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Components of the College Application Process

Whenever I am working with families or giving a public talk on college admissions, one of the first things I show is this slide (which I created a few years ago) depicting the key components of the college application process. There's nothing revolutionary about it, but I think it does a good job of giving students and parents a quick snapshot of all the different aspects that will need to be addressed when working through college applications. I'm constantly reminding students to focus on the aspects of the process that they can actually control, and for the most part, it's the components you see here.

Goal Statement: You can certainly make up your own, but I'm a big believer in having a goal statement to help guide you through the process. Notice that nowhere on here do we state that the goal is to be accepted to amazing colleges. Whether or not a college chooses to accept us is outside of our control. Instead, the goal is to navigate the process in a way that allows us to submit applications that comprehensively, efficiently, and effectively address all the great things we've done and the growth we've experienced in high school - we can certainly control this (and the acceptances to amazing colleges will follow)!

Platforms: On the graphic you will notice reference to the Common App, Coalition App, and School Specific platforms that we will use to actually apply to colleges. I will address these in a future post, but put simply, these are the tools we are going to use to push our applications to the colleges we are interested in attending.

Components: Across the middle of the screen you can see the seven key components of the admissions process, which I will briefly highlight below. These are the components we can control.

  • GPA: Your grade point average is really the foundation upon which your college application will be built. It is likely the first thing a college will consider, so keep it as high as possible throughout high school! Also, colleges want to see that you are taking challenging coursework, so make sure you are picking classes that are difficult. A strong Weighted GPA sometimes does a good job of showing the degree of challenge you are taking on.

  • SATs/ACTs: With the vast majority of colleges using test optional policies when it comes to standardized testing, there are always a lot of questions about the tests and how to handle the scores. I wrote a post earlier this year on this topic and you might find it helpful:

  • Extracurriculars/Activities: Colleges want students that will be engaged on campus. How do they assess whether or not you will be engaged? They look at your level of engagement with your school and community as a high school student. Remember, when it comes to extracurriculars, it's quality over quantity. Having a few extracurriculars that you've been deeply involved with is better than being part of lots of clubs but with little to no real impact on those clubs.

  • Demonstrating Interest: Colleges want to accept students that truly want to be members of that college's community. How do we show this interest? Think about the signals you send to a college with each action. Are you opening emails from the college? Are you reaching out to their admissions team? Are you taking part in optional interviews or college visits at your high schools? All of these things (and much more) tell the college something about how serious you are to enroll in their program!

  • Essays: The amount of essay writing in the college application process is significant. You will want to be tracking the essay requirements for each of the colleges on your list early so that you have time to write compelling essays.

  • Application Submission Deadlines: Most colleges offer more than one deadline for you to choose from. It's important that you know these deadlines and what each one means so that you can adequately set some goals for when you want to have your applications submitted.

  • Teacher Recommendations: What teachers can best speak to your strengths? These are the teachers we want to ask to write our recommendations.

On January 1st, 2022, I will be launching my first online course: Navigating the College Admissions Process. In the course, we will dig into these items in much greater detail. Plus we will cover A LOT of other aspects of the admissions process. You can see an overview of the course here:

Interested in this course? Send us an email and we will be sure you receive a link to purchase on January 1st!

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