apply to College

How do I fill out an application? What is a FAFSA? What happens after I submit my application?

The college application process can be time-consuming and overwhelming. So, let’s break it down and take the journey one step at a time. From discovering your perfect college “fit” to hitting submit on your final application, you’ll find the resources you need to get you through the application process and on to the exciting part – going to college!
female student with books
How do I pick which schools to apply to?

Once you have an idea of how college can look for you and your family, the next step in applying to college is creating a list of colleges where you’d want to apply. It may seem like an obvious step, but it can be one of the hardest with so many choices out there. When adding colleges to your list, it’s important to consider what makes them the right fit for you.


college fit

Academic, social and financial fit are three big things to think about when it comes to picking a school. Each one will carry different weight based on you and your family's needs. For example, if you have a strict budget, financial fit might take precedence over academic and social considerations. The key is finding a balance of all three. Once you find the right balance, you’ve probably found a school you should add to your list.

Academic Fit

Look for schools that challenge you to think differently and explore topics you are passionate about.

Questions to ask yourself:

Social Fit

Look for schools that offer activities compatible with your interests outside of the classroom.

Questions to ask yourself:

Financial Fit

Look for schools that make financial sense for you and your family.

Questions to ask yourself:

You’ve found a bunch of colleges that you like – now what? Read more about how to pick out a solid list of schools that will make the application process a little bit easier.
Create an Application Strategy
What’s the application timeline?
Even though you might not submit your school application until fall of your senior year, the application process should actually begin during your junior year. From researching schools to making your final decision, use this timeline to help make sure you hit the major milestones in your application process.

11th Grade

January–June

  • Start building a list of your potential schools.

    Use this tool to find the right schools for you.

  • Research schools on your list, and visit some if you can.

  • Reach out to admissions counselors for more information about the school.

June–August

  • Narrow down your list of schools and decide where you want to apply.

  • Find out what the application and scholarship deadlines are.


12th Grade

August–October

  • Start asking for letters of recommendation.

    The sooner the better!

  • Start working on the applications for the four-year schools on your list

October 1

  • FAFSA form becomes available.

    Complete this ASAP –some financial aid is given on a first come, first serve basis!)

  • Start working on the applications for the four-year schools on your list

November

  • Complete your application for four-year schools by early November.

  • Follow up with an admissions counselor to confirm that they received your entire, completed application.

  • Complete the Tennessee Promise application by November 1.

December–February

  • Apply to technical and community colleges on your list.

  • Complete the FAFSA for Tennessee Promise by February 1.

March–May

  • Apply to school-specific scholarships and local scholarships.

  • Compare and contrast your financial aid offers.

  • Accept an offer of admission to your school before May 1.

Deadlines

Along the way, you'll probably hear of different types of admission deadlines that could affect your timeline. Keep in mind that the earlier you apply, the higher your chances are of being awarded financial aid. These are the most common ones to keep an eye out for:

Regular Decision:

This is the most common deadline you’ll see and it can range from early November to Spring.

Rolling Admissions:

This means that a school does not have a set submission deadline for applications, but instead reviews applications as they come in. Most community and technical colleges are rolling admissions. Apply no later than February 1 so that the school has time to review your application and financial aid request. Similar to regular decision, if you want to be considered for any type of financial aid, you need to submit your application sooner rather than later.

Early Decision:

This deadline means that your application is due earlier, but it also means that you could hear back from the school sooner. If you apply under this deadline, you are required to attend the school if you are admitted.

Early Action:

This is similar to Early Decision, but it gives you more flexibility so that you are not required to attend if you are admitted.
There's a lot of other college lingo you’ll see that may feel confusing. Check this glossary for a breakdown of some of the most common words.
Explore the glossary
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What do I do after I apply?

Congratulations on submitting your application! That is a huge step. Depending on the school’s admissions process and which deadline you applied under, it could take a few months to hear back. But as you’re waiting on a decision, there are a handful of things you can do in the meantime.

Within the first few days of submitting your application, make sure you:

Write thank you notes to the people who wrote your letters of recommendation

Check with your guidance counselor to make sure your official transcript is being sent to the schools you applied to

Confirm that your scholarship and FAFSA applications are complete. Because some schools may require separate scholarship forms, double check to make sure all your forms are complete and that your FAFSA lists each school you applied to

Follow up on requests from the schools for additional documents, information, or application components

The work doesn’t stop once you check these boxes. Get the full checklist of what to do in the weeks after submitting your application to keep your application on track and prepare for your admission decision.
See the checklist
How will I know if I’m accepted?
Depending on when you applied, you can hear back from schools between late fall to mid-spring. Your decision can go four different ways:

Accepted:

You have been admitted! Do not officially accept an offer until you receive a financial aid offer.

Waitlisted:

You haven’t been accepted, but you also haven’t been denied. Being placed on the waitlist allows the school to to evaluate other candidates, and they will get back to you with a final decision.

Deferred:

Your application is going to receive a second look. This may mean you need to submit additional test scores or writing samples before a decision is made.

Denied:

You have not been admitted to the school.
How do I apply for financial aid?

As you apply to the schools on your list, you should also be applying for the financial aid to make sure you’ll have the support you need to attend those schools.


The FAFSA is a tool that determines how much government aid a student can receive. Based off this estimate, colleges then decide how much financial aid is awarded. Once you complete the FAFSA, you should apply for scholarships and grants to make up the difference between what each college offers you in financial aid and the remaining cost of attendance. The FAFSA should be completed soon after October 1 of your senior year and scholarships can be awarded at any point after you apply. Financial aid is a key component of the college application process. Learn more about the types of aid available to you.

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