College Awareness

Want to Help Your Students Apply to College? Share This with Them Now!

Jenn Liu

Let’s face it. We teachers and counselors are busy! We don’t have time to sit with students and walk them through how to apply to college and fill out college applications at the last minute when they should be doing it themselves.

But we went into this profession because we care and helping is our nature. If our students need help, we help, right?

Yes, but we also know the best way to help is to teach students to do things themselves. 

This means being proactive and helping students by sharing with them in advance what they can do to make the college application process less stressful and more doable.

The time for your students to complete college applications will be here faster than you can imagine. You don’t want them scrambling at the last minute to meet application deadlines. 

Here’s what you can share with your students so they will be ready to independently complete and submit their college applications on time.

1. When to Begin

Students should start the college application process during or before the spring of their junior year. This should include researching careers and colleges, creating their college list, and finding out and preparing all application requirements.

how to apply to college

2. Application Deadlines

Students should be aware of the different application deadlines. These include:


This is the normal time frame that students submit their college applications — usually between January 1 and February 1. Regular Decision offers of admission are sent back in March or April and there’s no obligation to enroll if students are accepted, but most colleges require a decision by May. 


When allowed, students would submit their applications by November or December. This is a binding agreement that can be used with only one school. Offers of admission are usually sent back by mid-December. If accepted, students must withdraw all other applications and enroll, so it’s best to use this with only a top-choice college. Some colleges have an Early Decision II deadline between mid-December and January 1.


When allowed, students would submit their applications by November or December. This is the same as an “Early Decision” but NOT a binding agreement. Offers of admission are usually sent back by mid-December. If accepted, students don’t have to withdraw other applications or decide until May and can decline if they want.


This type of non-binding admission gives a large window (usually a six-month period) to submit applications. There is not a particular deadline. The earlier students apply, the sooner they get an answer. Colleges evaluate applications as they come in and accept students until all spots are filled.

3. Making a College List

Students should make a college list by considering their most important criteria for choosing a college. This might include available majors, location, size, extracurriculars, programs, affordability, and admission difficulty.

They should try to get their list down to around 5-8 schools (there are different opinions on this). Students can organize their lists into reach, target, and safety schools. Read this blog post on 10 Tips Teachers Can Give Students on How to Choose a College.

If they are having a hard time narrowing down their list, they can also consider:

  • The price and due date of the application
  • Available financial aid
  • Variety of programs available
  • Housing options
  • Campus tour
  • If the school is a good fit for them

4. Preparing to Complete College Applications

Here’s what students will need to get ready in advance and be able to provide to complete most of their college applications, although it’ll be different for each application:


Students will usually need a recommendation from at least two teachers: a core subject teacher from the past two years and a non-core teacher and possibly a counselor. They should get permission before giving any recommenders’ names and ask for recommendations at least a month or more in advance.

Once a teacher (or adviser, coach, supervisor, etc.) has agreed to write a recommendation, students should share a copy of their updated resume or a datasheet/brag sheet with their recommenders.

Check out this blog post on How to Ask for Letters of Recommendation.


​​Transcripts must be mailed or emailed to colleges by a counselor or registrar. Students should check all classes, grades, credits, and scores for accuracy before mailing.


​​Students should check if test scores are required by the colleges they want to apply to and then take the SAT and/or ACT during their junior year. Of course, they might consider a re-take in the fall of their senior year. Many colleges are test-optional and some have gone test blind.

It’s best if students select colleges to receive their scores when they register for each test. It’s also cheaper to send their scores as they’re registering. Point out that colleges only look at the highest test scores they receive from each student.

For more information, check out this blog post on College Entrance Exams: How to Help Students with SAT and ACT Test Prep.


This is a document or resume, or space on the application, where students list meaningful extracurricular activities, work, awards, and honors they received. Students should use specific, active verbs to describe problems they solved, skills or values they developed, the measurable impact they made, and how they applied what they learned. Of course, they should be honest and very specific.


Students should follow the application prompts for any required essays – they’ll usually have a choice. The earlier they can start, the better. 

Encourage students to…

  • Share a story not already told on their application.
  • Write several drafts.
  • Focus on one or a few experiences only.
  • Use details and imagery.
  • Connect their story to their goals.
  • Get feedback from parents, friends, teachers, and counselors!

To learn more, check out this blog post: How Can You Help Students Write an Awesome Personal Statement?

5. The College Application

Once students are ready to complete their college applications, they should read all the application fields and requirements carefully and list the needed information accurately. Obviously, they should complete the application themselves, but ask a guardian or counselor for help if they need it. Remind them to use an appropriate personal email address when applying, keep track of all deadlines, and submit their applications on time. Finally, students should check for grammatical errors and misspelled words and not forget to click “submit” once they complete their forms.  It’s also a good idea for them to check their email for confirmation that the colleges received their application forms.

A final note: Application fees range from free to around $100. If students can only afford a certain amount, this may help them to narrow their college list to fit their budget. Most colleges offer application fee waivers, so students should follow the application directions if they think they’d qualify for a fee waiver.

If you would like a beautiful no-prep, done-for-you interactive Google Slides presentation on “How to Apply to College” to share with your students, click HERE!

how to apply to college

You might also like this no-prep interactive Google Slides presentation on “Options after High School” to share with your students. Click HERE to get it.

If you found this article helpful, share it with your teacher friends and colleagues!

Bold font

I'm Jenn, your new teacher friend.

I know how you feel about teaching college and career readiness. You care deeply about helping your students reach their dreams, but you have a lot on your plate already and not enough time to design more lessons. No worries--I can help!

more about me

Hey there!

Do you need engaging no-prep lessons and activities for a college and career readiness class?
These done-for-you resources for grades 9-12 will save you lots of planning time!

best seller

 Feeling lost trying to find visually appealing, informative, and interactive resources to teach your secondary students about college and career readiness? Get this Pear Deck Google Slides bundle!

best seller wITH pear deck

 Top Resources

Steal My Curriculum Planning Guide!

Wondering what you need to cover to be sure your students have the knowledge and skills they need to be college and career ready?
Here are 16 Essential Lessons to Get Your Students
College and Career Ready!

wow, i'll take it!

Free guide