Getting Students in Shape for College Applications

High school passes pretty quickly, and if there’s anything we at Train the Brain have experienced working with high school students, it’s that you’re better off starting early to prepare for college applications than to rush last minute senior year. In order to make sure you’re ready for college applications, you have to understand the college admissions process. 

Gathering Information

The college admissions process actually starts well before you even narrow down your list of possible colleges.  As you move through your high school years, keep a log of the following items that you will need to submit for your college applications:

  • • Transcripts
  • • Letters of Recommendation
  • • Academic Honors and Achievements
  • • SAT/ACT scores
  • • AP scores
  • • Extra-curricular experiences
  • • Leadership roles
  • • Community service/Volunteer experiences


Although you won’t gather your transcript until later in high school, you can start thinking about what will be on your transcript right away. Be sure to keep your grades up through high school. The college admissions team will see your transcript, so they’ll know if you didn’t get into the swing of things until sophomore year and then earned stellar scores for the remaining three years, and they’ll recognize that boost of maturity and growth. 

On the flip side, they’ll also know if you slacked and your grades all dropped miserably senior year. Plenty of seniors in high school were accepted early to college only to receive rejection letters once their final transcript was sent to the school. Your grades are your top priority from day one all the way through to graduation day. Make your transcripts count for you, not against you.

Another important thing to consider as you prepare for the college application process is that it’s better to get into a tutoring program that works for your schedule as soon as you realize you need extra help. Online tutoring programs like the ones offered through Train the Brain can be accessed wherever you have an internet connection, so there’s no major disruption to your schedule. You enroll, sign up for tutoring, select a tutor, schedule a tutoring session, confirm it, and show up for your one-on-one tutoring all 100% online. As you think about preparing for college applications, online tutoring is an important step to keep in mind if your grades start to fall. It’s even considered by admissions counselors to be a sign of maturity and academic integrity to know when to reach out when you need it.

Since the college admissions process starts the minute you walk through the doors to your high school as a ninth grade student, keep track of any unique or challenging classes you’ve taken, activities you’ve been involved in, leadership roles you’ve taken, and awards you’ve earned so that you are prepared with an organized list of experiences and achievements during your junior year. You’ll never regret collecting information early on to help your junior and senior years go a lot more smoothly.

If you have made a connections with certain teachers, keep them on a list of people who can provide good letters of recommendations. Talk to them early about college admissions and continue stopping in to see them to keep a healthy relationship with them as you move through your high school years. Teachers who you make a connection with are a wealth of knowledge for you as you move through school, and they’re a valuable resource for recommendations as well. 

If you see an opportunity to take a leadership role in your community, church, or school activity, go for it! Although you might still be finding your footing during freshman year, the remainder of your time in high school should provide you with opportunities to take on responsibilities and leadership roles that will be impressive additions to your college applications.

Selecting a School

You’ll want to start casually investigating possible schools during your sophomore year. The U.S. Department of Education College Scorecard is a great way to search schools or fields of study. You can even look for opportunities for apprenticeships or do some career exploration through Career One Stop. 

During sophomore year, you can easily start looking at schools online, checking to see what school are best for your possible field of study, and comparing schools to see what each offers you, all through the College Scorecard. This will prepare you for the college admissions and application process because once you have a general idea of what school and field of study you are interested in, you can start to plan your high school courses around that information. You can even take online summer school courses to supplement your experiences if you want to. 

By the end of sophomore year or start of junior year, once you have a shorter list of colleges you would like to attend, you’ll know what kind of SAT or ACT scores you need for their admissions process. You can plan early on to take a live online SAT Prep Course as well, to ensure you have the right score for that application when you’re ready to apply junior year.

Common App 

Although you can set up an account with Common App at any time, the best time to get your Common App account set up is junior year, but whenever you sign up, your account will stick with you as you move through high school. Common App is a centralized location that over 900 member colleges and universities worldwide use to screen applicants. Through Common App, you can collect letters of recommendation; upload your high school transcript; list your school and “real-world” extra-curriculars, including work and family responsibilities; list your PSAT, SAT, ACT, or AP test scores; and keep track of your various academic honors and achievements. 

Using Common App early during your junior year can be helpful because you will be able to see what information many colleges and universities expect of you and start using your organized list and uploading the necessary information and documents early. It’s also a great way to keep track of your experiences throughout your high school career. You can always delete things later if you need to before you start to actually submit applications to your choice of post-secondary institutions.

Keep Track of Deadlines

The college application and admissions process is all about deadlines. On top of collecting information throughout your high school career, you also have to stay organized in order to get all of that information uploaded and organized online for your college applications. Keeping track of deadlines for early admission, regular decision admission, financial aid, and scholarship opportunities can be pretty overwhelming, so an organized approach is absolutely essential. 

You might want to share your digital calendar with a trusted adult so that you can work together with them to  be sure you don’t miss any important deadlines. Setting notifications two or three weeks out, one week out, a few days before, and the day before might feel annoying sometimes, but in the end, you’ll be grateful that you didn’t let yourself slide. Most college applicants who miss the deadline don’t find any wiggle room with the college admissions team, financial aid office, or scholarship committees, so it’s better to be temporarily annoyed by alarms than disappointed in yourself.

Application Fees

Along with those college application deadlines come application fees as well, so planning about how you’re going to pay for those fees is something to keep in mind as you get ready for college admissions. Some school have a grace period where there is no fee, some schools offer fee waivers for qualifying students, and others have any range of application fees required. 

On top of the application fees, you might have to pay a small amount for your high school to send your official transcript to either Common App or the colleges you’re applying to. All of these fees can start to add up. Being aware of how much money, if any, you are going to need in order to submit your application with all the necessary documents will help you prepare with no surprises stopping you from pressing that “submit” link when the time comes.

You’ll never regret starting early to prepare for an outstanding college application, so be sure to gather the information, keep your grades up, jump at those unique experiences, and reach out for help as soon as you need it. Before you know it, you’ll be a freshman in the college of your choice, amazed at how quickly high school passed and proud of yourself and your achievements.


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