College Application Steps

College Application Steps

  • Explore colleges and careers of interest
  • Prepare for and take college entrance exam(s)
  • Build a list of colleges
  • Visit or take a virtual tour of the colleges
  • Apply to college, send transcripts, exam scores, and letters of recommendation
  • Complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)
  • Apply for scholarships
  • Commit to one college by May 1st
  • Complete the Niles West graduation surveys & order your final transcript

Explore colleges and careers of interest
College is an education as well as an opportunity to grow and explore. Your search for the right match in a school will encompass your personal needs as well as your academic goals. Most importantly, keep an open mind. Most likely there are schools you have never heard of that are a good fit for the qualities you seek.

Naviance provides powerful resources to help you explore colleges and careers, including assessments about career interests and learning styles, tools to help find your match with schools, and much more. Self knowledge is crucial to the matching process.

To further help your search, Niles West hosts visits by college representatives throughout the school year; you will have an opportunity to learn first-hand about schools from the person who will likely be reading your college application. We suggest you set up an individual appointment with the College & Career Counselor and meet with your School Counselor to talk about your plans. In addition, attend the annual College Fair in March where more than 200 schools spend an evening at Niles West to share what is special or unique about their schools.

Prepare for and take college entrance exam(s)
See Test Information on our website for details about college entrance exams. All juniors must take the SAT as a graduation requirement. This test is accepted by all schools.

Build a list of colleges
All of the schools on your list should be ones you would be happy to attend. Make sure you have a mix of “safety,” “match,” and “reach” schools. A safety school is one where your academic credentials exceed the school’s range for typical first-year students. A match school is one where your academic performance falls within the range of the typical freshman. A reach school is one where you have a chance of getting in, but your grades and test scores are a bit on the low side per the school’s profile. Regularly update your list on Naviance under “Colleges I’m Thinking About.”

Although you cannot be guaranteed acceptance to a particular college, if you take an active and responsible role in the college application process, choose realistically, and seek help when needed, you will certainly have a better chance of being successful in “matching up” with a college.

Visit or take a virtual tour of the colleges
There is nothing like the experience of actually being on a campus. Visit a school in the Chicago area or, when traveling take a college campus tour. In addition, Niles West provides a free full-day bus trip to visit several nearby schools. Also, most school websites provide a virtual tour of their campus or you may use CampusTours, a website with interactive virtual tours and campus maps.

Apply to college
You may apply directly to a school on its website or through the Common Application ( or Coalition Application ( Both applications allow you to apply to multiple schools all in one place. Choose your application based on the school to which you’re applying. Many schools require supplemental materials, so be sure to pay attention to each school’s requirements. Most importantly, be mindful of college application deadlines.

Send transcripts
Go to Parchment ( to send your official transcript (see Transcripts on our website for details). Niles West will send your transcript to all Common and Coalition Application schools. There are schools that do not require transcripts, but they do require that you self report your grades on their application. You may view your transcript on your Student Portal.

Exam scores
If you did not send your official test scores when you registered for the ACT ( or SAT (, it is your responsibility to send them. Keep in mind, it may take several weeks for a school to receive your score. See Test Information on our website for more details.

Letters of recommendation
Although not required by all colleges, it is your responsibility to request your letters of recommendation from your counselor and/or teachers. Be sure to select teachers from academic core subjects who know you as a learner. Ask at least four (4) weeks before the deadline, and inquire about their process for requesting letters. There are questionnaires in “About Me” on Naviance to help provide information to your recommenders.

Complete the FAFSA
(Free Application for Federal Student Aid)
In order to be eligible for financial aid, complete the FAFSA at Submit it as soon as possible after October 1. Awards are made until funds are depleted. During the month of October, the College & Career Resource Center staff will conduct FAFSA Fridays to help students complete their FAFSAs.

Some colleges require supplemental forms to obtain information not included on the FAFSA, or they may ask you to complete the CSS Profile from The College Board. It is important to find out which forms each college requires and to meet deadlines.

Apply for scholarships
Start with the Financial Aid Office of each college to which you applied. In addition, check the scholarship list on Naviance or Scholarships on the CCRC website. Or, conduct your own scholarship research at sites such as or

Commit to a college
Commit to one college by May 1st, National Candidate Reply Day, and proudly wear your college apparel on that day.

  • Accept the offer of admission and submit a deposit.
  • Inform all other schools where you were accepted that you will not be enrolling. Remember: you are holding someone else’s spot.
  • Be sure not to send a deposit to more than one college. This does not keep your options open and is unethical; it may result in both colleges rescinding your admission.
  • Thank all of the people who made this possible for you.

Complete the Niles West graduation surveys & request your
final transcript

  • Complete the graduation surveys on Naviance.
  • Order your final transcript through Parchment and choose “Hold for Grades” rather than “Send Now.”
  • Get your ticket in the College & Career Resource Center, where we will verify that you’ve completed the above, and have your School Counselor sign it during your check-out meeting. Failure to complete this step may prohibit you from taking part in the graduation ceremony.
  • Bring your signed ticket in order to pick up your graduation cap and gown.