Two students showing off their college t-shirts.

Preparing for college

Factors to consider:

  • Academic Programs or majors                                                                             
  • Size of college or university                                        
  • Location
  • Urban, Suburban, Rural area
  • Campus Activities
  • Housing
  • Admissions
  • Average score on SAT/ACT                                       
  • Class size
  • Cost     
  • Financial Aid (scholarships, loans, work-study)
  • Diversity and Geographical distribution                                  
  • Graduation rates                                                         
  • Honors program                                                          
  • Percent of students going to grad school
  • Percent of students placed in their field
  • Proportion of men and women
  • Ratio of student to teachers
  • Study Abroad program

olleges vary in their entrance requirements and standards. A student who is rejected for admission by one college may be accepted with a scholarship at another. This is because colleges use certain factors both academic and personal in making their admission decisions. Each college will weigh these factors in a unique way to accept candidates based upon institutional expectations, past experience and sometimes most important of all, the number of applications on file that year.

Each college will navigate the process of reviewing applications and selecting students differently. In general, an admissions representative (usually responsible for the applicant’s geographic region) does an initial read of the application. This reader reviews the application, documents critical data, and recommends an admission decision. The application either stands as it is, is passed to another reader, or is presented to a panel of committee members for further review.

Some factors that will influence an admission decision are:

  • Academic 
  • Personal  
  • Level of instruction
  • Courses 
  • Marks
  • Class rank
  • Scholastic recommendations
  • The high school's reputation 
  • Student essay    
  • Special talents
  • Character
  • Resume
  • Constructive and/or unique involvement 
  • Interview impression 
  • Written recommendations
  • Statement on application
  • Standardized test results

Every school wants students who are academically prepared for the rigors of college, often phrased, “students who can do the work.” Colleges are also looking for a student with a point of distinction, such as: home region, ethnic background, relation to an alumna, potential areas of study, and special talents (such as athletics and music), etc. Colleges want to bring to their campus the widest possible range of backgrounds and talents. 

Competitive colleges are looking for candidates who are not only qualified but are competitive. Students and parents often want to know “What do I need to have in order to get in?” There is no clean answer and SAT scores and GPA are just skimming the surface. Many competitive colleges have thousands of qualified candidates who meet or exceed the SAT and GPA averages. However, a competitive candidate possesses qualities that make them stand out, increasing their attractiveness to a college. 

Some of these qualities that can impact your attractiveness to a certain college are: 

  • Excellence: Schools frequently look for someone who stands out in a particular endeavor, especially one that is unique. 
  • Courage: A student who is able to maintain academic success while dealing with adversity indicates the student has already developed strong coping skills.  
  • Community Involvement: Do you make a contribution to your school or larger community? It is not only about what you can get out of college, but also what you will give to it that admissions officers consider. 
  • Curiosity: Schools notice students who do independent research and take academic risks. 
  • Motivation: Self-starters and independent learners are well prepared for the independence college requires. 
  • Ability to get along with others: Most colleges require students to live on campus for a certain period of time, most often sharing a small space with at least one other person. This will include sharing a bathroom with multiple people. Are you flexible? Are you tolerant? Can you voice an opinion without being dictatorial? Do you know how to compromise? 

Nearly every college in America requires either the ACT (American College Test) or the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) I.  In addition, some colleges may also require the SAT II Subject Tests as a part of its admissions process (generally only required by very competitive four year private colleges).

Albany High School's CEEB Code is 330041
The Albany High School Test Center Code for the ACT is 183170
The Albany High School Test Center Code for the SAT is 33106

ACT - The ACT is a widely accepted college entrance exam, taken in the spring of the junior year and then again in the fall of the senior year. It assesses high school students' general educational development and their ability to complete college-level work. The multiple-choice tests cover four skill areas: English (75 multiple choice questions-45 minutes, mathematics (60 multiple choice questions-60 minutes), reading (40 multiple choice questions-35 minutes), and science (40 question-35 minutes). Each test yields a raw score, which is converted to a scaled score, 1 through 36. The composite score is obtained by computing the average of the 4 tests.  The Writing Test (30 minute essay), which is optional, measures skill in planning and writing a short essay.
SAT - The SAT is a 3 hour and 45 minute test that measures the critical thinking, mathematical reasoning, and writing skills that students need to do college-level work.

