How to Submit Successful College Applications: A Guide for High School Students

The journey to college is an exciting but often overwhelming process for high school students and their families. From selecting the right colleges to completing applications and writing essays, there’s a lot to manage. This guide aims to simplify the college application process so you can feel confident that you are submitting successful college apps.

Start Early and Stay Organized

Begin your college search early in your high school career. Create a timeline for all the tasks you need to accomplish, including standardized testing, college visits, and application deadlines. Utilize tools such as spreadsheets or college planning apps to keep track of your progress and stay organized.

Research Colleges and Select Wisely

Dedicate time to research colleges that fit your academic interests, career goals, and personal preferences. Consider factors like size, location, campus culture, and available majors. To gather information, utilize resources like college fairs, online search tools, and campus visits. Aim to create a balanced college list that includes “high admission percentage” schools.

Understand Application Requirements

Each college has its own set of application requirements. Familiarize yourself with these requirements well in advance. Common components include the application form, high school transcript, standardized test scores (SAT or ACT), letters of recommendation, personal essays, supplemental essays, and, in some cases, interviews.

Craft Compelling Essays

Your college essay is a chance to showcase your personality, experiences, and writing skills. Start early to brainstorm topics that are meaningful to you. Write in a clear, concise, and authentic voice. Seek teacher, counselor, or mentor feedback, but ensure the final essay reflects your voice and experiences.

Seek Recommendations Early

Letters of recommendation are a critical part of your application. Choose recommenders who know you well and can speak to your strengths and achievements. Provide them with a resume or summary of your extracurricular activities to help them write a more detailed letter. Remember to ask early and follow up with a thank you note.

Prepare for Standardized Tests

Most colleges do not require SAT or ACT scores. However, a strong standardized test score can help with direct admission programs, honors colleges, or more generous merit aid. Plan to take these tests in your junior year so you have time to retake them if needed. Utilize test prep resources, such as online courses, study guides, or tutoring, to improve your scores. Remember, some schools are test-optional, so research the testing policies of the colleges on your list.

Apply for Financial Aid and Scholarships

Understanding the cost of college and available financial aid is crucial. In 12th grade, you can complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to apply for federal grants, loans, and work-study programs. Additionally, search for scholarships offered by colleges, private organizations, and community groups. Be mindful of deadlines and requirements for each financial aid opportunity.

Stay Motivated and Seek Support

The college application process can be stressful, but it’s important to stay motivated and positive. For guidance and encouragement, lean on your support network, including family, friends, and school counselors. Remember, this process is about finding the right college fit for you and your future.


While the college application process involves many steps, starting early, staying organized, and utilizing available resources can make it manageable and rewarding. By following this comprehensive guide, high school students can navigate the path to college with confidence and success.


“Sylvia is a phenomenal college counselor. She is patient, kind, organized, and extremely knowledgeable about the college application process." - Susie

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