College Application Checklist

This article provides ‘play-it-safe’ guidelines for high school seniors applying to top four-year universities. Your actual requirements will vary depending on school and department choice. Remember that anything a school classifies as ‘recommended’ is pretty much required if you want to be a competitive candidate. Make sure that you go above and beyond the minimum requirements if you want to maximize your chances of getting into a school.

After you’ve satisfied these core prerequisites, look to our guide to figure out what it takes to actually get accepted.

The To-Do List


1. SAT I (Math, Critical Reading, and Writing) plus two SAT II Subject Test scores or ACT with writing score.

Students who plan to major in engineering and the sciences should take the SAT II Math + SAT II Chemistry/Biology/Physics, even if they’ve taken the ACT already. The SAT II is one of the most important metrics for determining how you compare to the nation as a whole in terms of high school subject mastery.

2. Two teacher recommendations. You don’t need any more than that, so focus on getting two strong referrals, preferably from recent teachers.

3. TOEFL or IELTS scores for international students, to demonstrate proficiency in English.

4. A school report containing your high school transcript, counselor recommendation, and school profile.

5. 4 years of English, 3 years of Math, 2 years each of a Foreign Language, History, and Science, and 1 year of Arts.

6. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

It is essential that you complete FAFSA even if you are applying to private schools. Individual institutions use their own criteria for determining need-based aid, but they still pull your family’s financial information from the government application. It doesn’t take very long to complete, is not particularly detailed, and most importantly, it’s free. Even if you don’t think you will qualify for aid, it can’t hurt to submit it. Chances are, at least one school you apply to will have generous cutoffs and will offer some form of aid.

Overall, the minimum requirements are fairly easy to meet. Numbers 4 and 5 are usually taken care of by your school. The thing you want to keep in mind is spreading out the heavy workload as evenly as possible over your sophomore, junior, and senior years.

For students looking to start from two-year colleges, such as community and city college, the application criteria are more lenient. You often do not need SAT scores or teacher recommendations when transferring from a two-year college to a four-year university. Personal statements are also more straight-forward – as the emphasis is placed on understanding how you made the best out of your last two years.