There’s a lot to know about applying to college. Our information below will get you started, and be sure to use our College Admissions Toolkit to stay organized. You can view our College Admissions webinar in English or Spanish for a comprehensive overview on the entire process.
Your College List
When compiling your college list, you should focus on three factors simultaneously:
- Appeal: Include colleges that you genuinely like, seem to be a good fit for you socially, and offer what you want in terms of academics and extracurricular activities.
- Affordability: Look for schools that are financially feasible for you and your family, and use each college’s Net Price Calculator to estimate the amount you will have to pay.
- Selectivity: Identify colleges at several levels of academic competitiveness including “reach” schools with more challenging academics, “target” colleges where your chances of admission are roughly even, and “probable” schools where you are very likely to be accepted. You can find academic admissions standards for Massachusetts public colleges and universities here.
The campus visit is an important part of the college admissions process, and allows prospective students and their families to tour a college, hear from current students and admissions staff, and get a feel for the campus. The spring of your junior year is a great time to start visiting colleges that interest you. Learn More
Admission Timing Options
The colleges on your list may offer any or all of the following admission timing options, each of which has specific deadlines:
- Early Action: This is a ”non-binding” early admission process, which means you do not have to attend the school if you are accepted. Application deadlines are in the fall.
- Early Decision: This is a ”binding” early admission process, which means you are obligated to enroll if accepted. Application deadlines are in the fall.
- Regular Decision: Used by the majority of applicants, this process usually has a deadline in January or February.
- Rolling Admission: This process permits applications to be submitted over a longer period of time, sometimes with no set deadline.
- Open Admission: The school accepts all applicants who have a high school diploma, a General Education Development (GED) certificate, or a complete high school education in a homeschool setting approved under state law.
For more information about early admission, see How Early Admission Works.
Your college application will include several different pieces, each of which we’ve highlighted below. Learn the details of each required component and stay organized as you pull together your applications. Your School Counselor can provide guidance and assistance through this process.
Depending on the college, you may be required to fill out one of several types of applications:
- Common Application: Used by more than 500 colleges and universities, this general application allows you to apply to multiple schools with one form.
- Universal College Application: Similar to the Common Application, this general application is used by far fewer schools.
- Coalition Application: Not just an application but an entire platform for students in grades 9-12, created to improve the college application process. Used by just under 100 colleges and universities.
- College Website Online Application: This is an online application that’s created and maintained by the school itself.
- Paper Application: This is a paper version of the school’s specific application.
High School Transcript
Colleges will want an official copy of your high school transcript to review your courses and grades. Most colleges attest that this is the most important piece of your college application.
Each school on your list may require you to complete one or more of these standardized college entrance exams:
- SAT and ACT — measure college readiness
- SAT Subject Tests and AP Exam — demonstrate subject knowledge
- ACCUPLACER and COMPASS — determine placement in college courses
While standardized test scores are mandatory at many colleges and universities, more than 800 four-year schools in the US do not require them. For a complete list, go to FairTest.org.
When you list activities on your school applications, you should include extracurricular clubs, teams, employment, and other initiatives. And be sure to describe:
- The depth of your involvement in the activity
- Leadership roles and responsibilities, if any
- The impact of the activity on your community
Many colleges and universities require an essay as part of the admissions application. The essay allows a student to write about something important to him or her and it gives the admissions office more insight into the student’s personality and passions. Learn More
Letters of Recommendation
An important part of the college application process, letters of recommendation are short statements written by teachers or counselors on behalf of student applicants. They provide insight into a student’s academic work and character, and help admissions committees learn more about a student as an individual, beyond the grades and test scores. Learn More
Another way that colleges learn about your personality is through the college interview. While an interview is not typically required, some colleges do offer it, and it can provide you with a great opportunity to show the admissions office what they may not see on paper. Learn More