How to Fill out a College Application

A key part of applying to college is of course filling out a college application! Here we’ll talk about how to fill out a college application step by step including how to prepare to apply so you have a less stressful college application experience. You’ve got this!

A laptop keyboard and a blank notebook with a pen and a person's hand using a mouse

Preparing to Fill out College Applications

  1. Make your list of where you will apply and create a system to keep track of all the deadlines and different pieces of the application. Each college will have at least a slightly different process. Even colleges that use the common application have additional supplements.
  2. Read through all the applications for colleges you’re considering and note what is required
  3. Make note of things you need to do with other people to complete the application such as requesting a transcript from your high school or requesting letters of recommendation. Ask for these things far ahead of when you need them.
  4. Have your resume and your transcript (unofficial is fine) in an easy to access place so you can reference them as you are filling out applications and send them to your recommenders

How to Fill Out a College Application Step by Step

Things that are required by ALL Colleges

Application Form

An important piece of how to fill out a college application is the actual application itself! This will include basic information such as your name and address and information about your school as well as the classes you have taken. This is also where you include activities and sports you have participated in as well as any jobs or internships you’ve had during high school. If you have had responsibility in your home, such as caring for young children or elders, make sure to include that as well.

Application Fee

Each college charges between $35 – $50 to apply and this is non refundable. You can request a fee waiver either from the college itself or ask your school counselor to give you one. 

Official High School Transcript

A transcript is your official school record of all the classes you have taken in high school (and possibly middle school if you took classes then for high school credit) as well as your grades and GPA. Find out your high school’s process for requesting a transcript and do it early. This will reflect your grades and classes through the end of your junior year. 

Official FINAL High School Transcript

Towards the end of the school year, you will need to make sure that your final high school transcript will be sent to the college you plan to attend over the summer. Follow your high school’s process to request this.

Things that are required by SOME Colleges

Personal Statement

Your personal statement is an important part of your application where you get to show more of yourself than just your grades and activities. Once you have your primary personal statement completed, you may also need to do additional supplemental writing (usually shorter). Make sure to add to your plan any additional writing you need to do and for which colleges.

Letters of Recommendation

Some colleges require letters of recommendation from teachers or school counselors to give them more information about your story, your character and who you are as a student. If these are required or recommended, identify who you will ask to write your letters and ask them as early as possible.

Standardized Test Scores

Some colleges require the SAT or ACT to be considered for admission. If your college requires this, make sure that you have your official scores sent directly to them. More colleges are becoming test optional or not considering tests at all, a list of test optional schools is here. Always double check with each college to make sure you understand their policies regarding testing.

A smaller number of colleges (none in Washington State) require SAT subject tests. These are shorter tests that cover only material in a specific subject, such as Biology or Spanish. A list of colleges that require or recommend subject tests is here.

Mid Year Report

This is generally required at most small liberal arts colleges. This sends your first semester grades for your senior year to the college so that they can include that information in their admissions decision. Follow your school’s process for requesting this (check with your school counselor). 

Secondary School Report

This is also generally required at most small liberal arts colleges. It is sent directly from your high school to the college. Follow your high school’s process for requesting this (check with your school counselor).


Many small liberal arts colleges encourage students to do an interview as part of their college application. If offered, this is an excellent opportunity to tell even more of your story and strengthen your application. The interview is generally conducted by someone in your local area who graduated from that school. If it’s an option, definitely request an interview!

Audition or Portfolios

If you are applying to a college or major that focuses on performing or visual arts, a portfolio or audition may be required as part of your college application. Check with the college or program you’re applying to for their requirements and the process.

The most important part of filling out a college application is to understand all the pieces of an application that the college requires and keep track of them and make sure to submit everything that’s required or recommended to complete your application.

Don’t forget to make a plan for transitioning to college as well!

By Jennie Flaming