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Applying to colleges has never been easier.

How to master the college application process

Beginning the college application process can be daunting, with students often not knowing where they want to apply or what major they want to pursue. With these few tips however, the stress of the system can be assuaged—for the most part. 

Choosing schools  

Among the first steps is deciding a major and where to apply, though neither decision is binding. Most schools allow the student to change his or her major throughout a college career, many not even forcing students to choose until sophomore or junior year. Unfortunately, choosing a major is easier said than done. One must take into consideration the opportunities that come with a given major, as well as how accessible those opportunities will be. Regarding schools, important figures to observe are average SAT and ACT scores, transportation throughout the college town, and, of course, cost. When it comes down to which schools grant admission to a student, the quantity of financial aid the school offers often plays a big role in the final decision of where to study.  

Start with a senior meeting 

The best place to start the application process is in Decatur’s guidance department. Everyone has a senior interview, but what exactly is it? What is the purpose? Senior interviews are kind of like doctor appointments, only, a lot less scary. During these meetings with a guidance counselor, students have the chance to ask questions, receive personalized advice, and become more comfortable with the process. Common questions address financial aid, building a resume, or anything that might be confusing to an applicant. Building a list of questions prior to the senior meeting is always a good idea. 

Speaking the essay language 

The most time-consuming step of the application process is essay writing. Some colleges require a school-specific essay to be written, but others accept Common or Coalition Applications, which offer a variety of essay prompts and questionnaires that can be submitted to numerous schools. What one writes will be among the deciding factors to those who review applications, so it must be up to par. In his blog, “College Info Geek,” college expert Thomas Frank states, “While it’s true that the essay isn’t the only thing that matters to college admissions officers, a great essay can actually compensate for less than stellar grades,” meaning that if one’s resume is not as full as preferred, writing an engaging piece can help to work around it. Classes like College Writing, World, and American History will bolster one’s abilities in essay-writing, and having friends and teachers proof-read work will further enhance writing skills. With resources like the Seahawk Lyceum’s Writing Center readily available within Decatur, speaking the “essay language” is not as complicated as it may seem. 


A common misconception is that students must take the SAT more than once to successfully get into college. Not only is this untrue, but also implies that the SAT must be taken at all. Most applications allow test-optional submissions, meaning to skip over those scores, although submitting scores boosts the look of an application. It is a good idea to take the SAT and/or ACT at least once, just to see where one falls, but reaching a desired score is easy simply by studying and learning from mistakes. Khan Academy has an outstanding test prep program which utilizes past scores to construct personalized curriculums. The nonprofit’s website shares, “In 2017, Khan Academy and the College Board, the maker of the SAT, analyzed gains between the PSAT/NMSQT and the SAT and found a positive relationship between use of Official SAT Practice and score improvements on the SAT. Score gains are consistent across gender, family income, race, ethnicity and parental education level.” This statement implies that the practice system is found to be largely successful regardless of other factors. 

Staying organized 

Since applications all have multiple components, it is crucial to stay organized. A great resource for this is Naviance, though others include Office 365 and Google Calendars. For more physical-oriented learners, a detailed planner or even a bullet journal can also be necessary investments. Focusing only on one thing at a time can eradicate unnecessary stress, and dividing goals by short-term and long-term, like completing an essay and completing an application, respectively. Goal-setting and strategic planning are two of the strongest factors that set applicants apart.  

In the end, it’s most important not to stress or get overwhelmed. Anxieties can be a tough obstacle to overcome, but when they do pop up, friends, teachers, and counselors are always available to offer support. Take advantage of opportunities and resources, set reasonable goals, and look forward to the future! This is all worth it!

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