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Required Documents

If you are applying to a four-year college, it most likely will require your college admission test scores on either the SAT or ACT. These tests are typically taken for the first time in the spring of your junior year and sometimes a second time in the fall of your senior year. Your scores on these tests will be submitted to the colleges by the testing organizations themselves.

Another critical part of the application is your high school transcript, which lists your classes and grades. Ask your high school guidance counselor to send your transcript to the colleges you are applying to. Your high school will send a final transcript of your grades at the end of your senior year.

You also will need two or three recommendation letters from teachers or adults who know you well. You should ask a teacher from either your junior or senior year to write a recommendation letter so the information is current. You also might choose a coach, a teacher who advises a school or outside activity, or an employer to be a reference. Be sure to give your references at least a month before the deadline to write the letters. It is also a good idea to give your references stamped and addressed envelopes to send to each college, or make sure that they know where to log in to submit their recommendations online.“If you know you definitely want to attend a specific college, you might consider applying under an early admission plan.”

Different Types of Admissions

If you know you definitely want to attend a specific college, you might consider applying under an early admission plan. Nearly 450 colleges offer early admission plans, and you should check whether the colleges you’re interested in have this option. With early admission, you might have a better chance of being accepted to that college than if you had waited to apply later in the year, but some early admission plans have restrictions.

There are three types of early admission plans:

  • Early decision plans: Students can apply to only one early decision college and must attend that college if accepted.
  • Early action plans: Students can apply to more than one college and if accepted, can wait until the spring before making a decision.
  • Single-choice early action plans: Students can apply to only one early action college but can apply to other colleges in the regular admission process. A decision is not required until the spring.

Many colleges offer rolling admission and accept applications until all the slots in the freshman class are filled. To have the best chance of being accepted at a rolling admission college, it is recommended that you should submit your application by March 1 or earlier.

Application Deadlines

College applications must be turned in by certain deadlines, or they may not be considered by admission officials. Whether you are applying for early or regular admission—online or through the mail—you should submit your application several weeks ahead of the deadline to make sure that it gets to the admission committee on time.

Here are the general deadlines for college applications:

  • Early action or early decision applications: Nov. 1 or Nov. 15
  • Regular decision applications: Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 1

To apply for financial aid, submit a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) beginning in January. This form will determine if you are eligible for financial aid from federal, state and college programs. Read more about filling out the FAFSA and how to pay for college in our Pay for College section.