The Most Confusing Parts of the College Application Process

Student, Judge Memorial Catholic High School

Mar   2016



Applying to college is stressful enough already—the last thing you need is to be confused by the logistics of submitting your applications! I went through it this year and am here to offer some advice and clarification about the nitty gritty of applying to college, especially pertaining to submitting test scores, transcripts, and letters of recommendation and using the Common Application.

Test scores

Something that consistently confused me and my peers was submitting standardized test scores. You think it would be simple, as all you have to do is Google the college’s ACT or SAT code, type it into the test’s website, pop in your credit card information, and hit send. However, knowing when to do so is where things can get a bit foggy. Make sure you understand the exact expectations of each college you’re applying to. Some schools allow you to submit test scores after the application deadline, and some don’t. If you’re satisfied with your test score and are not planning on taking another standardized test before applying, send the scores about a week before you send your Common Application or standard application. This times the scores to be likely to arrive when your application does. I recommend doing this even if your prospective college doesn’t require the test scores to come at the same time as the rest of your application, because I think it helps streamline the process and ensures all your application materials make it to the admission officers. However, if you are planning on taking another standardized test and have verified on the college’s website that you have time to do so, make sure you submit the scores ASAP after taking the test. Feel free to talk to your counselor to verify you know when your scores need to be sent by, check the college’s website, e-mail your admission counselor—whatever you need to do to ensure you are following procedure for submitting standardized test scores. 

High school transcripts

Submitting transcripts can be a similarly confusing experience. Every high school is different, but in my experience, I had to pay a fee by a certain deadline (I recommend using a planner to pin down all the dates for the application process!), and my counselor then submitted it electronically. As with test scores, some colleges require them to accompany the rest of the application, though some allow them to be sent in by later dates. Again, just check, double-check, and triple-check that you know exactly when your transcripts need to be submitted.

Recommendation letters

Letters of recommendation are a way for admission officers to get a sense of who you are, so it’s imperative that you submit them properly. In my experience, I was really confused about what to do. I talked to my counselor and learned she’d be submitting them separately and that I didn’t need to worry about them. Your counselor might do it this way too, but you should still check up on how your high school will send in your letter(s) of recommendation. And you should confirm with anyone else you ask to write letters how they’d prefer to send them in and when.

The Common Application

Though the Common App makes applying to multiple colleges easier by congregating all the aspects of your application, it can get a bit baffling. The Common App divides your application up into a main application and writing supplements for each school, and it can sometimes be hard to tell which supplemental essays you need to do. When I applied, I wasn’t sure how to best list my activities in the “Activities” section, and debated whether or not to make use of the “Additional Information” section. I eventually decided to outline my activities with a short description, and elaborated on them using the “Additional Information” section. Ask someone who’s already applied to help you navigate the Common App, and make sure you end up with all green check marks, signifying you’ve completed every aspect of your application.

Understanding all the ins and outs of applying by researching and talking to experienced friends and your counselor will help reduce stress during the application season, and give you more time to focus on your actual application. Bypass all the confusion and show those admission officers who you are and what you’ve done! 

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About Madison Reid

Madison Reid, a wannabe poet and chef from Salt Lake City, is a senior in high school who's fascinated with and engaged in the college search. She loves writing, music, taking amature photos, blogging, bad TV shows, people, and learning.