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A Senior's Guide for Applying to Colleges


A Senior-Advised Timeline

Freshmen & Sophomore Year

Junior Year

Senior Year


Keep good grades in your Freshman and Sophomore years.

At this point, you may or may not have decided if college is in your upcoming future. Either way, keep decent grades. No one said you have to keep straight A's, but remember that colleges do look at ALL of your grades throughout high school. However, your sophomore and junior grades will be taken into account more than your first year. If you already know what schools you may want to attend and know that they are generally difficult to get into, you must make sure to work hard on your grades ahead of time. And if you aren’t planning on going to college, employers will also be looking for a GPA that reflects that of a hard worker.

Educate yourself about colleges.

Follow along with your older siblings on their college visits. Do a little research - and not just online. Many of your friends and family who are juniors and seniors will begin to talk about colleges they’re interested in and then where they end up going. Listen in and ask about the colleges up for discussion. You guys, it’s research without really any effort. (Sorry, senioritis kicked in for a moment.)


Talk to a counselor.

The next time you’re talking to your counselor about failing grades or high school drama, maybe ask a little about the steps toward college or whatever you plan to do after you graduate.


Start the actual college process Junior year.

Don’t begin your college journey the end of your junior year. At CHAMPS, your college meetings will be toward second semester. Although you will still be perfectly on time if you start after those meetings, figure out a game plan beforehand by answering these questions:

  • Do I want to apply for college or even go to college? If not, what am I planning to do instead?
  • If I am going to apply, what types of schools am I looking for? (Ivy Leagues, Low Acceptance Rates, UCs, Cal States, Community Colleges)

SAT/ACT and Other Tests

You should be taking at least one of these… and at least once before your junior year ends. This way you can know how much you may need to study if you do decide to retake the exams. I’ve never met someone who hasn’t retaken at least one of these tests. The secret is it’s no secret: Retake the tests! Again, if you have an idea of what schools you may want to attend, compare what kind of scores formerly admitted students have received and work toward those scores. If you are in a low-income bracket or free/reduced lunch then you can register for the exams for free. I did not pay for any of my tests. Keep in mind that some schools, though very few, will require specific subject tests and results.

It begins.

It’s time for you to really dig in and start applying for college. Time is going to fly so this is only going to work out with crazy-hot time management. I applied to 22 schools, which was absolutely a mistake. Applying to a bunch of schools isn’t at all a bad thing. However, I did not actually want to go to all of the schools I applied to. Only apply to where you would actually want to go to school plus your safety school. My recommendation is to apply to around 6-10 colleges for the average student. Still, you must determine what’s right for you personally so keep in mind:

  • Application Fees - If you are free/reduced lunch or low income these can be waived. I did not pay a penny for any applications.
  • Having a balanced list of schools in terms of likelihood - This means: likely schools, possible schools, reach schools. Your college counselors will help you develop a list.

The Application Process

This will be absolute torture for those of you with low-moderate time management skills (that’s me) if you decide to apply to more than 2-5 colleges. It becomes extremely difficult to balance. The essays and applications are one thing. However, it’s gonna feel like there are 385,608 other things to do as well. These include:

  • Sending your SAT/ACT scores to each school you apply (make sure to check deadlines of each school)
  • Sending your FAFSA/CSS/Financial Aid to each school you apply (make sure to also check the deadlines)
  • Submitted transcripts from all your schools (CHAMPS, community college courses, concurrent enrollment college courses)

Make a timeline/to-do list with all the dates you need to keep in mind. Add the actual application deadline, score dates, financial aid dates, and any supplemental application deadlines. As a theatre major, I had supplemental applications (additional applications to the regular one) in almost every school I applied to. Application deadlines can be scheduled really early as well. All UCs' freshman applications are due by Nov 30.



RELATED: UC & CSU A-G Requirements


Early Action/Early Decision

If you are really interested in certain schools, you can apply Early Action or Early Decision. Early Action means that you submit your application to a certain school earlier than the regular deadline for an earlier response. Restrictive Early Action means it is still the same as Early Action, but it means that you may only apply early to that one school in the early rounds as opposed to multiple schools. Early Decision is a binding contract that states that if you get into that one school, you will be attending.

Financial Aid

Go to Financial Aid night WITH YOUR PARENTS! It’s so important. These financial aid forms are confusing as heck and you don’t want debt when you’re 60. Your parents will be filling out a lot of these forms unless you are emancipated. Make sure to mark all of your financial aid deadlines.


Check in with your counselors.

At CHAMPS, we are extremely lucky to have counselors that help us out so much throughout the process. If you make regular visits to your counselor, the whole process will become automatically much less confusing and stressful. They even submit your CHAMPS transcripts for you. Along with this, learn how to use Naviance. It’ll be how you and your counselor communicate.



Do not let your grades slip. Schools won’t see your second-semester senior grades until after you’ve been accepted, but you can be rescinded. This rarely happens, but if you were getting Bs and now you have a D in Math and History, you may be in danger of losing your spot at your school.


The Waiting Game and Results

Stay confident. Don’t let any rejections lower your self-esteem. You will end up going where you are meant to go. The satisfaction of having your acceptances posted on the walls in the hall will be worth all the hard work (besides actually getting to experience college). You will hear about your acceptances usually before you get financial aid letters back. Make sure to review that letter before committing to a school.


Choosing Your School

So you’ve gotten back all of your rejections, acceptances, and financial aid award letters. It’s now time to submit your SIR (Statement of Intent to Register) along with a deposit fee. This tells the school you plan on attending. You must do this by May 1st nationwide. You may also be waitlisted. Pretty often you will hear from schools before the national May 1st deadline, but if you hear back after the deadline. You can retract your SIR from another school. However, you will lose your deposit.


You’ve been accepted and you've accepted!

Congrats! You’re finished. You have chosen your school and now ready to prep for college life. Here are few last things to think about now that you’re all done:

  • Mess around and get familiar with your school’s online portal
  • Accept grants and scholarships that you received in your award letter
  • Get info on housing so you can get ahead and get the housing that you want
  • Go to your schools New Student events and orientations

I wish you all the best of luck!

-Bella Nguyen, Class of 2019 and future UCLA alum ;)
Find out how Bella is finishing her last year at CHAMPS Theatre Academy! Check out her interview about Twelfth Night.
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