How to Apply for College: Everything You Need to Know

04 MAY 2022

Applying to college isn’t as easy as it used to be, and it requires so many detailed steps! If you’re staring at your extensive to-do lists and wondering how you’ll manage all the tasks and deadlines, this blog is for you! Believe it or not, you can apply to college without allowing the overwhelming and scary part of the process to take over. We’ll walk you through the application process, providing the best advice and guidance on how to apply to college!


Why Apply to College?

If you ask college-bound high school students why they chose to apply to college, you will get countless responses. Applying to college is a personal choice, and you probably have a unique or maybe even a practical reason you’re choosing higher education. Here are some of the top reasons you might apply to college.

  • You need a degree for your dream job
  • You can’t wait to live out the “college experience”
  • You love learning but aren’t quite ready to choose a career path
  • You enjoy networking and making connections
  • Earning a higher income is important to you
  • You love the idea of  engaging in activities and clubs with a diverse campus community
  • College offers numerous internships and research opportunities

If any of these reasons to apply to college resonate with you, college might be your next step.


Crimson’s expert college counselors can answer your questions and help you choose a college and career path that’s perfect for you.

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How I Got In: What We Learned from Top College Admits from Harvard, MIT, Stanford & More

What You Need To Know About Applying to College

Here’s what you need to know if you want to apply to college.

  1. Plan Early. Choose 5-8 schools and determine which type of application they accept. Many universities use the Common Application or the Coalition Application, and some require you to apply directly to the school.
  2. Colleges value extracurricular activities. Choose activities related to your academic interests and aim for leadership positions in those activities.
  3. Good grades and SAT/ACT scores are still some of the most important parts of your application. Even if the school is test-optional, consider submitting your test scores, especially if you earned high scores. Aim for top grades and top scores.
  4. The personal essay is supposed to be personal. Universities want you to tell a compelling story and showcase your personality.
  5. Applying early has advantages. Applying early can increase your chance of acceptance to many top schools. However, you can only apply early to one university, and the decision is binding. Only apply early to a school you're 100% sure you want to attend.
  6. Carefully read the application requirements. They aren’t always the same for every university.
  7. It’s ok to be unsure of your major. You can apply to college and mark “undecided” on most applications.
  8. Don’t forget the application fee. It’s typically $75-$100.
  9. Acceptance isn’t conditional. If you’re accepted, you’re in!

Applying to college can be complicated, and some universities, like MIT and any of the University of California schools, do not use the Common Application. Others have unique requirements beyond the general application. Universities will go into detail about their requirements on their websites. Carefully read the entire application requirements before you get started.

How Sityana Got Into Yale with Crimson Access Opportunity!

Key Requirements for Applying to College

Ready to apply for college? Here’s what universities are looking for!

What US universities look for in your university application

Exceptional Academics

Most colleges and universities take a holistic approach when reviewing applications, but that doesn’t mean grades aren’t important. Grades are arguably the most crucial part of your college application, and your chances of getting into college are much higher if you have stellar grades. You will need to provide a copy of your high school transcript when you apply to college.

Outstanding Test Scores

The second most important part of your college application is your test scores. While many colleges are going test-optional, some still require an SAT or ACT score, because these scores give schools a better understanding of your academic abilities. Most schools look for students with scores in a specific range, so check with your top schools to learn if your scores fit into that range.

Diverse Extracurriculars

Extracurriculars demonstrate who you are outside of the classroom and provide an opportunity to showcase your leadership skills and community involvement. Universities are not looking for applicants who have participated in dozens of extracurriculars. Instead, it’s better to dig deep into a subject, dedicate significant time to it, and ideally use it to propel you into a world-changing career.

Thoughtful Essays

Your essays build upon your applications, giving admissions teams a holistic picture of who you are and how you might contribute to their university. They should include thoughtful and unique information that’s not already in your application.

Strong Letters of Recommendation

Recommendation letters help build your holistic application by allowing people in your life to give their personal and professional opinions about your academic performance, character and drive. If you want to receive favorable and convincing recommendations, establish strong relationships with teachers, key staff, and leaders of your extracurricular activities.

Supplemental Documents

  • Transcripts (including grade scale)
  • Personal statement
  • Reference letters

To learn more, download our free eBook, which provides a complete breakdown on building the perfect application to gain admission into top universities!

