Four-Year Application Process & Info

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Steps to Applying to Four-Year Colleges  

In a very brief format, here are the basic steps to applying for admission to a four-year or baccalaureate college. More details about each of these steps is available at other locations within this website, or by talking with the counselor or the Career Specialist.

Freshman, Sophomore Years

Take the most challenging courses available. Do as well as possible in those courses. In an AP class, be sure to take the AP test and save the results. Keep a record of activities, employment, and awards.

Junior Year

Continue to take challenging courses.

Research different colleges and programs. Develop a list of colleges (6-8 maximum) to apply to and request information through their websites.

Visit college campuses whenever possible to help decide where to apply. Midwinter Break and Spring Break are ideal times for this since the college will be in session and you can get a real feel for what life would be like on that campus.

Take the PSAT in fall of the junior year and take the SAT and/or ACT in the spring of the junior year. Check whether SAT IIs are needed for specific colleges you plan to apply to.

Senior Year

Get application information together in September and October. Complete the online applications during November and December (even if due dates are January or later - earlier is better!).

Watch deadlines and get in applications ahead of that time.

Get test scores sent directly to the colleges by going to there is a charge per school for any college you didn't send scores to during the original registration process.

Request secondary school reports from your counselor if needed. See Mrs. Dale in the Career Center for the process. Request and have letters of recommendation sent from teachers and others, if needed. Ask teachers and counselors 3 WEEKS IN ADVANCE of when you need the letters of recommendation sent so they have plenty of time to write you a good letter.

Request financial aid information from colleges. File a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in January or financial assistance with colleges costs. FAFSA forms are available online and can be filed after January 1 of the senior year. Have results sent to the selected colleges. Money is limited and on a first come, first served basis so GET THIS DONE EARLY!

Get transcripts sent from high school and, if a Running Start student, from SPSCC.   Pay the $5.00 fee (good for ten transcripts) in the ASB Office and bring the receipt to Mrs. Dale.

Check with the college to determine if any other financial aid forms are needed. Keep files for each college and track paperwork received and other information.

Select college to attend by May 1st deadline. Make sure to watch for housing, orientation, and other deadlines at the college.

Track deadlines for graduation, announcements, final transcripts, caps and gowns, etc. at high school.

Read Senior Notes online or pick up a copy monthly in the Career Center.

Plan to take the Academic Placement Testing Program Mathematics Placement Test, which is required for most students who are planning to enroll in first-year math courses at several of the state's public universities.  The MPT is used for course placement and for college readiness testing. Click here for more information and Statewide Testing Schedule.

Graduate and go on to further education! Congratulations!



The Common Application is used by over 400 private colleges nationally in order to process information and recommendations from guidance counselors and teachers. The Common Application process has a distinct look and purpose.  Teacher and counselor will complete the recommendation forms online via the Common App Online School Forms systems.

Other private in and out of state colleges such as Whitworth, PLU, Willamette, etc. may have their own Recommendation Reports for teachers and counselors that will be online and emailed to you directly at school. Please do not confuse these with the Common Application forms. If confused talk to Mrs. Dale in the Career Center or one of the counselors.

For teachers the form is the Teacher Evaluation (TE). For counselors the form is Secondary School Report (SSR) that includes school profile, transcript, letter of recommendation, and finally the Mid-Year Report after first semester grades are posted. When an applicant creates an account on Common App Online, the student must identify which teachers and counselor they wish to “invite” to submit a recommendation. An email is sent to the teacher and counselor with information about how to log on. Applicants are able to track the progress of their various documents from teachers and counselors, but will be unable to see what is written. The advantage of using the Common Application is for efficiency. We only need to submit the documents one time for the many colleges our students may apply to. 


Four-Year College Applications

Useful Information

College admissions counselors look most favorably at students’ cumulative academic achievement and willingness to take rigorous classes. Using a comprehensive review process, admissions personnel look at an essay or personal statement, leadership opportunities, contributions to the community, individual circumstances, and distinctive attributes. “While included in the mix, standardized test scores rarely are the decisive factor.”

Here are some areas where students hurt themselves on college applications:

  • Little or no academic course work beyond the core requirements, even though options were available.
  • Too many capable students who mistakenly assume that simply meeting core requirements is sufficient or that the senior year is not important.
  • Ongoing struggles in math. With quantitative reasoning being the #1 stumbling block for freshmen, all college-bound students need 3-4 years of math.
  • Not fulfilling core requirements for Chemistry or Physics.
  • Sporadic or negative grade trends, frequently followed by an across the board drop in curricular rigor.
  • Poor presentation; not taking the time to put the best foot forward; missing deadlines; failing to follow up on requests for additional information

Distinguishing factors that had a positive impact on college applications include:

  • Taking a full academic load through senior year, including math through pre-calculus or calculus
  • Taking 3 or 4 years of the same foreign language.
  • Taking 4 years of science - including chemistry and physics.
  • While advanced classes such as AP, Honors, Running Start, and IB are outstanding options for many students, taking a full schedule of "regular" classes can be equally impressive  in  the application review.
  • Perseverance in the face of significant hardship.
  • Potential contributions to the community such as multiculturalism, exceptional talent, leadership, "heart", and passion for a subject, activity or cause.
  • Well-written personal statement that helps colleges get to know what is important to a student and/or to understand academic choices and personal circumstances.
  • Sustained involvement and leadership, rather than occasional or one-time participation in extracurricular activities.
  • Students who list activities that occurred for one hour or one-half day generally lose credibility in the review process.
  • Being involved in a “risk taking” situation, such as going on exchange, standing up for one's beliefs, or accepting new challenges stand out

Summarized from Western Washington University’s Admissions Office “We Admit” Newsletter



Colleges like to see students take rigorous academic courses in high school.  The more a student challenges themselves in high school the more college options will be available.  


Olympia High School has open access to Honors Classes staring in 9th grade.  These classes cover the same academic material as regular classes, but are more in depth and typically faster paced.  Generally, they are not the equivalent of college-level work and do not earn college credit.  However, taking Honors courses show colleges that students are willing to take the academic challenge. 


Olympia High School has open access to AP Classes, but students often must be prepared in pre-requisites These courses prepare students to take rigorous nationally administered exams in May that can lead to college credit.  


Factors to consider when searching for colleges include:

  • Programs of study or major
  • School size
  • Class size
  • Location
  • Climate
  • Support programs
  • Campus culture
  • Distance from home
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Athletics
  • Religious affiliation
  • Cost
  • Financial Aid options
  • Outside learning options/Study abroad program