By Sydia Bell

School is back in session and for returning high school students, the college application process is now a priority.

Before you start filling out applications, create a reasonable list of colleges you’d like to attend. Beginning sophomore year, students should start compiling a list of schools they are interested in. College applications do not just occupy your time and energy, there are also costs affiliated with the process.

With that in mind, make sure to pay attention to the college’s location, size, cost, majors, on campus clubs, organizations and facilities. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Compiling a list of options
Pick one or two colleges that you feel confident about. Commonly referred to as “safety schools” – because you have a 90 to 100 percent chance of getting in – these are the more affordable schools that you like and will meet your educational needs.

Two to four colleges that you will probably get into (75 percent chance) and are close to what you desire out of a school and its curriculum.

Then there are the “reach” schools. There should always be at least one or two of these schools on your list that present an admissions challenge. Whether it is the SAT (ACT) test scores, lacking extracurricular activities or grades that provide you with hesitation when applying. These schools are still well worth the try.

Finding the right school for you
Above all you need to find the right school for you. There might be an institution that you have dreamed of attending, but if you are an inspiring culinary chef, Georgia Tech might not be the right “fit” and it is important to recognize that. College is a big decision and can propel students in the right or wrong direction.

College tours, campus visits and overnights are highly recommended if interested in experiencing the campus feel.

Navigating the application process
Once a college list has been compiled, applications need to be completed. Most applications ask for the following:

  • Application form with fee: Most colleges have applications that can be completed and submitted online. Not only does this method save trees, but once you submit an initial application form a personal file is created. This allows students to continuously submit materials instead of having to send in everything all at once. Note: Application fees can range anywhere from $35 to $50 dollars.
  • High school transcript: Once senior year is completed, schools will send out final transcript for grades received until graduation. That means even though students will be accepted into school, senior grades need to be kept up. The year isn’t over until it’s over.
  • Admission test scores: Many colleges require SAT or ACT test scores, but not all. When scheduling SAT or ACT tests make sure to choose colleges that you would like to receive scores and which scores to send since you can take the standardize test numerous times.
  • Essay: The essay portion of the application is the applicant’s time to speak for themselves and highlight their individuality. Jeremy Sale, Assistant Director of Admissions at Oglethorpe University, says, “The essay is a critical factor when deciding acceptance. They should highlight a personal experience, unique, concise and not overly verbose. He also reminds future applicants that, “it is important to have work proofread but not by too many people. The most important feature about the essay is that it stays your own.”
  • Letters of recommendation: Most schools ask for at least one or two letters of recommendation from a teacher, counselor or other adult which can speak to your character. The letter of recommendation gives the school a better understanding of who the applicant is. When asking for recommendations make sure the individual can highlight your academic strengths along with your personality. Note: Recommendation letters are very important when it comes to those “reach” schools; they highlight an aspect that cannot be measured through grades or standardized testing.
  • Interviews, auditions and portfolios: When applying to any school conducting an interview either on campus or via telephone is another way to show your interest and/or establish your personality. For some schools a portfolio may be necessary to showcase your art, writing, design, etc. Auditions for theater or music-based pursuits are also common. Shane Westerhold, an admission representative for SCAD-Atlanta, says the portfolio submission is optional for undergrad students and is mainly there, “To understand where students are coming from and showcases their ability.” The applicants who choose to submit are eligible to receive additional credit with awarded scholarship money based on quality of portfolio.

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.