Last Updated: December 20, 2020

Applying to a college almost seems like as much work and stress as taking the courses themselves. After all the paperwork, checklists, making sure every “I” is dotted and “t” is crossed… comes the waiting, and the second-guessing. Did I remember to do everything? Should I have taken that extra AP course? And most importantly, will they accept me anyway?

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But if you do your homework and get a good head start, the application process can go a lot more smoothly. And, you’ll be more confident about the end result.

Before you apply

As you’ve looked into marketing programs, you’ve no doubt begun to spot colleges with strong reputations, or which offer unique programs, or are in an ideal location. In short, they look great on paper.

However, you’re not planning on spending the next two, four, or perhaps even more years living on a piece of paper. Therefore, once you’ve done the research and narrowed down your list of possible schools—and before you apply, let alone make a commitment—it’s highly advisable that you first visit the campuses of the schools you’re interested in.

Colleges regularly offer student-guided tours, open houses, and student-information sessions, so that prospective students can get comfortable with the college environment and ask all their questions to people who’ve already enjoyed their college experience. It’s also extremely beneficial to interview with an admissions counselor during your visit, so you can better learn what each school is looking for in an applicant, and improve your chances of acceptance. (You could even catch an athletic or other school-wide event, to get a feel for what the student body’s really like when they’re not “on.”)

Types (and timing) of your application

College Application and Social Media

These days, many colleges and universities aren’t only looking at your application—they’re also looking at your Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube pages. A 2011 survey indicated that nearly a quarter of schools are visiting applicants’ social-media pages, and that 20 percent of prospective students are Googled.

Be sure that your posts, pages, and profiles give a positive impression. Don’t talk about last night’s party, let alone post pictures from it. Do talk about your dreams and your accomplishments. And while you’re at it, friend them—you’ll gain valuable information about what your school’s looking for and what it values.

Also, before you apply, it’s important to consider how you want to approach the application process. To a large degree, your decision will depend on how exclusive the school is, and how exclusive you want to be in your choices.

The majority of students who apply to competitive colleges do so sometime between November and January of their senior year, receive their acceptance (or wait list or rejection) letters sometime in April, and are usually then required make their commitment sometime in early May. Not every school follows this timetable, however, so be sure check with the schools you’re interested in.

There are other options to consider as well. For instance, many competitive schools have early decision programs, which can be ideal for those students who have their hearts set on one particular school. Those applying for early decision usually do so by the end of October of senior year, and receive a decision in mid-December.

Acceptance rates for early decision applicants are almost always higher, especially at more prestigious schools. Students who choose to apply via an early decision program usually can still apply to other schools; however, once accepted, they must withdraw all other applications and enroll at that institution. There’s no backing out—even if you discover later that another school is offering a much better financial-aid package. If you take this route, be sure that the school you’re applying to is “the one.”

Early action is similar to early decision—particularly in the timing of the application and acceptance—but isn’t as binding as early decision. Students who accepted via early action are still free to apply to other schools and to compare financial aid offers before committing.

Rolling admission is another approach used by many, often less competitive, colleges. Potential students are invited to submit applications within an elongated time frame (usually more than six months), and are usually notified of the school’s decision within three to six weeks. Some schools have no end date, and simply cut off applications once all spots are filled.

This approach can be less stressful to some students, as deadlines (and often requirements) aren’t as strict and there’s less of a wait time for decision. However, qualified students who wait too long could miss their window to be accepted. Also, these schools may use the same first-come-first-served approach toward housing and financial aid; thus, students who are accepted might still end up shortchanging themselves. Thus, it’s still best to apply as early as possible, even to schools offering rolling admissions as an option.

Your Odds: and how to improve them

The application process can be nerve-wracking. But here’s the good news: Nationwide, 2 out of every 3 applications are accepted. And you can improve your chances even further by taking advantage of early decision or early action programs.

Source: “2010 State of College Admission” report, National Association for College Admission Counseling

Submitting your application

Just as you’re looking for the best college or university to suit your needs, your schools are looking for the best applicants. They’re not just looking for good grades, what school you attended, extracurricular activities, your level or enthusiasm, or your socioeconomic background—they’re looking at all of these things. Your prospective school wants to evaluate you from all angles. And you can help them to do that. First, there’s the application itself, which will include most to all of the following sections:

Summer Programs

One way to bolster a college application is to participate in a summer program. There are thousands of programs available, ranging from academic to humanitarian.

Summer programs not only look good on an application; they’re opportunities to expand your world—sometimes literally, as some projects will take you overseas. And as you work together, you may form friendships that last a lifetime.

As with college, it’s useful to apply early for many of these programs. Start looking into the ones you’re interested in now.