Critical Reading

  • Understand and analyze what is read
  • Recognize relationships between parts of a sentence
  • Understand word meaning in context


  • Algebra and functions
  • Geometry and measurement
  • Number and operations
  • Data analysis, statistics, and probability


  • Use standard written English
  • Identify sentence errors
  • Write an essay and develop a point of view

Each SAT section is scored on a scale of 200-800. Most students take the SAT during the spring of their junior year and then again in the fall of their senior year in high school. Most students improve their scores the second time around. All scores are reported to colleges, but colleges generally look only at the highest scores.

SAT Subject Tests are one-hour, primarily multiple-choice tests. They're designed to show your child's knowledge, and ability to apply that knowledge, in specific subject areas. Your child should take the subject tests as soon as possible after completing the course. These tests are generally only required by very competitive four year private colleges to:

  • Determine how well prepared your child is for different college programs. 
  • Place your child in first-year college or higher-level courses
  • Advise your child on course selection

PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test): The PSAT/NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) is taken in October of 11th grade to prepare for the SAT and to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Corporation's scholarship programs. Students can also benefit from taking the test in the 10th grade because they will get earlier feedback on the academic skills needed for college. By taking the test before 11th grade, students will have more time to develop these skills and to begin the college planning process.  In addition to assessing critical academic skills, the PSAT/NMSQT provides an opportunity to:

  • Prepare for the SAT I, as the test uses similar questions and the same directions
  • Qualify for scholarships (if your child is in eleventh grade)
  • Compare scores with other college-bound students around the country
  • Forecast SAT scores
  • Get feedback on skill strengths and weaknesses
  • Get free information from colleges and scholarship programs through the Student Search Service
  • Plan ahead for college and a career

While SAT and ACT scores are important, they intend to supplement your child's record. The most important factor for college admissions is your child's high school transcript, judged by grades received and the rigor of the courses. Other information, such as extracurricular activities and recommendations are also considered.

In becoming acquainted with a college, the most important thing you can do is visit the campus. Here are some tips to follow when visiting a college: 

  • Call the admissions office before you plan to visit, give two weeks notice. 
  • Campus tours should always be free and you can sometimes even arrange for an overnight stay. A tour should include a look at the facilities (e.g. dormitories, cafeteria, athletic facilities, library). 
  • If a personal interview is offered, take advantage of this!
  • After the information session and campus tour, venture out on your own: talk to students, have lunch, walk around, etc. 
  • Research the school beforehand and generate questions to ask that are not answered in the catalogs and viewbooks. 
  • Most of all, ask yourself: “Can I picture myself at this school for four years?” 

The following questions are just a sampling of the many questions a perspective student might ask when touring a college. Take advantage of the knowledge your tour guide possesses - that is the reason he/she is there! 

  • Do you accept AP or SUPA credits? 
  • On average, how large are classes? 
  • How helpful is the faculty? Do they make themselves available to provide extra help? Are they instructors or are they graduate students? 
  • Are tutors available? If so, are the sessions at my expense? 
  • What are the computer resources? e.g. Number of terminals, hours of availability, etc. May I have a computer in my dorm? 
  • Are internships/co-ops available? Can I receive credit for them? 
  • What kinds of work study (jobs on campus) are available? 
  • Are there study-abroad programs? If so, where? 
  • What is the job placement like for students who graduated with my intended major? 
  • Does the college sponsor an overnight program? (A current student serves as a host/hostess for a prospective student, giving him/her the opportunity to experience the dorms, dining hall, classrooms and social life of the college.) 
  • Is housing guaranteed for all four (two) years? 
  • What type of alternative housing is available (e.g. quiet dorms)? 
  • How are roommates chosen freshman year? 
  • Are most rooms doubles, triples? Are singles available? 
  • What is the process of selecting a room after freshman year? 
  • What are dorm visitation procedures? 
  • What percentage of the students are commuter/resident? 
  • Is this a "suitcase" college? (Do students pack up and leave on weekends?) 
  • What is the policy for students possessing cars? Can freshman have them?


  • What majors/programs are offered? Are masters/doctorate programs available? Do you have a list?
  • What is the average length of your program?
  • What percent of students graduate?
  • Are internship programs and career placement assistance available? What is your placement rate?
  • How do I get an advisor?
  • Is tutoring available on campus? Is it free?
  • What is the average class size? How about the faculty-to- student ratio?
  • How many students are enrolled? How many in my major?
  • Will I have access to computers/printers/Internet? Do I need my own computer?
  • Are academic periods divided into semesters/trimesters/quarters?
  • Do I have to declare a major right away? How easy is it to change majors?
  • What are the requirements for my major?


