Back to Guidance Counseling

Getting into the college of your choice will require work. Don’t think that you can start working on your college application a short time before the deadline because you are looking for quality in whatever you submit. An essay is extremely important to your application, so start working on that way ahead of time. Most important… DON’T PROCRASTINATE!!!

Dates and Deadlines

Timeline for Getting Ready to Go to College (includes information on FAFSA, SAT, ACT, applications, etc.)

The College Calendar Checklist



  1. Review your college choices
  2. Collect Application Materials
  3. Plan to take the SAT I and/or ACT


  1. Get involved in activities
  2. Register for the PSAT in October



  1. Jot down college essay ideas
  2. Contact teachers about recommendations. Give them a month to write. (Teachers are people too and thus they can’t drop everything to write for you– good letters take some thought and therefore time.)
  3. Visit your college choices that you haven’t seen yet


  1. Attend college fairs, talk to people, research on the net –keep a file of the cool ones



  1. If applying early, don’t miss the November deadline
  2. Get a copy of the FAFSA so that you can be ready to fill it out


  1. Concentrate on classes and improve your grades



  1. Complete all applications and mail them in on time. Don’t forget the application fee or waiver.


  1. Review your academic record with a guidance counselor and go over the colleges that you are interested in and the likelihood of your acceptance.



  1. Submit your FAFSA as soon after January 1 as possible.
  2. Investigate scholarships


  1. Start preparing for spring admission tests. Use study aids.



  1. Receive your SAR (student aid report)
  2. Have your school send your mid-year grades if your schools require them.


  1. Schedule campus visits during school so that you can get a feel for the atmosphere at the colleges of your choice.



  1. Plan to AP exams in May (if applicable)


  1. Take the SAT and/or ACT. You may retake them in the fall if you wish.



  1. Send deposit to the school you have chosen by the deadline
  2. Let your school know what you have decided on so that they may send final materials.


  1. Try to narrow your college choices



  1. Finalize your financial aid package
  2. Enjoy the rest of senior year and have fun during the summer


  1. Volunteer. Save the Whales! Do something that will make you look good on your up-coming application. Work at McDonald’s!

The College and Scholarship Search

The search for a college can be a tedious process if you allow it to be. Start the process early, at least in the eleventh grade. After you take the PSAT, colleges will begin sending material according to what you marked on the questionnaire.

Here are some web sites that may help. Please note that this list is not inclusive, you may do a search to look for other possibilities.

The Application Process

Writing the Perfect Application

  1. Fill in your personal data
  2. Give your grades and test scores (don’t lie– they’ll be receiving the documents!)
  3. Accentuate your activities (don’t cram too much stuff in; they don’t want to know that you clean the toilet once in a while)
  4. Write the essay (we’ll get into that later)
  5. Get the recommendations
  6. Take note of these following tips:
  • Neatness counts– try to type it or at least use black ink
  • Make copies of everything– you not only want proof, but copies to replace what the college may have lost
  • Send the application in on time –do you want to get in? –do you want financial aid/scholarships?
  • Don’t slack off with your grades –colleges can take back their offer of admission –many ask for mid-year transcripts to see how you’re doing

The Application

While some schools have their own application that is unique unto themselves, many schools make it easy for the applicant by using a “universal” application form along with a supplement form.

Try out some of the following sites:
(submit a standard application form to any of the groups member colleges)
(apply to colleges online and track their status)

The Tests

Some schools require that you take the ACT, others the SAT, and some may even require both. Take these tests well ahead of time (begin in your junior year of high school). Be aware that you may take the tests numerous times (but be aware that they cost about $24) and need only to report your best scores to the colleges. Find out well ahead of time whether any of the SAT II’s are required. International Students interested in attending an American University or College must take tests such as the TOEFL. Please go to the Educational Testing Service for more information.

