The College Application Process
Helpful Links about Testing:
SAT/ACT Test Prep Opportunities
(test dates will be updated as they are added.)
Helpful Links about Researching Colleges:
List of Colleges
Tips on visiting college campuses
Getting The Most From A Campus Visit
Helpful Links about Essays:
Tips on Writing Your UC Personal Insight Questions
Personal Insight Questions Worksheet
Tips on Writing Your Independent College Essay
Common Application Essays: Ideas & Tips
Common Application 2019/20 Prompts
Helpful Links for Letters of Recommendation:
Request for Letter of Recommendation and Questionnaire
(located on Naviance)
Helpful Links for Transcripts:
Transcript Request Forms
Helpful Links for the Application Process:
Early Decision & Early Action
The college application process typically begins in the students' junior year when they first start taking the ACT and SAT. Colleges vary as to what is requested as part of the application and when. All applications will include an application, SAT or ACT scores, and an official transcript. Some schools will request an official transcript right away, while others like the UC only want a final transcript which reflects all of the student's grades after he/she has graduated. Depending on the school, the application may or may not include an essay, letters of recommendation, and an interview. We will discuss our recommendations for the different parts of the application below.
Generally, students apply to 6 - 8 colleges or universities. However, this number varies student to student. A student's final list of schools should include a few schools that are a reach, a few that are realistic, and a few that are a safe bet. A reach refers to schools that generally accept students with higher GPA's and SAT/ACT scores. Realistic choices are colleges that accept students with similar GPA's and SAT/ACT scores. Safety colleges are those that tend to almost always accept students with a GPA and SAT/ACT score that are equivalent to that of the student's scores.
SAT/ACT Tests: As juniors, students should sign up to take the ACT and the SAT. Some students do better on one test more than the other, so it is recommended to take both. All schools accept both tests now and will recognize the highest score. We recommend taking the tests in May and June when the students have completed the majority of their junior year. There will be opportunities for students to take the exams again in the fall of their senior year up until December, and hopefully improve upon their scores. Students will need to have the College Board and the ACT submit their scores. These scores are not submitted by the high school. Students can choose which scores to send. If students send all of their scores, most schools will "super score" which is choose the highest score for each section even if taken on different dates.
Researching Schools: During their junior year, students should be exploring the colleges that they may be interested in attending. There are a lot of great websites to help students explore colleges. Naviance is a web-based program that TOHS uses to send the students' college applications. It also has wonderful tools and resources for students to explore colleges. In addition, check out the "Helpful College Website" page to learn about other websites to help students in their college search. Students should develop a list of schools that they are interested in. Over the summer prior to their senior year, students should begin to visit the campuses that they are interested in, if at all possible. This will give students a much better sense about whether this school will be a good fit for them.
Essay: Over the summer, we also strongly encourage the students to start working on their college essays. The UC schools, private schools and some out of state schools require an essay. The essays require a fair amount of introspection. The essay gives the students an opportunity to set themselves apart from the other 5,000 students who are applying with the same GPA and test scores. This is really the students' opportunity to bring their application to life and give it a voice. When students return to school in the fall, they can ask their English teacher to review their essay for feedback.
Letters of Recommendation: Letters of recommendation are another piece of the application for many schools, and provide another opportunity to help the student stand out from the other 5,000 applicants with the same GPA and test scores. The UC and CSU schools do not require, nor do they accept letters of recommendation, however private schools do. Students may also need letters of recommendations for scholarship applications. Typically students will need 2-3 letter of recommendations from their teachers and one from their counselor. Some students do not realize that their counselor needs to write a letter of recommendation since the schools application only appears to ask for a letter from 1-3 teachers. However, for schools that use the Common Application, the counselor is responsible for submitting the secondary school report which includes a letter of recommendation.
The FERPA waiver (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) is very important when it comes to letters of recommendation. In Naviance, students will be asked whether or not they want to waive their rights to see the forms and letters of recommendations submitted on their behalf. Students should be aware that teachers and counselors may refuse to write and send a letter of recommendation unless the student has waived his/her right. Typically students ask the teachers that they like and whom they feel would write them a good letter of recommendation. So, waiving their right should not be an issue.
When students return to school in the fall, they will want to think about asking a few teachers and their counselor for a letter of recommendation, assuming they are applying to a school that requests letters. Writing letters of recommendation is a time consuming process that teachers and counselors do on top of their regular workload. We highly recommend that students graciously ask their teachers and counselor for a letter of recommendation as soon as possible. Teachers and counselors get inundated with requests, so the sooner students make the request the better.
