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The Application Process

Most colleges ask that you apply in one or more of the following ways:

Early Decision
Early Decision means accepted students MUST enroll at that college if they are admitted. Only apply early decision to one school! If you are certain that you want to go to a specific school, applying early decision shows your commitment to that school and can sometimes give you a leg up on other regular admission students. Usually Early Decision applications are due at the beginning of November, and students hear back by the end of December.

Early Action
For Early Action, students must submit their application early, around November, and will hear back around January. Some universities will have another Early Action deadline after the first one, so make sure to look out for all application deadlines. To learn more about the difference between Early Decision and Early Action, check out College Board.

Regular Admissions
With Regular Admissions, deadlines will vary by university, but will usually fall between November and March.

Rolling Admissions
With Rolling Admissions there are no strict deadlines, but there might be suggested deadlines because spots are offered on a first-come-first-served basis, so the sooner you apply, the better your chances will be.

Open Admissions
With Open Admissions, the institution will accept all students with a high school diploma or equivalent (GED certification). Community Colleges often have an Open Admissions policy.

Helpful Resources

Starting to apply to colleges can feel overwhelming. These resources can help you: Applying 101 and College Applications: How to Begin. The College Board’s College Application Timeline is a helpful month-to-month checklist.


While every university will have their own separate application, many universities have joined the online application website: Common Application.

Common Application (Common App) allows students to submit the same application and essay to several schools at once. Using the Common App will cut down on the time and stress of filling out college applications.  Be sure to check which universities on your list use the Common App. Check out Common Application Help for more assistance. For students looking at HBCUs, there is a common application for HBCUs as well.

All schools will require an official transcript.  Be sure to contact your counselor about sending transcripts to all of the universities on your list.

Application Fee

Most college applications have an application fee. If you cannot afford the application fees, be sure to contact your counselor. Waivers are awarded on the basis of family financial hardship. Some colleges will waive your application fee if you contact the admissions office and explain that you cannot afford it. You can also contact the College Board to ask about their fee waivers. For more information on college application fee waiver, see these college application fee waiver FAQS.

Free Application Service

In an effort to get-to-know applicants better, colleges are partnering with ZeeMee, a free service that helps students bring their application to life.  Sign up at ZeeMee.com and create your own portfolio. Then simply copy and paste your link into your college applications. It is easy and fun!

Once you find the schools that are a good fit you can begin the application process. Most colleges have an online application, but some require paper applications for specific programs.


Placement Tests

Many colleges require applying students to test their skills prior to enrollment in order to qualify for college level courses. Accuplacer is a commonly used assessment. If you are required to take the Accuplacer test, consider preparing well in advance. MyPLACE offers adult education courses that could help you prepare. Community College of Philadelphia offers free online math prep.  


Many colleges accept College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) credits. CLEP exams, administered by the College Board, allow you to prove your mastery of college-level material, acquired through individual study or general instruction. With earned credits, you might be able to place out of certain introductory college courses. Learn more about CLEP.


Be sure to provide an up-to-date resume. Depending on your age, schools might not be interested in the activities you were involved in during high school. A good rule of thumb is to list experience as far back as 10 to 15 years.

Transfer Credits

If you are a returning student, you will need to transfer your credits from your previous institution. Acquiring transcripts can be a lengthy process – begin early and contact your previous institutions as soon as possible. Follow the directions for transfer students on the school’s website.

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