Lila Dell Leveritt: How to Apply to College


Senior Alexis Leyva stresses over her computer about her college application. (Photo by Rebekah Harpool)

Applying for college seems easy enough, right? Compile a list of colleges, tour one or two, find out what kind of application each one requires, fill out all of them, write an essay- possibly more depending on the school- send transcripts and test scores, keep track of due dates, and hope for the best.

Easy, unless you have no idea how you’re supposed to go about any of this. Fear not, students! There is a way! While applying for college is fun and exciting, it can also be overwhelming and grueling. Here’s what I’ve learned from my experience, and the advice I’ve gathered over the years.

Part 1: The initial search

In all honesty, the earlier the start, the better. It’s best to begin looking at colleges early your junior year because you’ll get an idea of what you want in a college, and you’ll have time to think and prepare. Try not to put off the search past the summer before senior year. You will want a solid list of places to apply before applications open and the real chaos begins. Lucky for you, there are a number of ways to do research, and almost all of them are free.


  1. The Internet

I’ve become well acquainted with the pro-con method during my search. I only took note of things I cared about, such as the size of the student population, average class size, and what percent of students live on campus.

  • Chegg

Pro: Good for starting off, easy to use, has recent information, and provides scholarship, textbook, and study information so you can keep using it when you go to college.

Con: The search engine only has a few filters, so you end up with a lot of schools to sort through. It’s best to go by state.

  • Collegeboard*

Pro: search engine has lots of filters, up to date, detailed information, offers tools and advice, and publishes a book every year with information on every college in the country.

Con: There are a lot of filters on the search engine, and it can be overwhelming. You don’t have to fill out everything.

*This is the same website that administers AP exams, the SAT, and the PSAT. You can use your account to get test scores for the college applications. It has a detailed list of what AP scores and SAT scores are accepted.

  • Niche

Pro: Students and staff can leave reviews, and each college has a grade. It contains hundreds of lists ranking colleges, and an easy to use search engine.

Con: Information can be one to two years out of date. They grade individual aspects of the school, such as sports, Greek life, safety, and academics, then average them out to grade the school itself. The average grade can be misleading if the school scores low in an area you aren’t worried about. For example, I didn’t want Greek life or a party scene, so I recalculated the school’s grades using every factor but those two.

  1. College counselor

A college counselor specializes in helping students not only discover colleges, but also with the application process.

Pro: Works on the college essay with the student; they can help through email and over the phone, so you don’t have to live near them; great help for students wanting to go out of state, and they know the bad sides of most colleges.

Con: Expensive, they can cost anywhere from $500 to $1500.

  1. Word of mouth

While you can find out about some awesome colleges, always take a closer look. While your uncle might have loved that big state school, you might be looking for something totally different.

  1. Campus visits

Seeing a campus in real life can make or break your decision to apply. Never fully rely on pictures, especially on large or old campuses. They’re always building and renovating so the architecture appearance usually varies. Try to go when classes are in session. It will give you a better idea of what the student body and the professors are like.

Colleges also come to Central to talk with prospective applicants. Lists of meeting dates hang in the counselor office. All you have to do is sign your name under the college, and a pass will be sent to your class when they come. Sometimes a college will hold meetings at a hotel to reach a larger crowd. These colleges will be listed in the daily bulletin with dates and addresses.

Part 2: Application

Applications open the summer before senior year for most schools, and it’s a good idea to get a head start. Procrastination usually sets in when classes resume, so get as much done before homework, sports, clubs, volunteer work and social events all pile up.

Once you have a solid list of schools that you want to apply to (about three to six), find out what kind of application they use, and keep track of deadlines. Most schools use either the Coalition or Common Application, but some have their own application. Check the college’s website for information. Usually schools give you three deadlines, but less competitive ones normally have two. The first is early decision, which binds you, meaning if you get accepted, you have to attend the school. Only apply early decision to one school, even if you think you won’t get in. You don’t want to take the chance. The second is early action. The deadline is close to early decision, but this one is nonbinding. Then there’s regular decision, due sometime in January. While it give you the most time to complete your application, it’s the most competitive.

The counselors round up all the seniors within the first month of school to talk about college. They’ll hand out a book with information on applications.

Depending on how keen you are at scavenger hunts, finding the information for the application can be a full-blown adventure. You will spend more time in your counselor’s office during senior year than ever before, and possibly even more time hunting through your parents “important documents” drawer for your Social Security Number (SSN). Note: check obscure places first. Parents put things in the strangest places. Turns out my step father who lives in California had it.

Central also holds a College Night, which will feature in-state and out-of-state colleges. All ages can come, and this is a good place to gather information. Principal Nancy Rousseau will announce it weeks in advance. There will also be financial aid workshops.

Part 3: College essay

Almost all applications require an essay based on a given prompt and requiring anywhere from 250-650 words. While you’re probably most comfortable editing it yourself or giving it to a close friend, an outside source needs to look over it. Someone who knows you might get what you’re saying, but there are no promises of that when it comes to an admissions counselor you’ve never met.

Senior English classes write their essays in class at the beginning of the year, and any English teacher will edit your essay.

Part 5: Getting your scores, GPA, class rank, and many other things.

Your counselor will have your GPA and class rank, and the registrar will have your transcript. Your transcript will have your GPA, class rank and test scores. The registrar will either mail your transcript to the school or your counselor will attach it to your application, depending on how the college accepts them.

While applying for college has its frustrations, difficulties, and general what-the-mess moments, you will survive. You only choose a college once, so have fun with it. Good luck to all, and don’t stay up too late scrolling through Niche comments. I know I have.