schools that would be difficult for you to get in to, schools where you are very likely to get in, and those in between. They should all be colleges you’d be happy to attend. Most should feel like good, realistic matches.
What is the difference between ED/EA?
ED and EA are early deadlines that allow a student to also receive an early admissions decision. ED or Early Decision is a binding contract, meaning that you commit to attend the school. EA or Early Action is non-binding. You do not have to tell the school you plan to attend until the May 1st deadline.
Should I apply Early Decision?
ED or Early Decision is only for students who have found that dream school, and should not be used just as an admissions strategy. If you apply ED, you will not have the opportunity to take advantage of NYS Opportunity Programs and you will not be able to compare and contrast different financial aid packages. You might be missing out on much better financial aid offers.
What is the Common Application?
The Common Application is an online application used by 488 colleges around the country. Once completed online or in print, you may send it to any number of participating colleges. Be aware that you may need to submit additional or separate documents to some colleges. You also still need to pay individual application fees for each college.
- How much does it cost to apply to college?
How do I get fee waivers to pay for my application?
Fee waivers are available for those who meet the income guidelines. Talk to your school counselor or get help from a college access program to learn what steps you have to take to receive fee waivers to pay for your applications. Certain fee waivers are given to counselors in limited numbers, so you’ll want to make sure you ask for them early in the fall before you plan to enroll.
What are the parts of the application?
Different colleges will ask for different parts of the application – but in general, this is what applicants will be asked to submit:
Who should I ask for recommendations?
First look at how many recommendations you are required to submit in your applications. Most schools require a recommendation from your counselor, and then recommendations from two teachers. In choosing the teachers, choose teachers who:
- Speak to your positive qualities
- Had you later in your high school career. Colleges don’t often want to read a rec from your freshman English teacher, because it doesn’t usually give an accurate picture of where you are now as a student.
- Pick teachers from different subjects. Ideally, you would get a rec from someone in the humanities and someone in the math/sciences.
- While you can get additional recommendations from outside involvements (maybe your coach or your boss), make sure you meet the school’s required recommendations with academic teachers.
How do I apply for CUNY?
First, determine to which CUNY schools you plan to apply. Then:
- Go to http://www.cuny.edu/admissions/apply.html
- Register as an applicant with CUNY
- Continue on to submit your application online
- After you submit, you will be prompted to pay the $65 application fee; you can choose to pay via credit card, fee waiver (if eligible) or money order
- If you currently are a NYC public school student, your transcript will be automatically sent to CUNY. If you attend any other school, you will be asked to submit a transcript. Your application summary package will provide more information on where/crihow to send in your transcript
- If you applied to any four year institutions, you will be required to send your SAT scores. You can send them through College Board (College Board code 2950 to send them one score report to all schools), or have your school counselor send in a copy of your score report.
- While recommendations and an essay are not required, if you submit them, CUNY will evaluate them with the rest of your file. That can be mailed to the UAPC, with the “additional materials” page of your application summary package.
How do I apply for SUNY?
First, determine to which SUNY schools you are applying. Then:
- Go to https://www.suny.edu/applysuny/
- Create an account with SUNY
- Continue on to submit your application online
- After you submit, you will be prompted to pay $50 for each school you apply to; you can choose to pay via credit card, fee waiver (if eligible) or money order
- You can choose to submit your grades via SOAR (https://www.suny.edu/student/app_suny_soar.cfm) or have your school counselor submit your transcript
- Four-year institutions will require an additional supplement which can be filled out at https://www.suny.edu/applysuny/; it will include an essay, and provide further information about sending of recommendations
- Four-year institutions will require you send an official score report of your SATs from College Board. Each SUNY must receive a separate score report
How do I apply with the Common App?
First, determine which among the colleges you’re applying to accept the Common Application. Then:
- Go to https://www.commonapp.org/Application/RegisterApplicant.aspx to register
- Continue on to submit your application online
- You will be prompted to submit each individual school’s fee; you can choose to pay via credit card, fee waiver (if eligible), or money order
- Certain schools may require additional supplements to be filled out
- Your counselor must send in your transcript and recommendations to each individual school. The counselor can decide to send this information electronically or via mail.
- Your teacher(s) must send in your recommendation to each individual school. The teacher can decide to send this electronically or via mail.
Should I even bother applying to colleges I don’t think I can afford?
