Applying to open-access colleges

Open-access colleges, including most community colleges, are typically two-year programs that are supported by local taxes. They have a public mandate to provide educational opportunities for all qualified students in a particular region or state. The admission policies are straightforward — applicants who meet the basic requirements (e.g., grades, class rank, test scores) are admitted.

Make sure your students recognize that their application must show that they have met all entrance requirements. If any requirements have not been met, have them contact the college and talk to the admission officers.

Applying to traditional colleges

Many traditional four-year colleges make admission decisions based on a specific dimension of success, such as test scores and grades. Other colleges create a blueprint of the incoming class as a whole, expressed in terms of academic qualifications, personal characteristics and geographic and ethnic diversity. Applicants are evaluated against the blueprint to determine what each can contribute to the big picture.

Your students need to closely follow all application instructions and present a complete picture of their skills in each area. Stress the importance of any requested essays — they may be the deciding factor. It is imperative that your students demonstrate both how they can succeed at the selected college and how they can add to the campus community.

Taking advantage of the Common Application

More than 450 member institutions accept the Common Application. This application can help your students focus on creating a top-notch submission. Colleges that accept the Common Application in lieu of their own use a holistic selection process. In addition to the objective criteria of grades and test scores, this process includes subjective criteria — such as including a recommendation form and at least one untimed essay — as well as broader campus diversity considerations.

Get more information to share with your students about applying to college. You'll find articles on narrowing down lists of colleges, getting organized, completing applications elements and writing better essays.