Navigating the College Admissions Maze: Insights and Tips for High School Seniors!

Aggie Keough '24
As soon as you enter high school, ironically, college becomes the most important part of your life. Good grades, involvement in school events, preparing for tests, community service, taking tests. These are all what high school students’ lives become revolved around: to get into a good college. But what happens when it’s time to apply? How exactly does it work? How does the process go?
According to the Common App, the number of college applications has increased 4% since last year. The increased interest in going to college as well as the growing number of colleges opening up has created a tedious and difficult process. The first step of college application begins your junior year, arguably the most important year of high school. It’s the year most focused on by colleges with regards to grades and activities and it’s when a bulk of the testing takes place. Even though most colleges have become test-optional, most students still take the test. In 2022, 1.7 million students took the SAT, comparatively, 1.3 million took the ACT.  Before testing can begin, though, juniors must begin preparing. Last year, the average score for students in America on the SAT was a 1050. Ten points less than it was in 2021. The SAT and ACT are hard tests and should be prepared for. Prep classes can be stressful and add even more work to a load that already seems unbearable. Practice questions, practice tests, learning and relearning lessons, focusing on problem areas, taking full-length tests, prep classes are definitely a lot of work and sometimes seem like an unnecessary expense on students’ already challenging schedules. However, students who did take test prep classes scored an average of sixty points higher on their SATs than those who did not take a class. 

Preparing for these tests also means sitting for PSATs and Pre-ACT testing. At Xaverian, students take PSATs every year and the pre-ACT their sophomore year. These practice tests simulate the environment of taking the real tests. Though these tests are often seen as unneeded and a bothersome activity, it’s proven that taking these tests helps students identify their problem areas. 

Many students also take these tests multiple times. Practice and repetition can help raise student’s scores. Students also have the option to superstore their SATs, which means they take their highest English grade and their highest math grade, even if they’re from different tests, and add them together to create a higher score. It’s advised that students take the test at least three times to raise their chances of getting a high score. 

The next part of the process is picking your schools. It’s suggested that students apply to ten to twelve schools: three safe schools, four to five target schools, and three reach schools. Safe schools are schools that accept students with an SAT and GPA range lower than the applicants’. Target schools fall within the student’s range, and reach schools fall above it. 

Creating your list of colleges can be extremely challenging and time-consuming. It’s important to have the main points that every school on your list has to meet. This can include distance, majors, clubs, sports, and programs. It’s important to figure out what exactly you’re looking for in a school before beginning the search. There are lots of websites and search engines that help students find schools that fall within their SAT/ACT and GPA range while also providing the main points a specific student is looking for. 

The next step for applying to schools is a tedious one. Students need two recommendation letters from two teachers of their choice. Students are encouraged to choose either a teacher who teaches a subject in line with their major of choice or a teacher from one of the four main subjects: math, science, history, and English. Teachers are notified, and so are college counselors. The two teachers are then put on Naviance, an app that allows your counselors and teachers to see your college list and help you apply, and their recommendations are sent through Naviance. Students should pick teachers they feel they have somewhat of a connection with. Teachers could easily pick the student out and give a detailed and accurate portrayal of what it’s like to teach this student. 

Students must also complete their brag sheets, resumes, and college essays. Brag sheets highlight the exceptional things students have done in their high school years that are not reflected in their application. This includes community service, leadership roles, jobs, and other activities that would be otherwise excluded from their applications. Resumes describe activities both inside and outside schools. This includes clubs, sports teams, and jobs. Resumes focus more on the list of activities, while a brag sheet focuses more on the student themselves. 

The college essay is extremely important in the application process and reveals a part of the applicant that isn’t shown through their application. For example, if a student is really good with kids, their essay should somehow reflect that. Students are advised to make their essays interesting and revealing. Many English teachers suggest using metaphors or everyday occurrences that otherwise seem ordinary but expose a piece of the applicant's character — for example, taking the bus home from school or walking your dog. 

