Frequently Asked Questions

Which colleges should I apply to?

Before you can decide which colleges to apply to, brainstorm a list of preferences. Consider the following:

  • Do you want a big or small school?
  • Would you like to live in a big city, a college town, in a warm climate, etc.?
  • What’s important to you: student-faculty ratio, quality of the faculty, reputation,
  • Happiness of the students, school spirit and good sports teams, etc.?
  • Do you want to attend a school close to home?

Once you’ve got a general list going, start looking for colleges that meet your criteria. You should also think about what you want to major in, so you can find schools that have strong programs in that major. If you’re not sure, look for schools with a few majors in your main area of interest(s).

How many colleges should I apply to?

There’s no absolute answer to this question. Experts offer answers ranging from four to 10. At least six is a good number to shoot for, but ideally no more than 15 schools.

You should divide these schools into three categories: reach, target, and safety. To do so, you’ll need to research the average SAT/ACT and GPA of admitted students. Then, based on your numbers, you’ll determine whether the school is a reach (unlikely to be accepted), target (good chance of acceptance), or safety (very good chance of acceptance).

Should I apply early?

Applying early can get complicated. There are several categories of early admission: Early Decision, Early Action, and Restricted Early Action. Here’s a brief breakdown:

  • Early Decision– This is a binding early round application. If you’re accepted Early Decision, you must enroll at the school. Use Early Decision only if you have a clear first choice.
  • Early Action– Early Action is non-binding. You can apply Early Action to multiple schools, and you aren’t obligated to attend if accepted. You can also apply Early Decision to one school and Early Action to several schools. If you’re accepted Early Decision, however, you must withdraw your Early Action applications.
  • Restricted Early Action– Like Early Decision, Restricted Early Action is binding. You must attend if accepted. The difference is that if you apply REA, you can’t apply in the early rounds to any other schools, even Early Action.

Some schools have their own variation on these categories. To be sure of the rules, thoroughly read information on the school’s website. It’s important to note that applying early can significantly increase your chances of acceptance.

Should I fill out the Common Application or the Coalition Application?

Both the Common and Coalition applications streamline the admissions process by combing the main application for a large number of schools, but the older Common App covers more schools, while the nascent Coalition App is geared toward including underrepresented students in the college admissions process. Neither application gives you a higher chance of earning an
acceptance letter.

Colleges that accept both the Common Application and the Coalition Application don’t prefer one over the other. However, the Common Application is accepted by more schools. This means that it can save you time during the college application process.

Once you’ve decided which colleges you’ll apply to, check their websites to see which application(s) they accept. Then you can fill out the application that’s accepted by more of the colleges you’ve selected.

How do colleges evaluate my application?

Most colleges use a holistic review process. This means they consider your test scores, GPA, grade trend, strength of schedule, extracurricular participation, essays, letters of recommendation, etc.

Applicants are considered as whole individuals. The admissions team tries to determine which students will succeed on their campus and make significant contributions. They try to build a diverse class with varying abilities and interests.

What SAT/ACT score do I need?

The answer to this question depends on the schools that you’re applying to. If, for instance, you want to go to an Ivy League school, you’ll need to aim for an SAT score in the 1470-1600 range, or an ACT score in the 31-35 range.

Of course, many schools are much less selective. The best plan is to research the average test scores of admitted students at the schools you’re interested in. Which of your schools has the highest average? Aim for a score slightly above that number.

What should I write about for my college essay/personal statement?

Write about something that is meaningful to you. The topic you choose should also reveal significant information about your personality, your “story,” or your passions:

  • Who are you?
  • What challenges have you overcome?
  • What do you want to do with your future?
  • What lessons have you learned over the years?
  • How have you grown as a person?
  • How have you pursued your interests over the summer or your free time?