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How to Apply for Scholarships & Financial Aid

Scholarships for College

Scholarships are free money for school! The key to getting scholarships and financial aid in college is early research. Apply for as many scholarships as you can.

Scholarships opportunities are everywhere. You just have to look for them! Many scholarships are merit-based, while others could be related to anything. 

Start by visiting your school’s academic counselor. They can help you get started and direct you to possible scholarship opportunities. Search for scholarships online or at your local library. Here are some additional resources for finding scholarships:

Financial Aid for College

You must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form to request federal grants, work-study, and loans. For information about the form and deadlines, visit the Federal Student Aid page on the US Department of Education’s website.

Key Application Deadlines for College

Many students find the application process complicated. By breaking down the steps into manageable pieces, you will find the process much less daunting and more straightforward. Check out the infographic below for a complete US admission preparation timeline and important application deadlines.

US university application timeline and deadlines

Steps on How to Apply to College

Step 1: Research colleges

Start researching where you might like to go to college one year before you start applying to college. Check out each school’s acceptance rates, location, tuition, campus activities, etc.

Step 2: Make a list of your top colleges.

Make a list of target, reach, and safety schools. Pick schools in all the categories, so you will have more options when acceptance letters come out. Our college admissions calculator can help you find the right universities!

Step 3: Take college tours

Plan a tour (or virtual tour) of the schools on your list. Check out a list of college tours we offer!

Step 4: Start taking tests.

Take the SAT/ACT for the first time about nine months before applying to college.

Step 5: Ask for letters of recommendation.

Start approaching teachers for recommendations about six months before you apply for college.

Step 6: Write your essays

Start writing and refining your college essays, including the Common App essays and/or supplemental essays.

Step 7: Test again

If you’re not happy with your SAT/ACT scores, consider retaking the tests about four months before applying for college.

Step 8: Research financial aid and scholarships

About four months before you apply, research all your financial aid opportunities and any scholarships that will help you pay for college.

Step 9: Put your application together

You should have all the application pieces ready about one month before it’s due. Check and double check you have all the details before submitting your application.

Step 10: Apply for College!

Check your application one last time and press submit!


Interested in learning more about how Crimson can help you apply for college? Schedule a free 1:1 consultation with one of our academic advisors today. They would love to help you reach your university admission goals.

How do I Find a College that’s Right for me?

You’re the only person who can answer this question. Universities are as unique as the students who go there. If you know what you want to study, choose a university specializing in that study area. If you’re still unsure of what you want to learn, check out:

Think about your academic and personal preferences and goals. Are you interested in a liberal arts education, an Ivy League school, or maybe a school in the University of California system?

Talk with friends, family, and alumni about different schools. Consider visiting your favorite campuses or going on a virtual tour if you can. Crimson has a YouTube channel with videos about students getting into college, a day in the life of a student, and much more! Crimson counselors can also help you find the universities that best fit your interests and goals.

If you’re wondering if you have the right grades and test scores to get into your top universities, check out our college admissions calculator.

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How Crimson Pathfinder can help you with Applying to College

Introduction to Crimson Pathfinder

Applying to college takes time, planning, effort, and patience. It’s easy to overlook a step or miss a deadline.

Crimson recently released Pathfinder - a comprehensive in-app tool that not only helps you stay on track but helps you quantify the value of activities you do in preparation to apply to colleges and universities.

Contained within the Crimson app, Pathfinder is a master list of everything you can do during school to increase your chances of admission to top universities. Pathfinder includes over 280 goals, each with an assigned point value based on how much admissions officers will value that achievement.

Pathfinder ensures you stay on track between now and when you apply to college. It accurately predicts your admission results (based on your achievements) with unbelievable accuracy. Combined with guidance from your personalized strategist, you’ll become a master of your university applications!

Crimson Education’s academic advisors walk with you through each step of the process. They keep you on track, help you get ready for testing, provide essay reviews, and more! Best of all, Crimson students are 4x more likely to gain admission into their dream university! If you’re interested in applying to college or getting started with Pathfinder, contact a Crimson advisor today!

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What Makes Crimson Different

Start Your Journey To A Top College Today!

Crimson students are up to 7x more likely to gain admission into their dream university! Book a free consultation to learn more about how we can help you get there!