College applications can be both difficult and stressful, especially if you don’t have someone in your life who’s familiar with the process. But there are all kinds of resources for college application help—you just have to know where to look.
Not all help with the college application process is created equal. Some are a little too hands-on, which can mean your application doesn’t sound like you. Others may not offer the kind of help you need. When you’re looking for assistance, you need services that help boost your own skills, not ones that do the work for you.
It’s perfectly okay to get college application help. This guide will walk you through some options for assistance, including what you should seek help for, what you shouldn’t, and some of the best places to find reliable assistance with your college application.
If you feel like this, definitely get help with your college application!
Should You Get Help With Your College Application?
If you feel like you’re not understanding your college applications or that you aren’t really doing as well on one portion as you’d like to be, you should absolutely seek outside help. There’s nothing to be ashamed of—college applications are difficult! Because they’re meant to be one-size-fits-all, sometimes your needs and questions may not be addressed.
But no matter what questions you have, you should ask them! Regardless of your circumstances, you deserve the opportunity to go to college. Don’t let fear or a lack of understanding stop you from applying.
There are lots of reasons to want or need help. The process can be pretty opaque, even with lots of tutorials and guides.
And if you feel like you don’t need any assistance with your college application, it’s still not a bad idea to look into it! With so many resources available, you might as well take advantage of them.
College applications can feel a bit like climbing a difficult wall, but help is available!
What's OK to Get College Application Help On?
The short answer to what parts of your college application it’s okay to get help with is pretty much everything. The key word is help—getting someone to do the work for you is a big mistake. But if you want assistance, including guidance, brainstorming, or even some constructive criticism, you shouldn’t be afraid to seek it out.
Where Can You Get Help With Your College Application?
There are so many resources available that it can be difficult to figure out which ones you should pursue. Do you need an all-around coach for your application? A tutor? Will a visit to a guidance counselor cut it, or do you need to spend money on a complete assistance package?
Don’t panic. Take a moment to outline what problems you’re having so you can better solve them. Even if you feel like you’re writing down every single thing about your application, it’s worth doing—if you can see the problem, you can come up with a plan to fix it.
Depending on what problems you’re having, you have a few options to handle it. Some common hangups are:
- You can't figure out what colleges to apply to
- You don't understand your application
- You're not sure you can afford college
- Your grades aren't where you'd like them to be
- You don't know who to ask for letters of recommendation
- You're not sure how to write your essay
- Your standardized test scores aren't ready to apply
These problems may all feel insurmountable at first, but there's always help available. No matter what you're struggling with, there are resources available—if you need help, consider asking:
- Your school guidance counselor
- The admissions office of the school you're applying to
- A tutor
They may not have all the answers, but chances are that they can point you in the direction of someone who does. Don't let fear or embarrassment keep you from seeking the education you dream of.
These are just a few ideas—if what’s giving you trouble isn’t covered below, keep reading anyway! A lot of issues overlap, and you may find your answer in a surprising place.
What If You Can't Figure Out Which Colleges to Apply To?
Figuring out which college to go to is a huge decision—one that can be paralyzing if you don’t know where to begin. But there are lots of resources to help you make your choice, even if you’re not sure what you want to study, whether you want to stay in your state, or whether you want to start at a four-year university.
However, this is a big question. If you still have lots of time to make a decision—such as if you're in your junior year—it’s time to start doing research. There are lots of online resources to help with this, including college websites and our own guides, including how to figure out which schools to apply to, how many colleges you should apply to, and how to calculate your admission chances.
Fall of your senior year is typically when you’ll be applying to colleges, so if that deadline has passed, you may be looking at taking a little time off. Taking some time off isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you’re struggling with your application, the extra time can help you narrow down what schools you want to apply to rather than forcing you to rush to a decision. Don’t panic about running late; you still have good options!
Take time to do your research, don’t just apply to schools that come to mind. Seek out college fairs if you can, and consult with your school’s guidance counselor to find schools that are right for your needs.
What If You Don't Understand Your Application?
College applications can be a little dense, particularly if you’re not familiar with a lot of the language they use. But there are lots of resources to help in this department, too—with social media and blogs, you can find all kinds of people online discussing how to handle a college’s application.
If you want something a little more personal, try speaking to your school’s guidance counselor. They’re experienced in this field, and can help walk you through the parts that are confusing.
If speaking with your school’s guidance counselor doesn’t give you enough information, look up the admissions department of the college you’re applying to. Some schools have direct liaisons between high school students and the admissions office, or they may just be able to answer general questions for you.
It’s better to ask your question and know for certain than to not fill something out for fear of being wrong, so hang up your fear of the telephone or email and reach out.
You don't need to turn to an underground arm-wrestling career to pay for college.
What If You're Not Sure You Can Afford College?
College is expensive—that’s just a fact. But there is lots of financial aid available, including grants, loans, and scholarships. However, it’s rare that that money will offer itself up to you. You have to apply for it.
There are many different types of scholarships and contests you can apply to, many of which can offer a great deal of money for things you already do.
Again, your school’s guidance counselor is a good resource if you’re feeling a little unsure about where to start. Don’t be afraid to set up a meeting with them if you’re not sure how to apply or what documents you’ll need.
