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Apply to college

The steps to apply to college start early, so plan ahead for your best options.

From finding a college you like, to taking placement exams and learning the ins and outs of financial aid, college applications involve several key steps.

A good starting point is to consider your career goals. Most people do not know their exact career direction or college major before starting college, but it can help to have some ideas. Find out about careers that fit your interests, and learn details about different careers, including the level of education required.

Then take these steps to apply:

  • If you are in high school. Talk to a school counselor about your goals, so you can finish high school well on your way to college readiness. Enrolling in advanced placement classes to prepare for college work, and joining activities like sports, music, and clubs will strengthen your college application.
  • Take a test. Most colleges require that you take the SAT or ACT college placement test. Use their websites to register, choose a date, and find test centers near you.
  • Research colleges. Read about different types of colleges, programs they offer, costs, financial aid, and more. Review college websites and request materials from the admissions office. If possible, visit colleges for a tour, information session, and interview.
  • Find out costs. Many schools offer lots of ways to pay for school, especially for students from low-income families. Find the amount you might actually pay for tuition, room and board, by using the net price calculator available on college websites.
  • Apply. College applications are typically due 3-10 months before classes start, and applying early can improve your chance of being accepted. Check your college’s website for their deadline. Some public colleges accept all applicants, so you just need to apply. For selective schools, apply to 4-6 colleges. Many offer a free application, or scholarships for application fees for low-income students.
  • Request financial aid. To apply for financial aid, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Complete it online early in the year you plan to attend college. Check your college website for financial aid application deadlines.
  • Choose your best fit. Most colleges notify applicants whether they are accepted by April 1 of the year they plan to start college. Colleges also send a financial aid offer by that time, so you can decide which college will best fit your needs. You must confirm your choice by May 1.

Tips:

  • To save tuition and housing costs, community college can be an affordable way to earn a 2-year degree, or start your 4-year degree.
  • If you are the first in your family to go to college, check out FirstGenerationStudent for comprehensive help to plan your college path. 
  • The U.S. Department of Education sponsors TRIO programs in many areas especially to help students who are low-income and first in their family to go to college. Look up schools or programs in your area at Local Training Finder, and contact them to ask about TRIO and other student success programs.