In order to write the best possible letter, teachers and counselors will ask that students provide them with additional information. Counselors request that students complete the Request for Letter of Recommendation and Questionnaire. Counselors are able to write a significantly better letter for those students who devote some time and thought to their answers. The more in depth, introspective information the student provides, the better letter that the counselor can write. Counselors also appreciate having the students' parents fill out the Parent Questionnaire. Teachers will often request that the student provide them with a resume and a transcript. If the letter will not be submitted electronically through Naviance, the student will need to provide the teachers and counselor with a stamped, addressed envelope for each school. Teachers and counselors require at least two weeks notice before the letter of recommendation is due. If the application materials are due January 1, the student must request the letter of recommendation 2 weeks prior to the beginning of the winter holiday. As the deadline approaches, it will be helpful to politely remind the teachers and counselor of the deadline. It is customary to send a thank you note to those people who have taken their time to write a letter of recommendation on your behalf.
Transcripts: As for official transcripts, the colleges vary on whether they prefer an initial, midyear, and/or the final transcript. The UC schools do not ask for an official transcript until they have accepted the student. They only request a final transcript that will show the student's grades after he/she graduates in June. They will use this transcript to verify all the grades and courses that the student self-reported in the application. Students should be careful to report their courses and grades accurately and honestly. Most CSU schools operate in the same fashion, but some will request an initial transcript upon receiving the student's application. Most private and out of state schools will request an initial transcript which will reflect a student's grades 9th - 11th grade and a midyear transcript which will reflect students' first semester grades their senior year. Transcripts can be sent either electronically or paper copies through the regular mail. Transcripts cost $5 each and request forms are in the office or use the link to the left. You can find more information on how to obtain your transcripts on the Counseling web page.
The Application: Beginning in October and November, students will need to fill out the actual college application forms. The online application for both the UC and CSU are typically open by October 1st. The UC application is open on October 1st, but students cannot submit the application until November 1. The UC/CSU deadline is November 30th. Students who are applying to UC schools only need to fill out one UC Application, and this will be sent out to all of the UC campuses that they are applying to. Similarly, students applying to CSU schools will access that application on the CSU Apply website and the student's applications will be sent to the specific schools requested. Private and out of state schools have their own applications.
Over 400 private colleges and out of state universities are a part of a common application membership association. This allows students to fill out the Common Application and submit it to all of their private or out of state schools that are a part of the association instead of filling out a separate application for each school. Although these schools all use the Common Application, many schools will also require supplementary application materials as well. Application deadlines vary school to school. Some applications are due as early as mid October and early November due to early admission decisions. However, most regular decision college applications are due between the end of November and February. It is critical that students are very aware of all of their deadlines.
Submitting the Applications: Students who are applying to UC and CSU schools will complete their entire application through the UC and CSU website. For a few CSU schools, students my need to send an initial or midyear transcript which they can do themselves. They will not need their counselor to submit anything for them. Students who are applying to private or out of state schools will need their counselor to submit supplementary materials such as the secondary school report, letters of recommendation, a school profile, and transcripts. These materials can either be sent electronically through Naviance or through the regular mail. If the school accepts electronic submissions, it is the recommended and preferred method. It is critical that the students inform their counselor which schools they want the counselor to submit electronic materials to and when the deadline is. If a student decides to add a school to his/her list of schools in Naviance, he/she must inform the counselor of the additional school. The counselor will not know otherwise and will not submit the materials. If the school does not accept electronic submissions, the application materials will be submitted through the regular mail. Students must provide their counselor with two stamped addressed envelopes (one for the initial report and one for the midyear report) to each school the application materials are to be sent.
Interview: Some schools will include an interview as part of the application process. Contact your schools to find out if they offer interviews. Most interviews are done with an admission representative, and it is that person's job to get to know you. An interview is your opportunity to sell yourself and set yourself apart from other applicants. They are looking for students that demonstrate energy and enthusiasm for their academics and extracurricular activities. The interview is also an opportunity to explain any blips in your record. It is helpful to express why you are interested in attending their university. Do your homework and be prepared.
The college application process can be stressful for students. However, students who plan ahead can reduce their stress tremendously. Their counselor is there to guide them through the process and help make their college applications as smooth and seamless as possible.