No matter what your circumstances are, there are resources available to help you pay for college. Students with no financial assistance from parents or guardians, undocumented students, and even students who may not be eligible for grants all have options, even if you have to make some concessions about where you want to go. Being a community college transfer student may be the right idea for you to save some money now but still get the college education you want.
What If You're Struggling With Grades?
Grades are one of the most important parts of your college education. But if yours aren’t where they should be, that doesn’t mean you can’t get into college.
The earlier you get started on fixing your grades, the better. But even if deadlines are looming, it’s never too late to make changes in your work process and study habits to improve things.
Don’t be afraid to reach out for help from teachers or counselors. If you can demonstrate that you’re serious about improving, your teachers may be able to help you make a plan for how to do better.
Obviously, you can’t just change your grades. But working hard to improve them is totally possible, and colleges want to see you actively working on self-improvement. If you can show that you're putting in the effort through an upswing in your GPA, a year of bad grades may not look as bad to admissions offices.
If you’ve experienced a slip in grades because of outside circumstances, be sure to address that in your college application. Transparency and honesty are good things, especially when you can show through improvements that you’re working to do better.
Aside from teachers and counselors, a tutor may also be valuable. Tutors can help you identify weak points in your knowledge and address them, not only helping you fix your grades right now, but also preparing you with improved study habits and learning foundations that will help you in college, too.
What If You're Struggling With Letters of Recommendation?
Teachers are the standard for letters of recommendation, but if you’re struggling to find teachers to write your letters, don’t panic. This may be particularly difficult for homeschooled students or those who may not have as close of relationships with their instructors.
But teachers aren’t the only people who can write a great letter. You’ll want to stay away from family members and friends, who can’t really offer an objective view, but other people in positions of authority who know you and your work ethic can be good options, too.
Consider school counselors, athletic coaches, instructors outside of school (such as a piano teacher), or even supervisors at work as possible alternatives. A good letter of recommendation will tell the school you’re applying to about your work ethic and your strengths, and any of those figures could be a great alternative to a teacher if you need one.
It's okay to get inspiration from others, but make sure your work is your own.
What If You're Struggling With Your Essay?
College essays are an important part of the application, but they can also be intimidating to write. One of the most important things to know about seeking help for your essay is that you shouldn’t look for help writing or even coming up with topics—instead, look for help once you’ve written a draft.
Too much help can actually be a hindrance. If a college doubts that you’re the sole author of your essay, it could count against you. Feedback is great, and you should absolutely seek it out, but be sure that your essay is by you, not by whoever has helped you with it.
Essentially, always be sure that the sentences you write are your sentences. Take any advice you get to heart, but don’t feel like the way that others suggest to write your work is inherently better than the way that you’d write it.
What If You Need Help With Standardized Tests?
SAT and ACT scores are a big part of your college application, but it’s easy to get intimidated by the process of studying and analyzing your strong and weak points.
First of all, know which test is going to benefit you most. Depending on what you want to study and what your strengths are, the ACT or SAT may be more beneficial to you.
The earlier you start studying and practicing, the better. You can take both tests multiple times to make sure you get the best score you can. Take advantage of this, so that you’re not stuck with an unimpressive score down the road.
If you find that you’re not improving as much as you’d like, consider a tutoring service. PrepScholar offers consultations, a self-guided program that addresses your weak points, and a complete tutoring program to give you one-on-one coaching.
There are many books and other resources available, so start early and take advantage of them!
Be careful that the help you get doesn't fall into cheating.
What Shouldn't You Get Help With?
There’s nothing that’s entirely off-limits in seeking college application help, but be sure that you’re getting help, not having someone do the work for you. Many college applications are reviewed holistically, meaning that though they may weigh one aspect more heavily than others (such as grades), the entire application is considered important. If things don’t match up—such as your essay having a different writing style—it could give a bad impression.
That’s why if you’re going to use essay writing services, they should be geared toward helping you find ideas and refine your work, not helping you write the essay itself.
Obviously, you shouldn’t pay anybody money to do anything on your behalf, whether it’s writing your essay, improving your grades, or taking tests for you. All your work should be original and completed by you.
Seek help if you need it, but be sure that the help you get is aimed at your growth, not doing work for you!
Not every kind of help is right for everybody.
How to Get the Best Help
Any kind of service, including essay help and tutoring, can be expensive. Be sure that you look into what a service offers in detail, including if there are free trials, money-back guarantees, or other offers to take advantage of. Trials help ensure that a system will work for you, meaning you're more likely to get the help you need.
Reviews can be a big help, especially because so many other students are experiencing the same thing that you are. You can consult people you know or online reviews to find services that sound right for you.
One of the best things you can do is find people in your own life who have experience with applying to college, whether they’re teachers, counselors, family, or friends. These people know you best, and are likely already invested in your success. It’s important that whoever you consult with understand that you should succeed on your own terms—that is, they should help you reach your goals by coaching and giving you feedback, not by doing work for you.
The college application process can be confusing, but this helpful guide will help demystify even the most opaque system!
It's never too early to start planning. But which year is most important for your college applications?
Even if Harvard isn't your goal, it doesn't hurt to tackle your application as if you're aspiring to the Ivy Leagues. With a strong enough application, you'll have your pick of schools!
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Melissa Brinks graduated from the University of Washington in 2014 with a Bachelor's in English with a creative writing emphasis. She has spent several years tutoring K-12 students in many subjects, including in SAT prep, to help them prepare for their college education.