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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

College Admission Decoded

By Angel Jenkins

The Guide to the College Admission Process is a free online resource published by The National Association for College Admission Counseling for anyone considering seeking higher education. It is periodically updated to share tips and trends around the college search and application experience. The document is said to offer “sound advice on every step of the process, from getting in the right mindset, to researching universities, to completing application materials.”

This 100-page guide features 15 chapters ranging in topics from “The College Search Process” to “How to Apply.” Chapter 1 reminds high school seniors that while many of their peers are also applying for college, everyone’s experience is different. Some students already have firm ideas of where they hope to go to college, while others want to explore all their options. College admissions follows a generally predictible timeline that is only somewhat within your control (such as meeting application deadlines). 

Chapter 2 shares terminology that can help high school juniors and seniors better understand what they are researching, like the difference between types of colleges and universities. The chapter also helps students outline their goals around higher education and explains how to determine what schools may most align with those plans. “Developing a list of specific criteria should always come before choosing colleges to add to your list,” the Guide advises. “To decide on specific schools without a solid sense of your wants and needs is a backward and unhelpful approach, often leading students to focus solely on colleges they have already heard of.”

Campus visits and interviews are the subject of Chapter 3, with tips on acing any in-person college interviews. Chapters 4 and 5 present comprehensive details on national college fairs as well as admissions testing (including timelines and test prep ideas).

Chapter 6 provides a detailed breakdown of the types of fees and applications colleges might require and how students can best present themselves within those applications. According to the Guide: “Most institutions are very explicit about what they want and what they don’t want as part of your application—this is your opportunity to demonstrate that you know how to understand and follow directions.” Chapter 7 offers an application review process timeline, and what students might do while they await decisions.

“Financial Aid for College” is the title of Chapter 8, where types of aid—from grants to loans—are explained. Financial aid terms are defined and various aid programs are shared. “The cost of college is a source of stress or overwhelm for many students and families, and the process for applying for financial Aid can be confusing and cumbersome in and of itself,” the Guide notes. “All the more reason to make cost and affordability a built-in part of your initial research process so you are as informed as possible when it comes time to apply.”

Chapter 9 looks at choosing between colleges once accepted, and how to enroll after that choice is made. And if a student finds they do not get accepted to their school of choice, waitlists and late openings are discussed in Chapter 10. 

Chapter 11 touches on the transition from high school to college, including navigating the academic front as well as campus life. “Budgeting time and establishing priorities are among the most difficult challenges new college students face,” according to the Guide. Understanding class schedules and campus structures can help. Being prepared for the responsibilities of life as an independent college student can ease some of the natural stress of freshman year, too.

Chapter 12 discusses transferring from one college to another (which is an option if a student doesn’t at first get accepted to their dream college, or an option if they discover a college to which they are accepted doesn’t turn out to be a fit for them). Or, perhaps a student wants to complete their general education requirements at community college, then transfer to complete their undergraduate degree.

Alternative higher education options are outlined in Chapter 13, where students may discover ways of earning a degree they had not considered. Last but not least, Chapter 14 focuses on inernational students applying to U.S. colleges and universities.

As an added bonus, the Guide provides advice and encouragement for families in Chapter 15. “Your student may feel uncertain about the decisions they must make, fearful of rejection from colleges, or anxious about meeting deadlines for their college applications and school work,” the Guide underscores. “The best thing you can provide … is unconditional reassurance and regular reminders that where they go to college matters far less than what they choose to do and who they hope to become once they get there.”

The Guide to the College Admission Process is available for download at no charge, here:

Angel Jenkins is feature editor for Family Life magazine and a freelance writer and editor for a number of other publications across the U.S.