College Applications


It's important to review a school's admissions requirements before applying. While these are typically not strict cut-offs, they do provide an average expected high school GPA and/or test score for prospective students. Schools may require specific courses to be completed before enrolling as well (Algebra I, for example). This information can be found on the college's Admissions page.

understanding the application process

Common Terms

The ASPIRE Glossary and OSAC Glossary can help you decode all of the confusing terms surrounding college admissions, such as:

  • Admissions Test, SAT, ACT, Fee Waiver

  • Regular Decision, Early Action, Early Decision, Deferred Admission

  • Limited Entry, Open Admission, Rolling Admission

Application Steps

There are a few key parts of every college application process.

  1. Application Fee: Many colleges require an application fee at the time students submit their application. Several automatically waive the fee if students apply online, others will accept a deferral or waiver, both of which must be signed by a high school counselor. Students should download a copy of the NACAC fee waiver.

  2. School Application/Common App: Schools may have their own unique application, but many 4-year colleges throughout the country use the Common App. This saves students time by not requiring them to fill out their personal contact information, educational history, etc. every time they apply to a new school. OSU, U of O, and several in-state private schools use the Common App.

  3. Essays: Most institutions require students to write one or more admissions essays. Some schools have strict writing prompts while others are more open-ended. These essays are evaluating the students writing ability and their character. It is the best opportunity a student has to show why they should be admitted into the college. More information on essay writing can be found below.

  4. GPA/Transcript: Most schools will ask students to submit their high school transcript to verify their GPA. Some schools way these scores more heavily than others, and colleges may view identical GPAs differently based on the high school attended. Schools will also review your transcript to ensure you've taken required courses for admission.

  5. Test Scores: Standardized test scores (SAT, ACT, etc.) were often required for nearly every college, but more and more schools are moving to test-optional admissions. More information is in the section below.

  6. Letter of Recommendation: Schools, scholarships, or certain programs may want a Letter of Recommendation. These are 1-2 page letters from someone who can speak to your talents -- typically an adult who taught or supervised you. You could ask a teacher, a mentor, a coach, a supervisor at your job or volunteer organization, etc. Ask your potential recommender if they have the time/capacity to write a letter for you and give them ample time before the deadline to write the letter and submit it.

Standardized admissions tests

Four-year colleges and universities generally require that a standardized test be taken to apply for admission. Oregon community colleges do not require standardized tests, but do have their own placement tests. Each school’s website or admissions office will give you the information you need on test requirements. School counselors can also be a resource for test preparation. Students should have a planned testing date (or multiple) in their timeline.

There may be test fee waivers available at the high school to students who qualify for the free and reduced lunch program. See a school counselor for more information.

As more schools move to test-optional admissions, students may be apply to enough schools without having to take either test. This can be particularly beneficial for students who may excel in the classroom and in essay writing, but perform worse on standardized test.