College Application and Selection Information

A. College Applications: The Common Application allows you to apply to several colleges using just one application. You are able to start the application during September of your senior year. (If you are only applying to one school that accepts the Common Application, you may want to choose the school’s application, available on the Undergraduate Admissions home page of your intended school.)  For help with the college selection process: or

B. Recommendation letters are an important part of the college application process. Ask your teachers for recommendations early! Better yet, ask them by writing a short letter telling them where you plan to apply, your intended major (if you are undecided, just tell them that), and the date when you need their letter. Remember not to assume that they will write the letter – you are writing a request! Thank them ahead of time. Gratitude and appreciation can go a long way!

C. Colleges will ask for your SAT or ACT scores on your applications. Usually, the deadline for the October SAT is early- to mid-September. Sign up early to ensure your spot on this date. Taking the test later slows your application process as you wait for official scores. Community colleges require the Accuplacer, and usually hold tests in the spring of your senior year on site at the college. Check your school’s website for more information.

D. Essay-writing is an important part of the college application process. Using the Common Application, you will have to write one major essay, and possibly write a series of smaller essays for each school on their Supplement Forms (see Common App website for more information). Here are some suggestions for writing your college essay, adapted from EssayEdge’s Harvard-Educated Admissions Essay Editors at

Question: Is it better to look at the essay question topics first and think of topics that only address those questions, or brainstorm interesting topics regardless of the questions. Answer: a little of both is important.

2. Narrow the list of possible topics. Which topics best reflect who you are and how you want to portray yourself to the colleges? Which topics best help you answer the essay question(s).

3. Look on the Undergraduate Admissions website (or Common App site) and locate the possible college essay topics.  You may see one or two questions that seem easier for you to answer than others.

4. Answer the question of your choice. You can write an excellent essay, but if you don’t focus on answering the question that the college is asking, you will likely not be admitted to the school.

5. Start with a creative lead. Capture the readers’ interest in the first two sentences.

  • Before: I volunteer as a Big Brother to a little boy. He lost his parents in a car accident a few months ago. From this experience, I hoped to help him cope with his loss and open up his personality by spending time with him after school on certain days.
  • After: While the other children played outside, eleven-year old Danny’s sad eyes focused on the white wall in front of him. He sat alone in a silence–a silence that had imprisoned him since his mother and father died in a tragic accident.

See how the first relays information in a passive voice, while the second paints an active picture? Feel free to start out by painting a vibrant picture of yourself too! Many college admissions counselors have said that the more unique your essay – the content and writing style – the more captivating it is to read.

6. Use details and concrete experiences. Show (paint a picture with words) rather than tell!

  • Before: I developed a new compassion for the disabled.
  • After: The next time that Mrs. Cooper asked me to help her across the street, I smiled and immediately took her arm.

7. Be Concise. Use word economy! The fewer words you can use to relay your message, the better. Such writing asks the writer to be more creative about the way phrases and sentences are worded.

  • Before: After Mike left, his loss hit me like a ton of bricks, out of which, when I was finally able to crawl, I had to come to terms with the difficult fact that best friends may come along only once in a lifetime, and it was unlikely I would find such a close friendship again since lightening doesn’t strike twice.
  • After: When Mike left, I lost the best friend I ever had, and I lost him forever.

See how eliminating extra words actually makes your point stronger?  Eliminating prepositions is a great, easy way to tighten your writing.

Happy essay-writing!

Essay writing tips adapted from Kelly Tanabe’s “Four Steps to Writing a Winning Admissions Essay, Part I”.

E. FAFSA. On January 1st of your senior year and each year that you are in school after that, you will have to  fill out the FAFSA (Federal Application for Free Student Aid). You and your parents/guardians will have to sign up for a four-digit PIN ahead of time, which acts as your electronic signature on the FAFSA form. Getting the PIN is a quick, five-minute process.

In the days or weeks following your FAFSA submission, you will get an SAR (Student Aid Report). This form allows you to make any necessary changes to your FAFSA form before the final EFC (estimated family contributions) are calculated. The EFC is the golden number calculated based on the information your enter into the FAFSA form, and tells you what colleges will expect you or your family to contribute each semester to your education. Most often, Upward Bound students’ EFC is zero, which means more grants and loans will be awarded to you.

F. Acceptance, Decline, or Waitlist letters arrival in the mail (or by email) is the next step in the process. You will not want to tell your school that you accept them until seeing the Financial Aid Awards from each school.

G. Financial Aid Award letters usually arrive in April (sometimes as early as the end of March or as late as the beginning of May). They include the following pieces of information:

  • Total Cost of Attendance — The total cost should include tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation, and personal expenses.
  • Outside Scholarships — These list money from outside sources (perhaps Dell Scholars, Barking Foundation, or a local library scholarship, for example) that you have received. You do not need to pay this money back. It is yours for your education.
  • University Scholarships (Institutional Grants) — Some universities offer scholarships for academic performance or for participation in certain organizations (such as Upward Bound) during high school. This money is yours to keep for your education and does not need to be repaid.
  • Federal Pell Grants — This federal grant is offered to students who are pursuing a four-year undergraduate degree and who exhibit exceptional financial need. These monies do not need to be repaid.
  • Federal Perkins Loans — This loan is available to both undergraduate and graduate students with exceptional financial need. Your school is your lender and determines the amount needed. You need to pay this back upon graduation.
  • Federal Stafford Loans — There are two types of Stafford Loans: subsidized and unsubsidized. Subsidized loans do not start collecting interest until you finish school. Unsubsidized loans start collecting interest right away. You need to pay them back upon graduation.
  • Federal Work Study — This award allows you to work on campus (and sometimes certain off-campus jobs) in order to help pay your college bill. This money is paid to you like a regular paycheck and you can use it for tuition, supplies, or anything else you need to get through college.
  • Total Award — This is the full amount of financial aid offered to you. This number includes loans (money that you will eventually need to repay), as well as grants and scholarships (which do not need to be repaid). The highest award may not be the best deal. You will have to examine these awards carefully with your family and your UB Counselor before selecting your college.

H. Usually schools want to know whether or not you plan to attend by May 1st. Work with your UB Counselor to determine the best Financial Aid Award package among the schools to which you’ve been admitted.

Congratulations, you are well on your way to a successful college application and selection process!