Once the writing portion of the application is finished, students need to begin compiling a list of schools to apply to. When researching schools, the academics are only a small part of what students need to look into when applying. Size, location, distance from home, social atmosphere, housing, distance from towns and cities, studying abroad opportunities, interning programs, job rates, graduation rates, and, of course, pricing are all important factors to consider.

Once students have compiled a rough draft of their college list, campus visits and tours come next. Many students undervalue the campus of a college and believe that the campus doesn’t change the school. However, the campus does affect the lifestyle of students as well as the overall feeling of the school. If students are looking for a school where they can easily access restaurants, shops, and other out-of-school activities, they need to find a school with a town or city in close proximity. If students want to be able to walk to their classes or hangout on campus, the style and size of the campus matter. Touring schools can also help shape further what a student’s dream school is. By touring, students can eliminate schools based on the general feel or layout of the campus and figure out what they’re looking for in a college. 

Students should also look into the social details of the college. Those who wish to go to a party school should make sure the colleges they apply to match their criteria. The same applies to students who would prefer a quieter school. Many websites provide “grades” in areas such as partying and the general social atmosphere of schools. This also includes gathering spaces on campus, living situations, and accessibility to out-of-school businesses. 

Once students have compiled their list, the real application begins. Students’ lists of colleges are placed into the Common App, which is the main application portal for colleges. However, some colleges require applicants to apply through their personal portal, which is another thing to look out for. Generally, though, students apply through the Common App. The Common App is also linked to Naviance, the app where teachers and counselors send off recommendation letters, transcripts, and anything else required by the schools. 

Each school’s application has a unique set of questions. Almost every school asks for start dates, living arrangements, and your decided major; entering schools undecided is always an option, however. Some applications also require a supplement. Usually, it’s a short essay, usually about 250 words, that follows the theme of telling the college more about yourself. Supplements can also be a series of questions, a personal statement, or other information that reveals something about the student. Some schools even provide a space to link a YouTube, Instagram, or TikTok account that students feel would enhance their application. 

The Common App itself also requires students to fill out questions concerning their grades, activities, personal information, and even student’s parents’ education. It does not ask for supplements but allows students to link their online profiles. College essays, brag sheets, and resumes are all added to this portion of the application. Students are also required to fill out a contract that allows the school to send their transcripts to colleges. 

Sending SAT scores is another part of the application done by students. SAT scores must be sent through College Board by the students themselves but can be sent earlier or later than the application itself. SAT scores should only be sent to schools that fall within a student’s SAT range. For example, if a student has a 1230, they shouldn’t send their scores to a college whose range is 1310-1400 but should send it to schools with a range of 1200-1300. Sending your scores also comes with a $14 fee paid to College Board. It’s also important for students to make sure they are sending the correct score. College Board's default is to send all scores, but if students took multiple tests or if they’re trying to super score, it’s important to make sure the correct score is being sent out. 

The final step of the application is a breeze. Your application gets put into PDF form which you then revise to ensure that your application through both the common app and the college’s individual application is correct. After, students are required to pay the application fee which can range from $50-$100. Fee waivers are afforded to students from certain areas with state schools as well as students who colleges have taken a special interest in. Finally, students must read and acknowledge that they have revised a list of agreements and the student signs at the bottom. The application is submitted and confetti falls down the screen. 

Students sign into their colleges’ portals and await the news. The process seems hard and tedious but since it’s spread out across a year and half, the many different parts that need to be accomplished can be spread out. It’s important for applicants to remember to relax and take breaks. Getting into college is hard and you have to work for it but it’s not impossible. Students should stay on top of their deadlines, ensure they afford themselves enough time to make sure they do a good job on their applications, and find time for things that they enjoy. Life isn’t school and students need to remember to take time for themselves and relax. 



Established in 1957, Xaverian is one of thirteen schools nationwide sponsored by the Xaverian Brothers.