The fall 2023 enrollment season is here! This time brings a flurry of excitement, nerves, and the promise of new beginnings. But navigating this new terrain is certainly no walk in the park—cue our college application best practices guide. Let’s dive in.
How Many Schools Should You Apply To?
While your dream school’s flag has adorned your wall for years, you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket. Research suggests that you apply to five to eight schools. But it’s not as much about the number of applications as the institution’s quality for YOU.
Look into programs that pique your interest—which schools have the best chemistry program, for example, or which could offer the best scholarship opportunities? Once you have the list, you can begin a deeper analysis of each program.
Start with what your dream schools are looking for.
- Does your program have a required GPA?
- Do you need to take the ACT or SAT, and what marks should you aim for?
- What about extracurricular, volunteer, and other activities that can set you apart?
Then, dive into the financials. The goal of these questions is to help you determine if the program makes financial sense.
- What scholarship, grant, and other financial aid opportunities are available at the school and within your specific program?
- Will you have to take out a massive amount of student debt? Remember, make financially smart education choices. You have to balance the degree’s value and your debt burden.
As much as you may want your dream school to be your alma mater, you should always prioritize making the best financial decision. You may have the grades and the extracurriculars to blow any school away, but if the price isn’t right, you need to consider that. Keep costs in mind when deciding where to apply.
Each school’s application process may look different, but generally, application dates will land between Fall 2022 to Jan-Feb 2023 (early decision and action are first). So, make sure every piece of your application is ready: essay, letters of recommendation, standardized test scores, grades, etc. Extra preparation will allow you to apply at the first opportunity!
Each year over a million students apply to colleges through the Common App. The Common App is a single online college application used by over 900 colleges and universities. It streamlines your application by not filling out the same generalized information repeatedly for each institution. The Common App site recommends you make sure you have all of your materials prepared ahead of time. The App will help you track necessary application documents, but being ready means you will be less likely to stop the process along the way.
When is the Common App due? Well, the answer varies. There are quite a few different application styles to keep an eye out for.
Early action and early decision application deadlines are usually due in the fall. Regular decision applications could be due in the first few months of the year, January through February. Rolling admission is unpredictable.
Your application deadline is a moving target; it varies upon how the spots fill up for the different colleges. This is why it is important to have your materials, and Common App filled out and ready to go for whatever admission style you are hoping to achieve.
When Will You Hear Back?
Some schools have rolling admissions, whereas others set a scheduled date for regular or early admissions. Research shows that the date for regular decision admissions is usually spring 2023 (March-April). Though if you are early action or early decision, you could hear back as soon as December.
Now, when it comes to the difference between early action and early decision, there is a significant one that could affect your financial aid. Both early application options let you know if you have been accepted to the school before the regular admissions pool. Early action does not mean that you have committed to the school in question. It just means you could hear earlier if you have been accepted or not.
Early decision is another matter. Early decision locks you into the school in question. You must go with that first-choice school and withdraw all other college applications—even if one gives you a better offer.
You might be asking yourself – if there are so many possible problems with early decision, then why do it? Well, maybe you are recruited by a school for athletics and make the early decision to apply with them to commit to playing for their school. From an academic standpoint, maybe the school you are looking at has the best program for your intended career than all other schools. It could be enough to encourage some students to make the early decision application process because that is the place they know they want to go. So, if you make an early decision, make sure you are willing to go all-in on that school!
There is another glaring danger about early decision application, and it has to do with your financial aid. Best Colleges states their concern, “You’re entering an agreement without seeing your financial aid offer.” Doing so could be problematic if you will rely on that financial aid to pay for most of your tuition. While some schools may help investigate aid options after you apply, many won’t. You have to conduct your due diligence and ensure an early decision school is truly the right fit academically and financially.
What About Your Financial Aid Award Letters?
Your financial award letters will usually come in mid-April. What is a financial aid letter? What does it do for you? What does it tell you? Your financial aid award letter will tell you how much money you have been granted. This aid could come from multiple sources and can help you cover the rest of the costs you may not be able to on your own. Once you receive the letter, it is up to you whether or not you accept or reject the aid.
Wow, the pressure may feel a little overwhelming after reading this information! Maybe you are worried about making a mistake or not even sure where to begin. The good news is College Aid Pro is here to help! CAP’s mission to empower and enable every student to find their affordable path to college. Whether you leverage our college planning software to shop smarter for college, meet with our college planning experts who are at the ready to answer any questions that keep you up at night, or just consume our educational content to become informed consumer we got your back!