How to Apply to Universities as a High School Student


When you’re applying to fourteen schools with eleven different requirements each and three application platforms, it’s easy to lose track of what you need to do by when. That’s why we’ve constructed a general checklist organized by deadline and urgency, along with an overview of the essentials.

1) The College Board notably offers the SAT and AP exams, but the website also contains a comprehensive database that can assist you in exploring and narrowing down college options.

2) Unigo: is another great website for college search. 

3) is a site where you can put in search criteria and will return a list of school that match the criteria you have put in. 

4) College Data is another website that offers match tools based on admission criteria, cost, most popular majors, financial aid, etc. 

Standardized Testing

1) & 2) The SAT and ACT are standardized tests that assess a student’s readiness to tackle college-level work, and are scored out of 2400 and 36, respectively. Generally speaking, if a student takes the SAT Reasoning Test, colleges also require two to three SAT Subject Tests in addition, while the ACT alone is sufficient as well.

3)website:, (Links to an external site.) this site is recommended in the book "Admission Matters" by Springer.   By creating an account you can access a customized course that includes user-friendly tutorials, practice sessions that dynamically adapt to each student's ability level, a vocabulary builder, etc.  

4) (Links to an external site.)

This test prep source offers an abundant amount of practice questions along with videos and guides, and it's free. It offers the in-depth overview of every sample question. 

Virtual Tours

1)  has virtual tours for almost 1000 universities.  If you don't find the university you are interested in, you should probably request it because the site stated that the more request, the sooner they will make them available.

2)  - offers video clips of university events.  You can get a feel for campus life through these videos.

3) (you have to watch the ad, but the video was good.  The video is done by two students, it is not on the official website, but I suppose it's okay. 

Financial Aid and Scholarships

1) FAFSA is where every student and family need to go to apply for financial aid. 2) by collegeboard is where you can search for scholarships. 


has a wealth of financial information including 529 plans. 

4) gives you the basics for paying for colleging including financial aid, scholarships, steps, criteria, etc. 

The Common Application, and, to a lesser degree, the Universal College Application, is a platform from which you can apply to a large majority of American schools (notable exceptions include the University of California system and Georgetown). The Common App requires you to answer (in 250-650 words) one of five general prompts that relate to your personality, history, or mindset, and also enables you to submit supplemental writing materials to colleges.

Some of the universities don't use The Common Application.  To apply to those, you would have to go on to the university specific website and apply. 

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The Sprint

This period lasts from September to January of your senior year.


You’re coming down to the wire. You haven’t slept since eight cups of coffee ago. Last you checked (which is probably now), there’re twenty seven and a half minutes until the Regular Decision deadline, and you’re still editing supplement six out of thirty five.


Hopefully, things won’t turn out that stressfully for you. Here are some dates to keep in mind around this time period.


Last chance to take the ACT and have the score considered in an Early Decision I or Early Action application.

November 1

Most schools’ Early 

Decision I or Early Action deadline.

First Saturday of November

Last day to take the SAT Reasoning or Subject Tests and have the scores considered in an Early Decision I or Early Action application.

First Saturday of December and January

Last days to take the SAT Reasoning or Subject Tests and have it considered in an Early Decision II or Regular Decision application.


Last chance to take the ACT and have it considered in an Early Decision II or Regular Decision application.

Also, most schools release their Early Decision and Early Action results. 

January 1

Most schools’ Early Decision II and Regular Decision deadline.

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By September, you should know whether you plan on taking more standardized tests, and also begin deciding whether you’ll apply Early Decision I or Early Action. You should also have a general idea of how many schools you’ll be applying to, and begin narrowing down your options. Preferably, you will have asked your teachers for recommendations before the summer, but if you haven’t, now is a decent time – any later may seem inappropriate. You should also be taking as many upper-level/AP/IB courses as you can, while keeping in mind the workload of your other tasks, such as those looming college applications and, hopefully, your handful of extracurricular leadership positions. Do make sure to maintain your GPA, as your final semester’s grades matter the most.


If you’ve decided to go the route of Early Decision I or Early Action, then you should begin to make headway on your Common Application by mid-October. You should also work on the supplements for the school of your choice as of this time. Do note that November is your last opportunity to have a standardized test (SAT Reasoning or Subject Tests, or the ACT) count towards the Early application.  


By mid-December, you should have finalized the list of schools you want to apply to and have your letters of recommendation in hand already. If you haven’t written it already, your Common App essay should be well on its way, and you should be mostly finished with the majority of your supplements. Your school will be sending out your official documents around this time.


The Jog

You should begin to pick up pace around the end of your sophomore year, while keeping in mind that you want to kick into full gear at the end of your junior year.


You’re probably gloating in envy as you watch your upperclassmen friends struggle under the workload of APs, college applications, and standardized testing.


Don’t gloat too long – unless if you prepare correctly this year, that’ll be you in twelve quick months.


The summer between your sophomore and junior years is a good time to prepare for your SATs or ACTs, whichever you plan on taking. If you have a list of schools that you’re thinking of applying to, it’s also a smart idea to tour your colleges either this summer, or the summer between your junior and senior years.


In the first half of your junior year, remember to take as many upper-level/AP/IB classes as you think you can manage. Sign up for a standardized test in this time period – many students don’t do as well as they hope on the first go and testing earlier gives them the opportunity to try again more later on. Attend and actively participate in several clubs that you’re interested in and passionate about, while keeping in mind that taking on a position of responsibility (officer, captain, president, manager, etc) could strengthen your portfolio considerably.


In the second half of your junior year, maintain your GPA and your level of participation in the clubs you enjoy. If you believe you can do better on certain standardized tests, sign up for your second attempt now (if you take AP classes, keep in mind the exams take place in May, and schedule your SAT around them). Also, maintain your relations with two or three teachers that you feel can convincingly write about your personality, work ethic, and your other admirable traits – preferably, you’ll want to ask them for letters of recommendation around the end of your junior year.


Over summer, you’ll want to consider the type of schools you’d like and create a working list, while also keeping an eye to the Common Application and thinking about what you’d like to tell colleges about yourself. These hot months are also a good time to check specific requirements for certain schools you’re relatively certain about applying to – for example, some schools require specific SAT IIs.


The Walk

Starting freshman year, there are several things you can do to round out and strengthen your application.


As a freshman just out of middle school, there are some immediate actions and plans you can make that will help you immensely later on. The easiest, and perhaps most obvious and overstated one, is working on your GPA. While colleges sometimes forgive a lower freshman GPA (transitioning can be tough), a dedicated student with a clear plan for the future can showcase his or her foresight through hard work early on. Another smart thing to begin working on are extracurriculars – don’t join every single club and community service opportunity that comes along, but focus on a few that you feel passionate about, and a few others that you just find entertaining to take part in.


Also, a smart and simple (but simultaneously intimidating) action you can take is to attend any college fairs or visiting college talks as top schools often tour the country. When they come by your city or school, attending their presentations and even going up to talk to the representatives at the end can help you get a better picture of how schools vary. This also gives you a chance to leave a (hopefully positive) impression with an official who may read your application.