Students > Applying to College

Applying to College

The college application process varies from school to school, but there are some common elements. Your high school counselor, your teachers, and your family are there to help you understand the process and to help you find a good college that fits your needs.

Application Forms

Most colleges use online applications that will ask a variety of questions about your background, your school, and your academic interests, as well as your interests outside of class. Check in with colleges well in advance of deadlines to make sure you understand all the requirements and can answer the questions to the best of your ability.

Application Fee

College application fees vary; many range from $35 to $50 per application. The fee is usually nonrefundable, even if you are accepted. However, many colleges offer fee waivers for applicants if the fee poses a financial barrier to applying. If you need a fee waiver, talk with your high school counselor. The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success also offers one simple wee waiver process on its application site that applies to all member schools.

The University of Chicago will automatically waive the $75 application fee for all high school students who are residents of the City of Chicago and who attend school in the city, regardless of school type, and for any student who indicates an intent to apply for need-based financial aid.

Please check out the following organizations for more information on fee waivers:

High School Transcript

Your transcript shows all the courses you have taken and the grades you have earned starting with 9th or 10th grade. It’s your academic record, though it is not the only part of your academic profile. Your high school will send your transcript directly to the colleges you are applying to along with a school profile, which helps colleges interpret your transcript. Your school will also send a final transcript at the end of your senior year to the college you end up choosing to attend, so keep your grades up!

Admissions Test Scores

Many colleges require you to submit SAT or ACT scores. These tests are tools for measuring a student’s ability to do college-level work. Scores are sent directly from the testing organization to colleges.

Letters of Recommendation

Many colleges ask you to submit one or more letters of recommendation from a teacher, counselor, or other adult who knows you well. Make sure to talk to your potential recommenders well before deadlines so they have adequate time to write good letters for you.


Your essay plays a very important role. Whether writing about yourself or a specified topic, the goal is to reflect on who you are and how you think, and to write with clarity and your own voice. The best part of your college application essays is that they are totally in your control! They will help the admissions office to get a feel for who you really are, and are a great way to showcase your personality.


Many colleges offer opportunities for you to interview on campus or with alumni in the local area. While not required for most colleges, you can take advantage of this opportunity to make a personal connection with someone who knows the school well, to learn more about the school, and to make an impression.

Auditions and Portfolios

If you are applying for music, art, theater or some other performance-related subject, you may have to provide samples of your work to demonstrate your ability. Some schools also offer any applicant the opportunity to upload supplemental materials as part of a holistic review. Check out if the schools that you’re thinking of applying to ask for or allow supplements. It’s also helpful to check the guidelines for how each college handles them, too.