How to Apply to College: Tips From a Real College Student

Gregory Jiles / Stillman College »

Gregory Jiles is a Colleges of Distinction Student Ambassador from Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Read on for his words of advice for your college applications!

My journey applying to college began towards the end of my junior year of high school. Junior year is typically the time when parents, teachers, and school counselors begin to stress the importance of knowing students’ plans after graduating high school. I was always afforded three options: college, the military, or the workforce. My initial plan was to enlist into the Marines Reserve and then go to college. My plan quickly shifted towards the end of my junior year after I received my ACT score. When I scored a 23 on my ACT, I decided that college would be the route that I take. With this new plan in mind, I began researching and digging deeper into the steps necessary to become a college student.

Consider Early Action

After researching, I discovered that I must seek early admission. Early admission takes place when a college allows students to apply earlier than the traditional timeframe. When I discovered this process, I immediately began to look for colleges in Alabama that offered this option. I applied to all the colleges that interested me and those that would offer me scholarships based on my high GPA and ACT score. I applied to these colleges during my junior year in late June and the early parts of July. 

Because I decided to be proactive, I received my acceptance letters to all my colleges around September and early October. I also began to receive scholarship offers from these colleges in October and November. With these offers in mind, I realized that taking advantage of the early admission option provides benefits that many students do not think about. 

The key benefit that comes as a reward to applying to college during the summer is priority. Early applicants receive priority consideration when it comes to an admission decision, which ultimately benefits the early applicant because many students wait until later in the year to apply to college. This delay makes the early application less competitive compared to a January application, as more college applications are being submitted. 

Another benefit of applying early is scholarship priority. When you decide to apply to college early, not only do you lock in your spot for an early admission decision, but you also your spot for any available scholarships. I received scholarships from all of the colleges to which I applied, so I can testify that this step is very beneficial. 

Complete the FAFSA

Once you receive an admissions letter and scholarship, the next step is to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which opens annually on October 1st. It is very important that you complete this application as soon as possible. The earlier the FAFSA is completed and submitted, the sooner and quicker the maximum financial aid available may be awarded. I advise you to let your parent(s) or guardian(s) know ahead of time and continue to remind them, because this part of the process is important. Colleges will not be able to give you any college, state, or federal aid unless you complete the FAFSA every year you attend college. Do not self-sabotage your plan for college by falling behind and missing this essential step. After completing this process, set yourself up for your final path to becoming a college student. 

Make Your Decision

May 1st has arrived, and it is time for you to make your college decision. However, be sure to self-examine why you are choosing college first. This step is very important because many students go to college for the sake of their family and friends, with little-to-no intent to take it seriously. Are you going to college for you and your future plans? If you answered “Yes” to the previous question, then you must also consider this next question: Why am I choosing this specific college? This question must be answered for yourself and must be answered truthfully. When you can answer truthfully, and you believe that answer to be a good reason then you can move to the next questions. 

Next ask yourself, How much does this college cost per year? If the price exceeds my financial aid, how will I pay off their remaining balance? If you can answer each of these questions honestly and feel that this college is where you truly desire to be, then you are ready to make your decision. After weighing all of my options, I was confident that Stillman College was the right choice for me.

Move Forward

Throughout the summer, continue to pay attention to your college deadlines and any documents you need to send to secure your spot. Make sure that everything on your checklist is completed in a timely manner, so that when classes begin, you have no issues. All in all, you have just made your first big decision for your future as a high school graduate. 

Go with the expectations to give it your best no matter what, remind yourself everyday of your reasons for going to college. Be intentional with every move you make and hope that it propels you closer to the rewards you most desire and that is a degree with your name on it. Best of luck in your college endeavors, and remember to be proud of each and every day that you gave it your best.