  • What is the total cost (tuition, room, board, books and other fees)?
  • Does your school offer financial aid?
  • If so, how do I apply? What is the deadline?
  • What is the size of the average aid package?
  • What percent of students receive aid?
  • What are the standards for qualifying? When will I know if I qualify?
  • Does your school offer scholarships? If so, do I apply separately from financial aid?
  • Are part-time jobs available on campus?


  • What are the admissions requirements?
  • How/where do I apply? When is the deadline?
  • Does your school have an early decision or early action option?
  • What are the standards for acceptance? SAT scores? SATH subject tests needed?
  • Will I need to take an entrance exam? Where and when?
  • Will my AP credits transfer? Will community college credits transfer?
  • Is there an application fee? Is there a way to get it waived?
  • Is there an open house/campus tour? When? How do I RSVP?
  • Who can I contact for more information?

Student Life
Is the college in an urban, suburban or rural setting?
What is the closest town like? Is safety an issue?
Can I have a car on campus? Is there a parking fee?
Is public transportation available? Is it free for students?
What are my food/meal plan options? How does it work? Cost?
What if I have a special dietary need/food allergies?
What student organizations/activities are available?
What sports are available? What athletic facilities are available?
How big is the gym? Is crowding a problem?
What type of housing is available for students?

At many colleges, an interview is desirable and sometimes required. Here are some suggestions to help you through this process: 

  • In arranging an interview, call the admissions office and suggest a date several weeks in advance. Provide alternate dates, if possible.
  • Research the school and if possible, take another tour.
  • Be on time and dress appropriately. A nice smile, a firm handshake and frequent eye contact will show that you are focused and interested. 
  • Be yourself. Interviewers expect you to present unique opinions and react to questions and proposed situations in your own way. 
  • Be confident. Stay positive and emphasize your strengths. 
  • Don’t be sorry. Instead of sounding apologetic of any mistake you made in high school, describe how you turned bad experiences into valuable lessons. 
  • Ask questions. Avoid questions that are clearly answered in the catalog. 
  • Stay on track. If asked an unexpected question, answer clearly and honestly. 
  • Bring an unofficial transcript (includes course marks, class rank, average and college admission test scores) and your activities resume. Your transcript may be obtained from the Counseling Center. Please give one week’s notice of your request. 
  • Be ready to talk about yourself. The interview is your opportunity to show the real person behind your application. Talk about what makes you unique and exceptional. 
  • Several days later, take time to send a polite note thanking the interviewer. 

Remember, acquiring great interview skills now will benefit you later!

The application process should begin through your Naviance account.  Each college has its own application deadline and date when admission decision letters are mailed. Below are some general descriptions about the different deadlines a student can apply under. 

Regular Decision or Regular Admission: 
There is usually an application deadline in January of senior year. The date admission decision letters are mailed depends on the college’s schedule, but is usually in March or April. If admitted, the student is obligated to accept or decline by May 1st. 

Early Decision: 
This is only for students who are absolutely sure that this is where they want to go to school. Do not apply “early” anywhere before you have seen the campus. 

This is where a student applies to a FIRST CHOICE COLLEGE early in the fall. (Usually November 1st or 15th deadline)  This is a contract, BINDING AGREEMENT to enter that college next fall, if accepted.  Decisions are given in early December.  If not accepted the student is usually deferred for regular admissions, but not always.  A student may apply to only one school early decision and if accepted they must withdraw all other applications from other colleges where they have applied.

Early Action: 
Similar to early decision in that it follows the same application and notification timetable as early decision but allows the accepted candidates to wait to accept or decline admission until May 1.  This is a NON-BINDING AGREEMENT. Under this plan, an accepted student can continue to apply to other colleges and does not have to make a definite decision until May 1.

Early Admission: 
This is offered by some colleges and allows exceptional students to enter the college before completing high school. The student combines the senior year of high school with the first year of college. 

Rolling Admission: 
Process used by many state universities as well as some private colleges.  The admissions office will review the applications as received. However, please be aware of preferred deadlines, which are very common.  The admissions office will render a decision when all application information is complete.  You should receive a reply within a month or six weeks from the date your completed application is received.

