Where to Start with College Admissions?

Applying to college is a major part of high school's senior year, and there's a lot to keep track of throughout the process.

High school student working on a laptopApplying to college is a major part of high school's senior year, and there's a lot to keep track of throughout the process. I've helped students for years as they navigate selecting colleges and completing applications. If you're a high school senior and not sure where to begin, I've laid out six tasks below to get you started. Make your way through this list, and you'll be on your way to the next phase of your educational journey.

    1. Complete your list of prospective colleges
      Meet with your school counselor to go over your list of colleges to ensure you have a balance of target, safety, and reach schools. You will need to decide whether applying Early Action/Decision is the best approach for you, making sure you put your best profile forward.

    1. Visit college campuses
      The fall is a great time to see a college campus, as the students are back in session. Remember, colleges track demonstrated interest, so make sure you arrange a visit through the Admissions Office so they know you came to campus.

    1. Retake the ACT or SAT if needed
      If you are thinking that your scores are a bit below the average for your top college choices, you may want to register to sit for the standardized exams again this fall.

    1. Start your Common Application and essay
      Almost 700 colleges and universities are using the Common App, so it is very likely many of your colleges are on it. Make an account at and start filling out the information early. It is tedious, but chipping away at it is better than leaving it all to the last minute!

    1. Start filling in financial aid forms
      The CSS PROFILE® and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), the two most popular financial aid applications, are both available online on October 1st. Find out the financial aid applications required by each college (they may be different!) as well as the earliest deadlines. Then have your parents help you complete all required applications. MEFA is a great resource if you have questions about filling out these forms.

    1. Stay organized
      Keep a spreadsheet to track application deadlines, supplemental essay requirements, online account passwords, and financial aid deadlines.

Remember to reach out to your school counselor with questions about the college admissions process. And MEFA can help too. They'll have several seminars and webinars available this fall and winter to provide details on college admissions and financial aid. Keep an eye on their webinars page for specific dates and times. And you can also reach out to MEFA with your questions by calling (800) 449-MEFA (6332) or emailing

Cathleen SaveryCathleen has served in various capacities in both secondary and post-secondary education settings including positions as a school counselor, communications director, and grant writer. She has advised students and families across the spectrum of admission selectivity, from ivy-league institutions to community colleges, with a primary focus of helping students and their families establish the most appropriate pathway to post-secondary success.