Dara Hydrocephalus Teens Take Charge MentorBy Dara Tannariello

Starting the college application process can be pretty daunting.  Here I have written about my college application experience and some advice about starting the college application process.

Start early  

Start your college application process early.  Start researching colleges, brainstorming unique ideas for your college application essays, and ask for recommendation letters.  Even if you do not need a recommendation letter at the moment, it is wise to ask the person you have in mind if he or she would be willing to write a recommendation letter in the future.  That way he or she will be prepared, should you decide to ask for a recommendation later on.

Organization is key

Organization is key to successfully applying to colleges.  Make lists for yourself to help keep track of things such as which schools you want to apply to, the SAT/ACT scores that are required for each school, whether the school accepts the Common Application, deadlines etc.  Every student’s requirement list is unique based on what school they are applying to and any specialized program they hope to get into, so the list should include whatever they feel is important for them (e.g. art portfolio requirements…).  It is very important to include all extracurricular activities and volunteering on your application. Colleges often do not want a student who is only focused on academics. Colleges are looking for well-rounded students so it is important to start being active in extracurricular activities early.

Know who to contact for help

Your guidance counselor is a very helpful person.  However, it is your responsibility to ask for his or her help.  Schedule appointments with him or her, and make sure you come prepared with a list of the topics you would like to discuss and any questions.  If he or she cannot answer a question, make sure you ask them to direct you to the person who can.

Attend College fairs

It is very helpful to attend college fairs.  College fairs will have representatives from a number of colleges and universities that have very helpful information.  They will be able to tell you if you’re likely to be accepted based on your current grades and test scores.  They may even tell you if you qualify for any grants, aid, or scholarship money.

Helpful Tools

The Common Application

The Common Application (also known as the “Common App”) is a great tool to use during your college search.  The Common App is an undergraduate college admissions application that can be used to apply to any of the 517 colleges and universities that accept the Common App.  The Common App makes the college application process simpler because applicants only have to fill out one application for all colleges that accept the Common App.


Naviance is a great tool as well.  Naviance is “a comprehensive college and career readiness solution for middle and high schools that helps align student strengths and interests to post-secondary goals, and improve student outcomes” (naviance.com).  With Naviance, you have the ability to choose what you want in a school (size, location etc.) and Naviance will give you a list of schools that fit your desires.  It also has specific demographic information for almost all colleges and universities.  With Naviance you must first check with your school for the school code.

If you are interested in using the Common App or Naviance during your college search and application process, talk to your counselor.   He or she will know how to help you find colleges.  Your counselor will also be able to explain to you the requirements for different colleges.  These requirements include an essay, SAT or ACT scores, etc.  Your counselor is the one who is responsible for sending your high school transcripts to colleges.  All you have to do is ask them to send your transcripts to the colleges you have chosen.

Selecting the right school for you: My college application experience

Now I’m going to tell you a bit about what I wanted in a college and how my college offered what I wanted.  When I was on my college search, I knew I wanted a very small school.  My college has less than 2,000 students.  One of the biggest advantages of a small school is the wonderful sense of community.  Professors know you by name at my school and you truly are “not just a number.”

The academic support offered at my school is very helpful.  The Center for Academic Excellence will find me a tutor for any class I’m having trouble in.  I’m able to make appointments as needed with the tutor and he or she can help me study for exams, help me with homework, and help me write papers.  If you have an IEP, 504 Plan, or any other similar documentation, make sure you find a school that will respect and uphold that documentation and offer support.  Most schools that are comfortable working with these documents will have some sort of disability coordinator whom you can contact with any questions.

My school is a private Catholic school.  My school offers a host of clubs that anyone can join, which I love.  I didn’t plan on playing a sport in college, so I joined many of the clubs offered at my college.  I’m a part of Catholic Hearts, Campus for Compassion and Psych Club.

Acceptance letters

After you have applied to all of the colleges you are interested in, you should be receiving acceptance letters around March or April.

Very important questions to consider when choosing a college:

  • Do I want a big, small or medium sized college?
  • Do I want a co-ed school or non co-ed college?
  • Am I panning on playing a sport? If so, does the school have my sport?  Is it the division I’m looking for?
  • Do I want to be a commuter or a resident?
  • Can I afford this school?

I hope this blog makes you  a little less stressed about the process, and, rather, more excited about your college journey ahead!