Skip to main content
I Can Succeed

Decision Day is Coming for Seniors!
Schedule an advising session to review your financial aid packages, create a budget for college, and make informed decisions for next Fall. Schedule Today!


Main Content

Application Process

Ever wonder what happens once you submit your application? Does a group of suited judges look over every detail and stamp either "Accepted" or "Rejected" on it? Do you think names might just be drawn from a hat?

The truth lies somewhere in between. Each college has its own review process, but in general your application will be evaluated based on your:

  • Test scores.
  • Class rank.
  • Academic record.
    • Classes completed
    • Grades achieved
  • Extracurricular activities.
  • Work and volunteer experience.
  • Honors and awards.
  • Essay.

It can seem like all you do is fill out forms. Scholarships, financial aid, permission for the senior trip – shouldn't there be some sort of central place all these people can go to find your information?


Think of the application process as a tryout or a casting call. You already have the potential to be a student that colleges want. Now you just need to prove it to the schools you want to attend. Fortunately, you won't need to throw a touchdown pass or sing a solo to be accepted. Get ready for your tryout by following these steps.

  • Narrow down the list of colleges you're interested in. (As a junior, you should have 10 to 15 good choices. If you don't, start checking out websites and college fairs.)
  • By November of your senior year, narrow that list to the top two to five schools.
    • List these schools on your financial aid applications, ACT® or SAT® registrations, and other forms.
    • Look at the admission requirements. Are you able to meet all of them?
    • Apply to more than one school – even if you think one school is perfect for you.
  • Fill out admission applications online or on paper (most schools offer both).
    • Visit the schools' websites to get the forms you need.
    • Check to see if your school accepts the Common Application.
      • The Common Application is a standard form accepted by nearly 300 colleges across the country. Many schools that accept the Common Application also have supplemental forms you must complete.
  • Send applications as soon as you can. It's a good idea to send your applications no later than March if you want to attend college in the fall.
    • Check with your chosen schools about specific admission deadlines. Many colleges have a rolling admissions deadline, which means you can apply anytime throughout the year.

Well, there's not, and the college admission application form is one you'll want to make sure you fill out. It's one of the most important steps in the admission process and a good opportunity to show that you're the kind of student a college wants.

Different schools may ask for different materials or have different forms, but you'll most likely need to include:

  • Admission application fee.
    This may or may not apply to your school. Read your form and the school's website to find out for sure.
  • Official high school transcript.
    Normally, you'll send an unofficial transcript when you apply, and then have your high school send a final transcript when you graduate.
  • Biographical information.
    Besides the typical birth date, address and parental information, you'll be asked about your high school education.
  • Test scores.
    ACT® and/or SAT® test scores are usually needed. Learn more about college admission exams: how to prepare, what to expect, registration deadlines and test dates.
  • Letters of recommendation.
    Ask adults who aren't related to you to write letters about what kind of person you are – your character, responsibility, creativity, discipline and initiative. Good people to ask are teachers, school counselors, coaches, clergy and employers.
  • Essay.
    Not all colleges ask you to write an essay, but some do. Lean how to write an effective application essay.

Types of Admission Deadlines

A date is easy enough to understand. But what's a rolling deadline? How is that different from a regular decision? Since most Iowa schools use one of these plans, it's important to understand them. Here are definitions, along with those of other plans you might find.

Early Admission

Early admission, or dual enrollment, means you enroll in college and start taking college courses while you're still completing your high school education.

Regular Admission

This is just what it says – the regular way. Students submit an application by a specific date set by the school and receive a decision in a clearly stated period of time.

Rolling Admission

Rolling admission means colleges review and decide on applications when they receive them throughout the admission cycle. You'll still want to be early – admission and financial aid decisions are made on a first-come, first-served basis, and you don't want to miss out.

Early Action

Early action allows students to apply early and receive a response well ahead of the school's usual response date. You don't need to make a commitment to the school when you get the response. If you're accepted under early action, you can still apply to other schools. You'll receive your financial aid package in the spring with other students who applied to that college.

Early Decision – Binding

Early decision deadlines vary by school from mid-October to early January. You would apply for an early decision if you're convinced this is the top college for you. If you accept admission and the school provides an adequate financial aid package, you withdraw applications to other colleges.

Admission Essays

Is anything more dreaded than the essay? It's bad enough having to write one for class, when it's worth 100 points or a percentage of your grade. Now you have to write one that can be the deciding factor on where, or if, you go to college.

Don't panic. First of all, the essay is only one part of the decision process for college admission. Secondly, you're going to do fine – because you know how to write an effective essay. Just follow these steps.

  • Generate ideas.
    • Research the topic. If you are to write about yourself, think about the decisions and actions that led you to this point.
    • Brainstorm around the topic. Spend some time jotting down every thought you have. Don't worry about sounding great right now.
    • Remember to think about how the topic applies to you. The point is to stand out with a unique and personal essay.
  • Draft an outline.
    • Put your thoughts down on paper first.
    • Arrange your ideas in a logical order.
    • Try out attention-grabbing introductions and logical conclusions.
  • Write a rough draft.
    • Develop a theme, or major idea, to make your point.
    • Share how you overcame obstacles or met challenges, but be positive – no sob stories!
    • Show; don't tell. Examples and little stories make an essay come to life and add your individual character to the words.
    • Use transitions to make your ideas flow.
  • Review and edit your draft.
    • Wait a couple of days before this step. You may have new ideas or see ways to freshen your writing.
    • Choose the best introduction and conclusion, or revise what you have.
    • Have two or three adults review and edit your essay.
    • Make corrections suggested by your reviewers.
    • Proofread and have someone else proofread your essay.
  • Make final changes.

Once you've submitted a college admission application, all that hard work may seem simple compared to waiting to hear from the school. Be patient – you want your school to take the time it needs to decide on its students.

Soon you'll receive acceptance, denial and/or wait-list letters.


Congratulations! Be sure to list the schools where you have been accepted on your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) if you haven't submitted it yet.

  • Compare financial aid packages carefully. Consider the amount and types of aid, the overall cost of education at each school, your goals and your ability to pay. Remember that you'll need to pay for more than one year!
  • After deciding on a school, send in any needed paperwork before the deadlines.
  • Contact other schools you applied to immediately to let them know you aren't coming.


This can happen for different reasons:

  • The maximum number of students has already been admitted.
  • You have unmet qualifications like a minimum GPA or test score.
  • Your essay or letters of recommendation didn't make the cut.
  • You missed the deadline.

If you're denied, remember:

  • Applying to multiple schools ensures you have options in case of denial.
  • Wait to hear from the other schools you applied to.
  • If you're accepted by your other schools, review their remaining deadlines and move forward with their process.


If you meet admission requirements, but the school or the program has already accepted the maximum number of new students, you can be wait-listed.

  • Get the details. Before you decide anything, contact the school and:
    • Find out if you're missing out on financial aid, housing options or other elements by being wait-listed.
    • Ask whether wait-listed students are ranked or given priority. Most schools will tell you your status on such a list.
  • Try harder. Remember, you're already qualified to attend. Now's the time to show any extra initiative that might give you an edge.
    • Write a letter demonstrating any new involvements or any information not included in your original application.
    • Request an interview. Even if you've already had one, you can use a new one to demonstrate your renewed commitment to the school.
  • Make a plan. If you do get moved off the wait-list, you will have only a short time to make a decision on whether to attend.
    1. Look at other schools who have accepted you. Would one of them be just as good?
    2. Prepare admission forms for other schools as a back-up plan.
© 2024I Can Succeed. All rights reserved.