What You Need to Know About the College Application Process

A woman in a graduation robe holds her cap, embodying the narrative of formerly incarcerated individuals pursuing higher education, breaking barriers and embracing a new chapter.

Deciding to further your education and selecting the right school is a very personal decision. It is important to research different schools before applying, to find one that aligns with your needs. You’ll want to consider the length of the program, the location, if the schedule works with yours, cost, admission requirements, and the type of programs they offer.

Application Process

Fortunately, most U.S. colleges use the same standard process. Over 900 member schools utilize the Common Application—an online application you can fill out once and use to easily apply to as many schools as you’d like. This platform is free to use, but individual schools may charge an application fee. Check here to see if you qualify for a fee waiver.

The Common App collects personal information, financial information, extracurricular activities, and transcripts. However, it does not ask any questions regarding past criminal convictions or arrests. In recent years, more and more schools have removed these questions from their applications thanks to the “Ban the Box” movement.

The Common App requires that you write a personal essay, so be sure to pay attention to application deadlines and give yourself plenty of time for writing and revising.

Most schools require a high school diploma or High School Equivalency (HSE), but there are some options if you do not meet these requirements. For instance, community colleges and trade schools may allow you to enroll without a high school diploma, but you may need to take a placement test. Trade schools rarely require personal essays, letters of recommendation, or standardized testing. Find a trade school. Allow yourself at least six to eight weeks to complete your applications. Some schools even have rolling admission, meaning you have a higher chance of acceptance if you apply early. Check with each school for the deadlines and requirements.

Financial Aid

Furthering your education can help you gain the skills needed for a job or to earn more money, but it comes with a cost. Take advantage of all possible financial aid opportunities available to you. Learn more about the different types of financial aid.

To determine your financial need, you will need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. Aside from FAFSA, it is a good idea to apply to other grants and scholarships. There are many scholarships available that cater to different majors, minorities, and interests. Websites such as Scholarships.com and Niche make searching for relevant scholarships simple.


Here are some tips to help with your application process.

  1. Get Organized
    If you plan on applying to multiple schools with different deadlines and requirements, being organized can help you stay on top of your applications. Keep either a physical or digital folder with all your due dates, applications, and necessary documents.
  2. Be Honest
    Although the Common App does not ask about criminal history, you may come across other applications that do ask this question. The best approach is to be honest. It is better to be up front than for the school to find out about it later. Do not just write what you think the admissions counselors want to read.
  3. Consider Online Schools
    You may be wondering where you can fit in the time for a full course load on top of other responsibilities. There are many online programs designed specifically for working adults that will give you more flexibility to continue working while you are in school.
  4. Be Flexible
    Being hard set on one school can keep you from other opportunities. A four-year college is not the only way to gain skills or make you a competitive candidate in the job market. Be open to other routes such as trade schools, technical schools, or boot camps. 
  5. Ask for Help
    If you are uncertain about any part of the application process, ask for help. Admissions counselors are there as a resource for future students, and they want to help you, regardless of your record. You may also ask your probation or parole officer for assistance.
Published On: August 8th, 2023|Categories: Education Resources|

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