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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 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 and/or financial aid 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, but making a plan and getting organized will go a long way to helping you ease your mind and achieve your goals. These resources can help you: Stand Out College Prep’s How to Organize College Applications, KD College Prep’s College Application Glossary, and College Board’s College Application Timeline.


Many (but not all) colleges and universities have joined the online application website: Common Application.

The Common App allows students to submit the same application and essay to several schools at once, helping you cut down on the time and stress of filling out each individually.  Be sure to check which universities on your list use the Common App and reference Common App’s guide for first-year students to get started. For students looking at HBCUs, The Common Black College Application allows you to apply to multiple HBCUs at once. 

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. 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 students to test their skills in order to determine what college course level best fits where you are academically. Accuplacer is a commonly used assessment. If you are required to take the Accuplacer test, prepare in advance using College Board’s free practice questions and study app. Community College of Philadelphia also offers free online math prep.

Scoring higher on the Accuplacer means that you can skip remedial classes (courses offered to students to increase their skills in math or reading before moving on to regular college courses). While remedial courses can be helpful if you need to refresh and build your academic skills, they do not count towards the credit hours required to earn your degree. It will save you time and money to skip remedial courses, so prepare as best as you can for the Accuplacer. Don’t be frustrated, however, if you do place into remedial courses. These courses are available for a reason: to make sure you are ready to succeed in college level classes!


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. Begin early and contact your previous institutions as soon as possible. Follow the directions for transfer students on the school’s website. Graduate Philadelphia can assist you in the credit transfer process. 

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