Prepare for the tests any way that you can! Try out sites
such as:
Enroll in test prep courses. Sign up for free newsletters with tips
The Princeton Review offers test tips and sample questions. Sign up for the Word du Jour e-mail

Sign up for a word a day
Take a free test and get daily tips for the ACT and SAT

Letters of Recommendation

Give the completed form of the following questions to your counselor/teacher at least two weeks before the due date for use in application recommendations for college, employment, and/or scholarships.

The Entrance Essay

#1 Pick a topic– make it meaningful –tell the reader how the experience changed your life or affects you

#2 Write it down, but follow these tips:

  • Fill the essay with detail
  • Don’t forget who your audience is– use language that will relate to them
  • Don’t overdo the humor –they might not have the same sense of one
  • Keep the essay to the right length (they read a lot of those essays everyday– don’t fill up the essay with anything that isn’t essential. Make it powerful.)
  • They aren’t looking for Tolstoy!
  • Have several people edit your essay –know an English professor?

Essay Help

Visiting Schools

The Campus Visit

Think of a campus visit as a test drive. It lets you get a sense of whether the school is right for you.” Follow these simple steps as explained by Careers & Colleges.

  • Plan Ahead (Two weeks before your planned departure, arrange to get an interview, take a tour, attend classes, spend time with students, and spend a night on campus with a host student in the dorms. Be sure to visit several schools so that you can compare.)
  • Arrange the Interview (Call the admissions office and arrange an appointment, it is a definite plus to have a face connected to the application and be willing to meet with counselors.)
  • Take the Official Campus Tour
  • Check Out Classes
  • Explore the Dorms and Dining Hall
  • Visit Facilities That Interest You (You could be spending a lot of time there!)
  • “Do” the Town
  • When You’re Done: write down your impressions on your experience (Careers & Colleges has a form that you can fill out that may help)

Questions to Ask on a College Tour

While on a Tour, Ask:

  • What do your like most about this college?
  • What’s the worst aspect of this school?
  • What are the students like?
  • What are classes like? Small? Large?
  • Are discussion groups common?
  • Do graduate students or professors teach classes?
  • Where do students study?
  • Where do students hang out on campus? Off campus?
  • Where do students eat?
  • What meal plans are offered?
  • What do students do on the weekends?
  • What percentage of students go home on the weekends?
  • How central are fraternities and sororities to campus social life?
  • Are sports a big deal here? Can students get free tickets to events?
  • How do students get around campus and get to off campus stores/sites?
  • Do many students have cars? Where do they park? How much does a parking permit cost?
  • What kind of reputations does the college have (both negative and positive)? Does it live up to these reputations?

Ask About Campus Safety:

  • Is the campus in a high-crime area? Ask for a statistics sheet.
  • What is the policy on drugs and alcohol?
  • Do residence halls have alarm systems?
  • Is there a residence hall curfew?
  • What vehicle services do they offer? Jump-starts? Lockouts? Tire changing?
  • Does the college maintain an after-dark escort service?
  • Are campus parking lots and garages lighted? Monitored? Patrolled?
  • Are there emergency phones situated around campus?
  • Is there a 24-hour emergency phone operator on campus?
  • How closely do the campus police work with local police?

Ask a Counselor:

  • What percentage of students graduate in four years?
  • What is the retention rate?
  • When do you have to declare a major? Can you design your own major?
  • Can you take classes at other schools in the area?
  • Who serves as a student’s advisor? Do advisors change year after year?
  • What student advising and testing services does the university offer? Are those services free?
  • Are there computer labs? When are they open?
  • Do students get free E-mail and Internet access?
  • Can students access the computer networks from their residence hall rooms?
  • Does the college sell or lease computers to students for a discount/
  • What percentage of students go on to graduate or professional schools?
  • Is there a study abroad program? What percentage of students take part in study abroad?

(Most questions from Pacific Lutheran University brochure and

College Comparison

It is important to compare the different schools you are looking at in order to find the pros and cons of each institution. Use a checklist with questions such as those listed below
to assist you in this process.

