College Application Requirements Breakdown

We are currently well into college application season, and hopefully your child has already made some good progress with their applications.

But if they haven’t, fear not! We have some advice on how to make sure they complete all of their college application requirements.

If you’ve ever looked at the college application requirements on a college website, you may be initially overwhelmed. Many colleges require a lot from your student. But no worries, I’m here to break down all of these requirements and give some advice on how to go about handling it all.

General College Application

For many schools, this is the Common App. As a general rule of thumb, many private, more selective institutions, use the Common App. Of course there are exceptions to every rule.

For example, Georgetown University does not use the Common App. Some public or state schools like the University of Massachuetts use the Common App, while others, like the University of California do not.

Of course, the best way to find out what a school’s requirements are is to go to their website and write down everything you’ll need to fill out.

In general, this application includes mainly personal information: name, birth date, address, family information, extracurriculars, and your grades and courseload.

There are some other parts to the Common App, but we’ll get to those later. In addition, the Common App includes the personal statement. This is the essay that you will submit to all of your schools.

Here are some tips from USA Today on writing the personal statement.

School Specific Supplements

Many schools also require their own supplement in addition to the general application. For Common App schools, you do this through the Common App site. For other schools, you’ll have to download their supplement application form.

Usually on these supplements you have to pick one of the colleges if the school has more than one (for example, Boston College has a nursing school, school of education, school of management, and arts & sciences).

Once you pick a school, sometimes you’ll have to pick what major you plan on pursuing (don’t worry, undecided is an option, too). Some schools just want to get an idea of what you’re interested in, but doesn’t make the major official if you choose to go to the school at the end of the whole process.

Other schools, such as BC, will declare the major for you, and you’d have to officially change it if you change your mind (no worries though, the process for switching majors usually is no big deal, especially in your early college years).

Additionally, these supplements have school specific essays to write. Some schools just ask, “Why (insert school name here)?” Do your research! Find out what they offer that other places don’t. Visit, if possible, and try to speak with former or current students. Really make it specific to that school. You should not copy and paste the essay for each school you’re applying to. Remember, the goal is to show them that you’re very interested in attending THEIR college or university.

Sometimes schools will have more than one essay, and some try to have fun and quirky essay topics that let you show your creativity. For example, I wrote an essay for the University of Chicago that answered the prompt “So where is Waldo, really?” (Aside: UChicago is known for their unique essay prompts. Check out a list of past ones here.)


If you’re applying using the Common App, recommendations are a part of that. if you’re applying to a school that doesn’t use the Common App, they may also require recommendations.

Typically these recommendations are from two of your teachers. For some schools, you may also submit an additional recommendation from someone like an employer, coach, etc.

By now, hopefully your student has already asked two teachers for recommendations and the teachers are almost done with them. Your child should not be afraid to casually check in (without coming across as demanding) on the teacher about the status of the application (but not too often).

Remember, they’re not required to write your student anything! Be thankful, while still making sure it gets done. And at the end of it all, don’t forget to give the teacher a nice gift as a thank you. A handwritten note should be plenty, but gift cards, mugs, and baked goods are a nice touch.

Counselors may also be required to submit a recommendation. This is done through the Common App. Talk to your counselor about details; this recommendation tends to be more general, as they have to write recommendations for so many students.

Counselors can also help explain extenuating circumstances. For example, I only took one AP class my junior year because of my school’s scheduling problems. I had wanted to challenge myself more but couldn’t. So I asked my counselor to include that in his recommendation.

Official Transcript

The transcript is a collection of high school grades and the associated grade point average. This typically has to be sent through your high school, as it is the official transcript. Your guidance counselor should have instructions on how to send your transcript to the schools you’re applying to.

Standardized Test Scores

For schools that require test scores, you send these scores through either the College Board (for SAT) or ACT websites. The first four score reports are free, but after that you will have to pay for each additional school you want to send your scores to. However, if you’re fee-waiver eligible, you can get additional free score reports. Check out the sites for more information about that.

Application Fees

Yes, sadly, you have to pay to apply to many colleges. If the school uses the Common App, it can be done through there. Otherwise, the school should have instructions on how to pay the fee. Schools should also offer an application fee waiver if the fee provides a financial hardship to your family. Check with each school for the details. Fees can range from $40 to $90!

Optional Credentials

For students applying to art, architecture, music, dance, or theater programs, you may have the option to submit additional materials such as a portfolio of work or recordings of any performances. Of course, each college has its own requirements, but there is also an additional information section on the Common App where your student can upload this material.

Additional Testing

If you’re a student from a non-English speaking country or are a non-native English speaker, you may be required to take the TOEFL to show your proficiency in English. As with everything else, this is a case-by-case basis, so check with the specific schools on their requirements.

Well, that should be the bulk of it! Best of luck to you and your student during this crazy process!

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By |2018-07-16T04:18:11+00:00November 1st, 2016|Admissions|

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