College Application Advice
Is your family in the midst of college admissions … and the confusion that comes along with it?
We have tips to help you make sense of it all—ranging from finding the best college for your child, grandchild or other family member, to applying for and understanding financial aid.
This short video offers insights from James Vanhecke, Associate Director - Office of Undergraduate Admissions.
Selecting a School
How to Find the Right College:
- Gather Information from Publications
- Talk to: high school counselors, alumni, and parents of college students
- Attend College Fairs
- Visit Campus and Investigate
Five Things to Consider in Choosing a College
- Academic Reputation
- What is the reputation of the faculty?
- Strength of academic programs—will they meet your goals?
- What are the graduation and retention rates?
- Admission Requirements
- How many applicants are admitted?
- Consider academic profile information (average GPA and test scores). Most schools post this on their Web site.
- Social Life
- Location of the college (such as urban or rural)
- What size is the college (small, medium or large), and does it suit your needs?
- What is there to do other than study?
- Will you fit in?
- What sports and activities are offered?
- Career or Job Preparation
- What are the placement rates of graduates in your career area?
- What percentage of students go on to graduate school?
- Financial Aid
- What does attendance cost?
- How does the college determine need?
- What kinds of scholarships are offered?
- Is there need-blind admission?
- What financial aid forms are needed?
- Can you negotiate aid?
The Student Campus Visit
- Go for at least a half-day and tour the campus (be sure to check out the dorms, dining hall, library, etc.). This is an opportunity for you to immerse yourself in the school. See if there's an opportunity to sit in on a lecture.
- Meet with an admissions officer to verify admission requirements.
- Discuss your chances for success in certain programs. Ask about the placement record for graduates in the field you might study.
- Identify career-planning services for undergraduates.
- Find out how to apply to the school.
- Obtain a school calendar and a catalog.
- Determine college costs. Ask about financial aid opportunities, as well as deadlines, required forms, etc.
- Meet with faculty in the department of your intended major to ask questions about academic requirements/offerings. Attend a class to get an idea of typical size, teaching style and academic atmosphere.
- Talk to students about the general academic environment and amount and kind of study necessary for success. You could be taking classes with them next fall!
- Follow-up on special interests (financial aid, academic interest, support programs, etc.).
- Visit the student union. Look for posters to find out what goes on around campus.
- Find out what student activities (clubs, organizations, intramurals, etc.) are available and about campus life in terms of dating and social activities.
- Investigate transportation options.
- Picture yourself as a student at the college. Is it a happy picture?
The Application Process
The typical college application contains these elements:
- High school transcript
- Four-year academic history
- Rigor of the curriculum
- ACT, SAT and/or SAT II
- And more testing…
- Advanced Placement exams
- International Baccalaureate exams
- Extracurricular activities
- Demonstrated commitment?
- Demonstrated leadership?
- What is the context?
- Double-check spelling and grammar!
- Consider the structure and order of significant topics
When Will You Learn the Admissions Decision?
Each college has its own admissions schedule. Familiarize yourself with the schedules of the colleges you're interested in.
- Rolling Admission: Applications are evaluated as they are received, and decisions are sent to a student within a certain time frame.
- Precipice Admission or Regular Notification: Applications are evaluated and decisions are sent to students all at one time (usually April). The deadline for applications is usually January 1.
- Early Decision: Students must apply by an early deadline (usually in November) and must attend that institution if they are admitted.
- Early Action: Students must apply by an early deadline but are not obligated to attend that institution if admitted.
Cost of Attendance/Financial Aid
The cost of college extends beyond tuition and fees. Consider these expenses when you budget:
- Tuition and fees
- Room and board
- Books and supplies
- Miscellaneous personal expenses
- Loan fees
- Study-abroad costs
- Dependent or elder-care expenses
- Expenses associated with a disability
- Expenses for cooperative education program
The Financial Aid Office is there to assist students. Talk with the financial aid counselors of the colleges you're considering. Check out all of your options. The Financial Aid Office:
- Determines eligibility for financial aid
- Puts together financial aid packages
- Sends an award notification that details:
- Student's cost of attendance
- How the student's need was determined
- Amount of student's financial “need”
- Types and amounts of aid offered
- How and when aid will be disbursed
- Student employment conditions
- Terms and conditions of offer subject to availability of funds
Types of Financial Aid Available
The four main types of financial aid are listed below. Students who receive financial aid may be awarded a combination, or package, of these four types:
- Grants: Grants are gift-aid that do not need to be repaid from federal, state or university sources. They are awarded to students on the basis of need.
