Applying to Liberal Arts Colleges
Students applying to liberal arts colleges in the US have several options. Admission requirements will differ depending on whether you are applying to a private or public institution, independent or Christian, and whether you are applying to a school using the Common Application or not.
In terms of admission requirements, students applying to universities and colleges in the United States apply to the institution in general rather than to specific departments or programs. Generally, when applying to the institution, you list your intended major as your first choice. This does not mean you will get your first choice, so make sure you indicate several other options that you actually would like to take. Liberal arts colleges--which can be public or private--differ in their competitiveness, but each one usually has a rough threshold below which admission is unlikely. Therefore, students often apply to a range of schools.
Depending on the size and values of the college, admissions criteria can vary from the formulaic and objective to more subjective factors regarding the student's "fit" for the institution. In general, students are assessed according to the following: overall academic grades and GPA, grades related to their intended major, core grade point average (English, academic math, laboratory science, foreign language, speech), class rank, SAT or ACT score, personal statement, personal background and experiences, and information provided by the high school counselor or other references (such as a pastor, in the case of Christian schools). Institutions give different weight to these criteria: for example, some liberal arts colleges are SAT optional and therefore do not require or even accept the SAT for admission. In some cases, preference may be given to students from the institution's state, and some states require proof of immunization against certain vaccine-preventable diseases.
Students with a record of scholastic excellence in their first 3 years of high school may qualify for early enrollment, which involves a recommendation from your principal, approval from your parents as well as scores on academic tests. Some students, rather than being rejected outright, are "wait-listed" for a particular liberal arts college and may be admitted if another student who was admitted decides not to attend.
While students apply to the institution and not the College or School, each College or School still maintains requirements that applicants must meet. This includes specific numbers of semesters of each core academic course: for instance, a College of Arts might require 4 semesters of math, 4 of laboratory science, 8 of English and 6 of foreign language.
University and college semesters normally start in August or September for fall term and January for the winter term, and the application process itself usually begins in your senior year of high school. Generally this process involves submitting an online or print application form directly to the university or college by a specific deadline. Liberal arts colleges in the US usually have their own application forms, with the exception of institutions that use the Common Application. The Common Application can only be used to apply to member institutions (about 345 total in the United States) which have agreed to use it. In the Common Application process, copies of online or print Application for Undergraduate Admission can be sent to any number of participating institutions. The same is true of the other required forms, which allows you to spend less time on applying for admission. Each member institution has a specific deadline for when they will accept the Common Application, and once a deadline has passed, you will no longer be able to submit your forms. Many schools have supplements to the Common Application, and programs requesting a portfolio for admission will have additional requirements, so make sure you check with the individual college to make sure you know what's expected.
In both types of application you need to have your official high school transcripts sent directly to the institution from your high school, and you should be prepared to pay a non-refundable application fee of about $20-$70. Some liberal arts colleges will waive this fee if you use the online Common Application. Application deadlines are generally between November and January, and there may be specific deadlines for submitting your SAT score for scholarship consideration.
In addition, many liberal arts colleges have implemented the system through which students can apply at a time other than the most common deadline called the Early Decision program. This program permits you to apply a few months early if you agree to attend the school if offered admission in mid-December. Early Decision does mean less choice, but it also means you only have to submit one application--if you get into your top choice. You can only back out Early Decision's binding agreement if the financial aid offered is not enough. Similarly, the Early Action program means you apply early and find out the results early, but you are not bound to the school if accepted. Within Early Action there are the single- and multi-choice subprograms: single-choice early action schools only allow you to apply early to one school while multi-choice early action schools let you to apply to many schools. Further, rolling admission is used by some institutions with a large number of applicants or universities and colleges that want to be as inclusive as possible. It means you can apply any time between the fall and spring and get your result a few weeks later. You therefore don't have to apply to all of your schools at the same time, but be aware: it means earlier applicants get first acceptance. So apply as soon as possible to any rolling admissions colleges.
No matter which way you apply, two things that are not required but highly recommended are a campus visit and interview with admissions counselor. Knowledge is power, so be sure to seek out the people and resources that can help you get as much information on your desired liberal arts colleges before you apply.
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