Applying to college: The basics

College applications can seem daunting, because there’s so much at stake and because — depending on how many colleges have attracted your interest — you might be filling out quite a few. Fortunately, colleges tend to request the same types of basic information from their applicants. Here is a quick rundown of what you’ll likely be expected to provide as you begin applying.

About you
Applications require basic information, including your Social Security Number (or other federal identification number, if you don’t have a Social Security Number), mailing address, telephone numbers, and other contact information.

About your family
Relevant information about your family may include your parents' names, mailing addresses, and other identifying information. An application may also ask whether anyone else in your family currently attends or has previously attended that particular school.

Educational background
Information about your educational background includes the schools you attended, along with attendance years, your specific course of study, number of classes taken, when you graduated or will graduate, and other similar information.

Test scores
Schools will likely ask for your scores on the ACT, SAT, or other college entrance, placement, or related academic tests. As you take these tests, you may want to indicate that your scores be sent to your preferred schools so that they have an official record.

Academic or extracurricular experience
Information about other academic or extracurricular experiences may be requested, including:

  • Leadership positions,
  • Organizations and clubs,
  • Volunteer work,
  • Athletics and academic awards, and
  • Your participation in various projects.

Many schools request that each applicant submit a personal essay. Essays are requested for two reasons — they provide insight into your background and experiences, and add dimension to the school’s picture of who you are; and they also demonstrate your ability to write.

Some schools may ask that you submit recommendations, either as part of your application or mailed separately by person who is recommending you. As you approach your senior year, think about teachers, coaches, family friends, religious leaders, or others in your community that you may want to ask to write a recommendation for you.

Transcripts are a record of your performance in high school. Although some of the information provided can vary, most transcripts offer basic lists of courses taken, grades received, honors and awards, and other supporting information.

For a handy checklist to help you with preparing your application, read through AIE's College Admissions Checklist.