- Scholarships: Scholarships are gift funds, based on high academic achievement or special talent, that do not have to be repaid.
- Loans: Loans are borrowed funds that must be repaid with interest after you are no longer a student. As college costs climb, many families find that supplemental borrowing by the parent or student becomes an important resource to financing educational expenses. Information on federal loans is available through the US Department of Education's Guide to Federal Student Aid.
- Work-study Employment: Work-study employment funds are earned by students for working part time (10-15 hours per week) for eligible employers. Students earn wages up to the amount of their work-study award.
Private scholarships ranging from small honoraria to thousands of dollars are offered each year to college students by a variety of corporate, professional, trade, government, civic, religious, social and fraternal organizations. Applying for scholarships is time consuming, so start as early as possible (as early as two years prior to your admission to the university). Breaks from school are good times to works on your search.
A quick way to start your scholarship search is to utilize specialized scholarship search sites on the Web. The ones listed here are among the most popular FREE scholarship search sites.
Other Scholarship Resources
Other good places to look for scholarships include the reference section of your local library, your high school guidance office and bookstores. You can save time by addressing envelopes while at the library (because many scholarship reference books cannot be checked out) and by creating a standard form letter that includes your name, address and telephone number on it.
For-profit Scholarship Search Services
Several for-profit companies throughout the United States offer computerized search services, often charging fees ranging from $75 to $175 or higher. The University of Michigan Office of Financial Aid does not recommend these services and suggests you thoroughly investigate them before submitting any fees to them. We also suggest that you read the scholarship scam alert on The Financial Aid Information Page.
Student's College Preparation Checklist
College is something that you need to think about now. A college education will help you take charge of your future. A college degree means more career opportunities and greater earning potential, but it takes some planning and preparation. Don't wait! Now is the time to take charge and aim high! Plan your high school program using the checklist below. The most important step is to get started. It's worth it!
9th or 10th Grade
- Develop an organization system to log your assignments, exams, social events, appointments, job interviews, etc. This will help you manage your time and develop organizational skills.
- Be sure the courses you sign up for are “college prep.” Seek the advice of your parents and a counselor. Take honors and advanced courses when appropriate. You should plan to take four or five college prep courses per term.
- Begin to explore careers and talk to people in positions and industries that interest you. What education do those careers require? Your school library and career center are good places to start.
- Get involved in school and community activities. Develop leadership skills. Involvement may lead to scholarships and/or summer jobs. But don't overdo it; your grades are very important!
- In the 10th grade, register for the P-ACT (Preliminary American College Test). This will help identify areas for improvement and give you a chance to strengthen future courses.
- Discuss college costs with your parents now. You can help, too, by starting to save. Begin to investigate information and funding options.
- Continue to take challenging courses and to explore careers. This is a very important year. Colleges usually base their decisions on your sophomore- and junior-year grades.
- In October, take the PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test). This is a good practice test, and it will help identify areas for you to improve. Good scores may also lead to a scholarship.
- Write to colleges for information. Begin to shop around; all colleges are not the same. Compare entrance requirements, cost, size, unique programs, facilities, your intended field of study, athletics and extracurricular activities. Talk to friends or relatives who have attended. It may or may not be the place for you.
- Plan to attend at least one college fair. It's a good time to gather information about a lot of colleges and ask questions. Besides, they're fun!
- Visit the counseling office often to see when representatives for the colleges you are interested in will visit your school. Schedule to meet them. Also check for new incoming information about colleges and scholarships.
- Take the SAT I and/or the ACT (American College Test) during the spring semester. Find out which test the colleges you are interested in require.
- Consult with your counselor or college admissions offices if you're unsure of your score. You may want to consider taking the test again.
- Continue to check into scholarships. There are even books and computer software with scholarship lists.
- The summer before your senior year is a good time to visit your top three college choices.
- Don't get “senioritis”! Your senior courses and grades do make a difference.
- You can still take or retake the SAT I and ACT. See your counselor for dates. Early fall is best.
- Continue to visit colleges that you missed during the summer.
- Send in your college applications early. Provide all requested materials, i.e., recommendations, transcripts, test scores and essays. If necessary, ask your counselor about a waiver for the application fee.
- Applying for financial aid? Send in the required forms (FAF, FFS or FAFSA). You should be able to get them from the guidance office at your high school. Submit them in January or February for early processing.
- After you've decided on the college you plan to attend, you should notify all other colleges of your decision.
You may think it looks like a great deal of work. It's really not. Just take one step at a time. If you have already missed some steps, don't panic. See your guidance counselor for alternatives.