  • General information. This will note your socioeconomic background as well as your parents’ occupations and educational background.
  • Academic background. Some schools are reluctant to admit the priority they give to cold, hard statistics, preferring to talk about how they look at applications more holistically. But the facts are, a) past performance is an indicator of future success; b) officers have to work through a lot of applications; and thus, c) most schools openly admit that academic performance is the most important initial criteria when reviewing applications. Your grades, the level of academic rigor, AP courses/test scores, and possibly even class rank will all be taken into consideration.
  • Essay. Colleges may ask for one or several essays, or “short answers,” depending on the application, usually running between 100 and 500 words each. Essay sections usually include a longer personal statement, as well as shorter answers about a personal experience, your interest in the college, or a response to a seemingly random question that will test your creative abilities. In every case, admissions officers are looking for intelligent and enthusiastic answers that will help them learn who you really are, and why you’re the right candidate for their institution.
  • Extracurricular activities and work experience. Although perhaps not as heavily weighed as your academic record, a strong extracurricular record could well be what sets you apart other comparable candidates. How you spent your time outside of the classroom will reveal a great deal about your interests, your passions, and your character.

Certain other elements will also be required to be submitted with your application, including:

  • High-school transcript (or GED score report)
  • Standardized test scores (SAT, ACT)
  • Letters of recommendation (2-3) from teachers, coaches, guidance counselors, or others who know you well. These may also appear as “teacher evaluation” or “school report” sections on your application.

Once all your application materials are in, they’ll likely be reviewed by more than one officer. At larger universities, applications are usually screened by a regional officer from your state or part of the country. The regional officer will then approve, deny, or forward your application to an admissions committee for further review. This is where more intangible factors such as essay answers, extracurricular activities, and even geographic location or race could play a big part in the final decision.

How to apply

Usually, it will be your responsibility to complete and submit your college application. Therefore, make sure you’ve read and understood everything thoroughly. It would also be prudent to spend time reviewing and refining your essays (as well as your list of extracurricular activities) before adding them to your final application.

Some high schools prefer that you turn your application and other elements to the guidance office, who will then add your transcripts and recommendations to the completed admissions package. Find out your school’s policy, and if this is the proper route, be sure to give your completed application to the guidance office several weeks in advance.

It’s also worth noting that many colleges will now accept either the Common Application or the Universal College Application. With these, one application covers a multitude of colleges. Advantages to using one of these not only include ease of multiple submissions but the ability to complete the application online. The disadvantage is the same as the advantage: Every college gets the same application. In some cases, you may wish to personalize your application to fit a particular college’s requirements. (However, most colleges who accept these applications also request a shorter supplement in addition to the longer common application.) So if you use a common admissions form, be sure to think things through before hitting “Send.”

Post-bachelor’s applications

Those applying for postgraduate programs in marketing will find the process similar to that of applying to a bachelor’s program. It isn’t so much the elements that have changed, as the levels of education and experience now represented by those elements. These programs include:

Certification programs

A certificate program in marketing enables you to add a particular marketing specialization, or add a general marketing certification, to an existing degree without needing to complete an entire master’s program. Thus, you can obtain a master’s-level education, and in-depth knowledge of the latest marketing concepts and techniques, for a fraction of the time and cost—and sometimes in as little as one semester.

The application process for a certification program is similar to that of an undergraduate program—the one upgrade is that in addition to your application, you’ll also need to furnish college transcripts. In some cases—and unlike a master’s degree program—an associate’s degree may be sufficient to be accepted into a certification program; check with your college for requirements.

Graduate degree programs

As with a certification program, college transcripts are now required. In addition, many schools often have a minimum GPA requirement; 3.0 is a common benchmark, although depending on level of competitiveness schools may set the bar higher or lower.

Standardized test scores are also still required; however, the tests themselves are different. As opposed to college-board exams, graduate programs require either Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) scores. In addition, international students will need to pass a Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), International English Language Testing System (IELTS), or Pearson Test of English (PTE) test, in order to prove proficiency in the English language.

Graduate admissions officers will again require an applicant statement or essay, explaining your reasons for wanting to attend their school, including your career goals; as well as letters of recommendation, which now will come from your undergraduate professors and/or employers.

The one brand-new addition to your graduate application package will be your resume, detailing your educational and work experience. Some schools prefer these to be concise, while others want detail; check your school’s application preferences. In addition, most doctoral programs and many research-based master’s programs—such as for those pursuing a career as analyst—will also, or instead, request a curriculum vitae (CV). A CV runs noticeably longer than a resume, as it not only includes general education and professional experience but may also include educational honors, published papers, professional activities, and research and statistical experience.

Again, before applying to any school, spend some time getting to know them. Do the research, and make the visits. Learn what each school wants, decide which one best fits your career goals, and then start applying. And good luck with your search!