Absolutely. Remember that after financial aid packages are determined, most students will pay far less than the "sticker price" listed on the college website. You don’t know if you can afford a college until after you apply and find out how much aid that college will offer you (if you’re accepted). Fill out the FAFSA as early as possible after January 1 to qualify for the most aid. Even if the aid package the college offers is not enough, you have options. Many colleges are willing to work with students they have chosen for admission to ensure that those students can afford to attend.
To help determine what kind of financial aid a school might be able to offer you, utilize the school’s Net Price Calculator.
Should I use an online or a paper application?
Check with the college to see which is preferred. Most colleges prefer online applications because they are easier to review and process — some even offer a discount in the application fee if you apply online. Applying online can also be more convenient for you — it’s easier to enter information and correct mistakes. Whichever method you choose, be sure to tell your school counselor where you have applied so your school transcript can be sent to the right colleges.
Is it OK to use the same material on different applications?
Definitely. There’s no need to write a brand-new essay or personal statement for each application. Just make sure that you read the question or essay prompt carefully to confirm what you have written responds to it. Also, look out for any mentions you might have made to a specific college.
Should I apply to colleges if my admission-test scores or grades are below their published ranges?
Yes, so long as you balance these “stretch” schools with others where you fit in or exceed the range. The admission scores and grades that colleges show on their websites are averages or ranges — not cutoffs. There are students at every college who scored lower (and higher) than the numbers shown. Remember that colleges consider many factors to get a more complete picture of you. For example, they look at the types of classes you take, your activities, recommendation letters, your essay and your overall character. Colleges are looking for all kinds of students with different talents, abilities and backgrounds. Admission test scores and grades are just two parts of that complete picture.
I have been accepted to three colleges, and they have sent me financial aid letters; but, it’s hard to tell which one will give me the best deal.
Before committing to any college, make sure to analyze the financial aid package you’ve received so you are clear on exactly how much money you will be responsible for during that academic year. Make sure you know the answers to the following questions: How much will I have to take out in loans? How much will I have to pay up front? And, will I have work-study funds to support me?
Use the Comparison Sheet to help assess your package.
I got accepted to a few colleges. I am excited, but I can’t decide. Help.
Go back to your college research to identify which college that accepted you has the most features that matter to you. Look especially closely at financial aid and take time to compare the packages. If possible, visit the campuses you are considering. If the college is in NYC, spend a few hours on the campus to get a feel for what it would be like to be a student there. Many colleges also offer free bus trips and open houses. Call the admissions office at each school to find out more.
Can I lose my spot if I have already been accepted?
Yes, when a college accepts you, the admissions office gives a deadline by which to tell them if you are going to attend. Take note of the deadline. If you are late, you could lose your place. The college will send you instructions about what to include with your decision letter. Pay close attention.
What deposits will I have to pay? Can I use financial aid to pay them?
Many colleges require that you pay a deposit (between $25 and $300) to hold your place. This usually called the “admissions deposit”. If you plan to live on campus, you will probably have to pay a housing deposit as well to hold your room. Deposits are usually non-refundable, but will be subtracted from your bill when you enroll. Deposits are due before your financial aid will be released, so you will have to save up or get help to pay them up front.
My friend had to take some placement tests. How do I know if I have to take a test?
Check with your college to find out about specific testing requirements. If you are entering a CUNY school, you must take the CUNY Assessment Tests in reading, writing, and mathematics (unless you demonstrated that you meet the University's skills proficiency requirements based on SAT, ACT, or NY State Regents test scores). If any of your scores on the CUNY Assessment Tests are below the minimum level set by CUNY, you will need to take non-credit basic skills (remedial) classes in that area. It is strongly recommended you prepare for the placement tests before you take them. Some practice questions and other information can be seen here.
I haven’t heard back from the college I decided to attend. Classes start in a month. What should I do?
There are steps that you have to take before enrolling in school, like taking placement tests and turning in your immunization records. If you haven’t heard from the college since you accepted their offer, you should call and email the admissions office. Confirm that you will be enrolling in the fall and ask them to re-send information about the steps you need to take before then.
Do I have to attend orientation?
Yes, attend orientation. This is often mandatory, and allows you to get to know your campus and register for classes.
I have a learning disability, is there anything different I should do?
If you had an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) in high school, or you know that you have a learning disability, check with the Office of Disability Services at your campus to find out what type of paperwork you need to provide to ensure that you get the support you need.