Deferred Admission: 
The college accepts the student during the senior year but allows a postponement of enrollment for one year. Usually this is for special family situations, travel or work.

Reach School
A reach school is a college that you have a chance of getting into, but your GPA, class rank and / or SAT/ACT scores are a bit on the low side when you look at the schools profile. The top colleges in the country should always be considered reach schools, for the admissions standards are so high that not even perfect SAT scores guarantee acceptance.

Target/Match School
A target school is a college that you are very likely to get into because your GPA, class rank, and / or SAT/ACT scores fall right into the middle range when you look at the school’s profile. 

Safety School
A safety school is a college that you will almost certainly get into because your GPA, rank, and test scores are well above average when you look at the school’s profile. Two-year community colleges are often considered good safety schools because most have open enrollment. Two-year colleges can also be a great way for families to save money, as they are less expensive than a four-year college and students will have the option to live it home. They are wonderful opportunities for students at every level of achievement.

Step by step

1. Get the application. Apply online using the Common Application through Naviance, online at the college’s website if they do not accept the Common Application or by paper application. 

2. Complete the application. Remember these tips when filling out any application: 

  • Follow directions 
  • Check you spelling 
  • Check your grammar 
  • Neatness and thoroughness 
  • Read carefully (e.g., County vs. Country) 
  • Write Legibly 
  • Proofread 
  • Review Tips for Applying Online 
  • Sign and date application where required. 

3. Develop your resume and complete the senior survey. Your resume should be created in Naviance in the resume section.  It offers an easy-to-use sytem to work on your resume in step-by-step process. Click here to print a Sample Student Resume.

Click here to print the Student Resume Worksheet which may help you organize your thoughts before completing the online version in Naviance.  Make sure to update your resume when needed. 

Seniors: To assist your counselor in writing you a letter of recommendation we suggest you fill out the Class of 2012 Senior Survey.  You can access the survey by clicking on the "About Me" tab in Naviance and then selecting the senior survey located on the left side of the page.

4. Request two teacher recommendations through Naviance (if required). Request recommendations through Naviance at least 6 weeks prior to the application deadline. Counselors and teachers will have access to your resume and senior survey.  Write the teacher a thank you note for writing your recommendation. 

5. Write your essay (if required).

  • Proofread for spelling and grammatical errors. 
  • Have another person review your essay. 
  • Adhere to essay writing tips 
  • Include the essay with your completed application 
  • Include your name and social security number on every page. 

6. Be aware of testing requirements for each college. SAT and ACT test scores are listed on the high school transcript. However, some colleges require SAT and ACT scores be sent directly from the College Board and/or ACT. The student must request these test scores be released to the colleges by contacting the College Board and/or ACT. 

7. Meet the college's application deadline. Submit online either through Naviance or the school's site; email or mail each school’s completed application by the deadline. When applying online, the deadline often includes a date and time. 

8. Colleges will contact you for an interview (if required). 

9. Search for scholarships. Use Naviance for scholarship information. 

10. File the appropriate financial aid forms. 

  • If the CSS Profile is required by any of your potential colleges, complete and file. 
  • Complete the FAFSA by the college’s stated deadline (but not before January 1st). 
  • Some colleges have their own financial form that may also have to be completed.

Early Decision
This is where a student applies to a FIRST CHOICE COLLEGE early in the fall. (Usually November 1st or 15th deadline)  This is a contract, BINDING AGREEMENT to enter that college next fall, if accepted.  Decisions are given in early December.  If not accepted the student is usually deferred for regular admissions, but not always.  A student may apply to only one school early decision and if accepted they must withdraw all other applications from other colleges where they have applied.

Early Action
Similar to early decision in that it follows the same application and notification timetable as early decision but allows the accepted candidates to wait to accept or decline admission until May 1.  This is a NON-BINDING AGREEMENT. Under this plan, an accepted student can continue to apply to other colleges and does not have to make a definite decision until May 1.

Regular Decision
Applications must be filed by deadline set forth by specific college.  Students are notified in accordance with timetable set forth by that college.  

Rolling Admissions
Process used by many state universities as well as some private colleges.  The admissions office will review the applications as received, and will render a decision when all application information is complete. However, please be aware of preferred deadlines, which are very common.

