The First Steps Towards College

A guide on how to apply for college


Creative Commons.

Students gathering at a college.

Senior year is almost over, and the time has almost come for seniors to dawn their cap and gown. It feels like freshman year started yesterday, but now it is already time to start looking into colleges. Applying for colleges can be a tricky and complicated process, but with the right tools and information, getting through this stage will not be a problem.

The first step starts with Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), according to FAFSA is a questionnaire that asks about parental income and education to see what kind of financial aid for which a student qualifies. FAFSA can be filled out on a computer or by phone, according to This application is free and is a good first step to take.

“Every student who wishes to qualify for financial assistance in college should fill [a FAFSA] out every year,” counselor Stacy Smith said. “The FAFSA is filled out by both the student and their parent(s). Even if you don’t believe you will receive any grants or need-based aid, it is highly recommended you fill out a FAFSA. Every fall, FZW puts on a FAFSA [and] Financial Aid night that can help families navigate this process.”

The next step for applying is to write a college essay. This is an important step because it is one of the only times where the applicant’s voice can be heard. Students can share personal interests and stories about themselves. The colleges are going to learn about the applicant in this step, according to A good tool to use for this is the common application, also known as the common app. This application is used by over 700 universities and colleges, and it helps decrease the number of essays that have to be written, according to

“Write about something personal to you,” Smith said. “It is easy to write a ‘cookie-cutter’ essay but admissions representatives see those all the time. Avoid writing in general terms\; be specific and try to tell a story about your life in order to separate yourself from the rest of the applicants. When you have a draft done, search out an English teacher and ask them to proofread the essay. Remember that this is being written for a college and should be written at a collegiate level.”

After writing a college essay, students should ask people who are close to them for a recommendation letter. Some examples of people to ask could be teachers, school counselors or mentors that they have known for a long time. This is where the college is going to get the full picture of the applicant, according to

The final steps in the process are all about finding scholarships. Applying for as many scholarships as possible and also starting the process early can be very beneficial and in the end, can help the applicant tremendously with college cost.

“Our guidance office publishes a monthly scholarship newsletter with all of the opportunities that come across our desks,” Smith said. “We also include in the newsletter a list of reputable national scholarship websites that you can check out. One of the best resources students have is the Financial Aid office at the school you are attending. You should make an appointment with that office during a visit to talk about the non-automatic scholarships they offer. Research departmental scholarships and awards specific to the major you are applying for.”