How Does the College Admissions Process Work?
As you engage in planning for college, you probably have lots of questions about the college admissions process. Because it is multifaceted and somewhat complicated, there is no simple answer to the question of how the college admission process works. Occurring in 3 basic phases with various activities taking place in each phase, the process may occupy some of your time throughout your high school years or may be compacted into more focused efforts during 11th and/or 12th grades.
What are the 3 basic phases of the college admissions process?
It is important to understand that, during all three phases, the undergraduate admissions process is operating from two sides of the admissions desk -- the high school side (students, counselors, and parents) and the college side (college admissions officers and committees).
Believe it or not, there is not just one college that is right for you. Your college search involves looking for opportunities that match your needs, interests, and abilities -- your profile, as a student and as an individual personality.
The ultimate goal of the college search is to create a list of schools to which you will apply for admission. It begins with self-assessment -- taking stock of your needs, interests, skills, talents, strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, and potential. It also involves understanding the types of colleges and which ones will fit the bill for you in location, size, academics, housing, career planning and placement, social life, cost and financial aid, etc. Additionally, it will entail understanding the basis on which the colleges evaluate their applicants -- academics, character, activities, essays, recommendations, and unique factors that may be considered as they put together their incoming classes.
While you are searching, the colleges are recruiting prospective students who match their institutional profiles -- students who will fit into their campus environments and contribute positively to campus life, both inside and outside of the classroom. Ideally, you will find each other.
After some initial self-evaluation and research, you should be ready to create an initial search list of 15 to 30 colleges that meet your specifications. Once you have completed your research, you should be able to whittle this list down to 3 to 6 institutions to which you will actually apply.
College Admission Plans and Deadlines: Colleges admit students according to their own specific admission policies, plans, and deadlines. Understanding the difference between the various admission plans and the deadlines that apply to them is essential. The instructions and deadlines set forth by the colleges in their application packets or with the online applications are not just suggestions. They are clear guidelines that you must follow carefully if you want to produce a quality application. Since you will need transcripts, recommendations, and other supportive documents in order to complete you college application, you must obtain these pieces of your application package in plenty of time to meet the deadlines.
Admission plans include rolling admissions, regular admission, and a variety of early action or early decision programs. College catalogues and websites will provide you with detailed information about the plans offered by the colleges on your search list. You should discuss each of these plans with your counselor to decide which ones are best suited to your needs.
Your College Application File: At most colleges, your application will be considered complete when all of the required parts have been submitted, including your demographic information, an official transcript of your academic record, resume, essay(s), and recommendations from your counselor and teachers.
Review of Your Application: College admission officers and/or committees at the colleges and universities to which you apply will review your application to see if you meet their specific criteria for acceptance into their next first-year classes. They want to ensure that they admit students, who match what the school has to offer, as well as who will succeed academically and socially.
To arrive at the decision to admit you or deny your admission, college admissions officers and/or committees use all the material available to them in your application file, including notes from their school visits or contact with you during interviews, college fairs, etc. They are interested in knowing all they can about you. Therefore, if they have questions about things in your application, they may contact you, your counselor or other school personnel for clarification.
Final admission decisions -- particularly at selective colleges -- are not usually made by a single person. To ensure fairness in the selection process, colleges and universities rely on input from a group of reviewers who can bring different perspectives. Some colleges and universities use a formula based on a combination of the applicant's grade point average, test scores, and other key information. Final college admissions decisions may be made by one or more admissions officers or by a committee of faculty and administrators.
Once you have heard from each of the colleges to which you have applied, you will have to make a final decision about where to enroll. Keep in mind, you have until May 1st of your senior year to make that final decision. Even if you have been admitted to your first choice, there are lots of factors that may influence your decision, including issues related to paying for college or financial aid. Therefore, you will need to narrow the choices down to the college or university that will best meet all of your needs.
When you arrive at a final decision, you will be required to make an enrollment deposit to secure your spot in the incoming class. Since multiple deposits are not appropriate, you should be sure to deposit only at the college you plan to attend. (Wait list deposits are the exception.)
Mycollegeoptions.org provides you with a wealth of information about every aspect of college planning. When you log in to your My College Options account, you will find a detailed description of the entire admissions process in the “College Resources” section of your College Box. Understanding the process will go a long way in helping you manage the college planning experience with relative ease.