Associate Degree  (A.A., A.S.): A two-year college degree, which generally prepares the student for further study.  Some associate degree programs are sufficient training for certain careers but many students in two-year colleges intend to complete their studies at a four-year college. Two-year colleges also offer AAS or AOS degrees that lead directly to a career path.
Bachelor Degree (B.A., B.S., B.F.A.):  A four-year degree in a specific subject or area. 

SUNY: This is the State University of New York, a coordinated network of 63 individual campuses, located in virtually every region of the state.  These include both 2 and 4-year colleges ranging from short-term vocational programs to long-term post-doctoral studies.

State universities: Each of the states has a public or private university system, some more expensive and or competitive than others.  In many of the states, non-resident admission is limited by state legislation to anywhere from 5% - 15% of the total freshman population.

Private colleges and universities: Number in the thousands, ranging from very small to very large (30, 000 + students).  They vary in admission and financial aid criteria and are generally more expensive than a state university.  

United States military service academies: Federal academies for the undergraduate education and training of commissioned officers for the United States armed forces.

Common Application: Approximately 300 colleges and universities participate in a common application process.  This enables the student to complete just one application and send photocopies to any of the participating colleges.  This format simplifies the college application process by saving time and eliminating unnecessary duplication effort.    REMINDER-most colleges that accept the common application also require a supplement. The supplement, as well as teacher recommendation forms can be downloaded and printed from the common application website. 

EOP: The Educational Opportunity Program (EOP or HEOP) is a New York State academic and financial program. The program widens the door to New York State college admissions and provides financial and academic help to increase success. An indicator that a student would qualify for this program would be free lunch eligibility.  

NCAA Clearinghouse: Students who would like to qualify for athletic scholarships for Division I or Division II colleges must meet the NCAA’s academic criteria. To initiate the eligibility process, athletes must register with the NCAA Clearinghouse at the end of their junior year.

  • Answer the question 
  • Remember your audience 
  • Keep your topic focused 
  • Avoid writing about a common topic in a common way 
  • Be natural 
  • Avoid gimmicks 
  • Be sure you can spend ample time writing, revising and having others proofread your work so that you present the best essay possible

Financial aid is money that is given, earned or loaned to help students pay for their education. There are four categories of financial aid:

  1. Grants: money that is given to a student, usually because of financial need.
  2. Scholarships: money that is awarded because of academic achievement, an outstanding talent, and/or financial need.
  3. Work-Study: money that a student earns by working on campus.
  4. Loans: borrowed money that must be repaid

All students applying for financial aid must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA determines eligibility for federal and state aid. This form can be completed after January 1st of your senior year. We recommend completing this form online, as it will improve processing time.  Also, check the calendar for FAFSA help nights at AHS.

CSS/Financial Aid Profile  
Certain private colleges require that students complete the CSS profile. This form provides additional information to colleges to determine aid. 

The College’s Financial Aid Form
Some colleges have their own applications that are generally included in the application for admission.

Private Scholarship Applications
The college center advertises many scholarship opportunities throughout the student’s senior year. These scholarships are based upon specific criteria such as academic achievement, community service, career choice, or extracurricular activities. We encourage students to apply to any award that they feel that they may qualify for.

Students who know what they want should choose their major accordingly. However, students can go to college Undecided and use their first year of school to take required courses and explore options. Most colleges have a broad range of majors. Popular majors include:

  • Accounting
  • Animal Science
  • Anthropology
  • Architecture
  • Art
  • Biology
  • Business Administration
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Chemistry
  • Civil Engineering
  • Communication
  • Computer Science
  • Creative Writing
  • Criminal Justice
  • Culinary Arts
  • Drama
  • Early Childhood Educ. 
  • Economics
  • Education
  • Electrical
  • Engineering
  • English
  • Fashion Design
  • Film Studies
  • Finance
  • Environmental Studies
  • Fine Arts
  • French
  • Geography
  • Graphic Design
  • History
  • International Studies
  • Marketing
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Music
  • Nursing
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Pharmacy
  • Philosophy
  • Physical Education
  • Physical Therapy
  • Physics
  • Public Relations
  • Political Science
  • Prelaw
  • Journalism
  • Landscape Architecture
  • Liberal Arts and Science
  • Management
  • Premed
  • Psychology
  • Religion
  • Social Work
  • Sociology
  • Spanish
  • Special education
  • Speech Pathology
  • Sports Management
  • Urban Studies
  • Visual Arts
  • Women’s Studies