Northwest University Blog

How to Apply to College: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Apply to College: A Step-by-Step Guide

At first, applying to college may seem like an overwhelming task. But here’s the truth: you’ve already done the hard part. Now it’s just time to put it all on paper. Following this step-by-step guide, applying to college will be easier than you could have ever imagined.

Start Your College Search Early

It’s never too early in your high school career to start thinking about college. Begin to ask yourself questions. Do you want to attend a large state university or a small private college? Is there a specific program you would like your school to have? During this process, thoroughly investigate certain colleges and start to narrow down your choices. Some great resources include college fairs, College Board, and College Prowler.

Keep Your Grades Up

Grades are one of the most important factors in applying to college. It can be easy to get caught up in dreaming about college, but make sure to keep up with your schoolwork. It’s often said that colleges don’t take your senior year grades into account. However, this is untrue. Focus and finish strong. You’ll be glad you did.

Take the SAT or ACT

Some schools will require you to take the SAT, some the ACT; others will require both. Check the requirements of the schools you’re interested in and start to prepare. Take your standardized tests as early as the start of your junior year. This way, you can retake them if you aren’t satisfied with your scores. Most colleges only ask for your highest score. Some schools will even allow you to “superscore,” submitting the highest scores of each section from different test attempts.

Write an Excellent Application Essay

Colleges are looking for more than impressive grades and test scores. They are looking for individuals who will contribute to the campus community. This is your chance to show them who you are. Think of a creative way to express yourself honestly. A good essay will go a long way. Many students get into schools that are “out of their league” due to an outstanding essay.

Ask for Letters of Recommendation

Over your time in high school, it’s likely you’ve had at least one teacher that you really connected with. This is exactly who you want writing a letter of recommendation. Choose a teacher who knows not only your work ethic, but one who also knows you personally. This will make for a more compelling letter. Don’t forget to ask early and to thank your teachers.

Double Check

Make sure everything is in order. You can never be too careful. Be confident in your grades and SAT scores. Have multiple sets of eyes proofread your essays and letters of recommendation. Remind your high school to send your transcripts to the schools you have applied to. It would be a shame for a silly mistake to stand in the way of you attending your dream school.


Now that you have all the elements, it’s time to apply. Do so early if possible; you can often avoid paying application fees. Application deadlines differ greatly from school to school, so do your research. Some colleges will use the Common Application, while others have their own version. Regardless, the process is the same. Upload your information in the order they ask for it and click “submit.” When you’re all done, don’t forget to celebrate!