College Planning

Parents Guide to the College Application Process

Now that your child has finalized their college list, it's time to start working on applications. The BigFuture website offers lots of free tools and expert advice that can make the process easier. Visit BigFuture


How to Start

  • Help your child look up each of their college's application requirements and find the application forms online.
  • Help your child get organized for the application process.
    • Put together a folder for each college to hold all the items needed for that application.
    • Create a calendar that highlights application deadlines and other important dates.


Fast Facts

  • A college application—the package your child sends to colleges—usually includes many different elements; it's not just a form.
  • Colleges have different application requirements. Find them on the college’s website or talk to your child's school counselor.
  • Your child can apply to colleges online or by mail.
  • Some colleges accept only the application for that specific institution (which you can download from the school's website).
  • Most colleges charge fees to apply. Students from low-income families may be able to get these fees reduced or waived.
  • A college application isn't the same thing as a financial aid application. They’re different forms with different requirements and deadlines.


What's in a College Application

A college application always includes an application form—online or on paper. Most colleges require additional items, such as your child's high school transcript, their entrance exam scores, a personal essay, and letters of recommendation. Some colleges ask that applicants take part in an interview.

Read More About It
The Anatomy of the College Application
College Applications: How to Begin



Most students begin work on college applications in the summer before or fall of their senior year. Regular college application deadlines usually range from January 1 to February 1 (with some exceptions, such as colleges with rolling admission deadlines).


Applying Early

Many colleges offer students the opportunity to apply early. This means that they can apply before the usual deadline and get a decision early. This may increase a student's chances of acceptance because it shows that they're very interested in the college.

However, you and your child should make sure you understand the rules of applying early. For example, under some plans your child can only apply to one college early, and if accepted and offered enough financial aid, they must go to that college.

Read More About It
College Application Timeline: 12th Grade
For Students: The Facts About Applying Early: Is It Right for You?


The School Counselor’s Role

Your child's school counselor plays an important part in the application process. They can help your child understand the application requirements, advise your child on their application essays, and remind them of deadlines. Your child’s counselor is also the person who sends your child's high school transcript to colleges—your child may need to give the counselor a transcript-request form (included in some college applications) or just ask the counselor to send transcripts.

Counselors usually meet with each student in the fall of senior year to discuss their applications. You may also be able to request a meeting with the counselor and your child. Bring any questions you have about the application process in general and your child’s specific college journey to this meeting.

Read More About It
For Students: Applying to College: Your Counselor's Role
For Students: 20 Questions to Ask Your School Counselor