  • Does the college have an excellent academic reputation?
  • Is my academic field of study offered?
  • Is the college the right size for me?
  • Is there a good program for advising students?
  • Does a high percentage of new students graduate in 4 years?
  • Are the graduate school and job placement statistics good?
  • Are there opportunities to study abroad?
  • Are there opportunities for independent study?
  • Will I be able to have an internship or field experience?
  • Do students and faculty get to know one another well?
  • Am I satisfied with the average class size?
  • Will I have graduate students as teachers?
  • Is the campus attractive and friendly?
  • Do the library, computer, and lab resources meet my needs?
  • Are there athletic, intramural, and recreational opportunities for everyone?
  • Are there enough co-curricular activities that interest me?
  • Is the campus an active 7-day-a-week, 24-hour-a-day place?
  • Are residence halls located near the classrooms and library?
  • Will my lifestyle fit in, will I be happy there?
  • Are these the people and the college I want to be associated with for the rest of my life?
  • Do I like the area enough to live there for four years?

(information copied from a Wittenberg University brochure)

Financial Aid Resources

FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)

Apply as soon AFTER January 1st as possible. DO NOT sign, date, or send your application before this date. In order to expedite the process, it is recommended that you fill out the online form. Even if you don’t yet have a completed tax return, use estimates and correct the estimates later. If you will be filling online, it is a good idea to file for a PIN number at least a month ahead of time, this counts as an electronic signature (among other things) and will be required for both the student and the parent who will be signing. More information may be obtained from the FAFSA web site or by calling this toll-free number: 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) If you have questions about FAFSA on the Web regarding general and technical assistance, call 1-800-801-0576.

Once your FAFSA has been submitted, you should receive your SAR, or student aid report. If you notice any mistakes, then you must correct the SAR and resubmit it (either online or by mail). Applying for federal financial aid is FREE.

Even if you don’t think you’re eligible, apply. You must get a GPA Verification form from your guidance counselor or a local college. Get it filled in and then send it off. The CalGrant works in conjunction with the FAFSA, so make sure that everything is in on time.  Note: I have gotten the impression that the CalGrant office is understaffed, so don’t delay with getting everything in on time!

Get a free brochure/workbook (called “Fund Your Future”) detailing the process in which to apply for aid from either your guidance counselor, local college, or call toll-free 1-888-CA-GRANT (1-888-224-7268) Other contacts that may help are:

Get information on federal student loans, financial planning, etc. Call toll-free 877-2EDFUND (1-877-233-3863)

The Federal Student Aid Information Center
Learn more about Pell Grants, other federal aid, and the FAFSA. Call toll-free 1-800-4FED-AID (1-800-433-3243)

CSS Profile Form
Some schools require this form before they will process your financial information. Check with the schools that you are applying to in order to decide whether to do this form. ($$)

General Financial Aid Information

California Student Aid Commission
(information on federal and state programs)
California Postsecondary Education Commission
(information aboutcollege and learning beyond high school)
California Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators
(High School Relation’s web page aimed at school counselors)
Financial Aid Information Page
(ask the aid advisor, links to free scholarship searches, loan etc calculators, scam alerts, Q&A, strategies for maximizing aid eligibility)
International Students

Financial Planning for College

Edwise Financial Planner (EDFUND)
Golden State Scholarshare Trust
(California’s tax-deferred college savings program and the Governor’s Scholarship Programs)

College/Career Planning

California Postsecondary Education Commission (CPEC)
(information about all five systems: UC, CSU, CCC, Independent, Private, Postsecondary and Vocational Education)
College is Possible
(planning resources for high school students, parents, and adult students)

Helpful Links

Government Offices

U.S. Dept. of Labor Occupational Handbook
IRS Online
Forms and Q&A
Selective Service Registration
(register for selective service or verify registration status)
Social Security Administration
U.S. Department of Education

Government Offices
Find other educational resources, deals & discounts.
Financial directory for students provides links to scholarships, student loans and credit cards, textbooks, cheap flights, and cell phones.
Offers assistance to foreign students looking to study in the United States. Read about ESL programs, scholarships, loans and health insurance.