Finding a College - Applying to College

college student completing assignment with laptop

It requires careful planning and effort on your part to apply to college. In this section, you will find information about the various types of colleges and universities in Maryland – there is even a neat search feature to help you find one that will be a good fit. Included here are also some helpful hints as you arrange campus visits and prepare to begin the application process. Be sure to take a look at the steps for completing the application.

A helpful resource is the public library of Baltimore City and the Maryland State Library Resource Center. The Enoch Pratt Free Library is one of the oldest free public library systems in the United States.  The library serves the residents of Baltimore with locations throughout the city, and the residents of Maryland as the State Library Resource Center.  Look at Finding Information about Colleges at:

Welcome to the Maryland Transitioning Youth Website for families and youth with disabilities. Here you will find information and resources for transition planning, postsecondary education, employment services and much more.

About Applying

This will vary depending on the type of college you are interested in. If you know that you want to go to a community college and then transfer to a four-year college or attend a private career school, applying only to the community college or private career school may be enough.

If you plan to attend a four-year college or university, 4 to 8 colleges is a common range. Talk with your guidance counselor and parents to decide what is best for you. A good rule of thumb is to apply to a “reach” school (one that might be difficult to be admitted to) and one “safety” school (one that might be easier to be admitted to).

Where do I get a college application?

Applications are available online from the college or university. You can also call or write to the admissions office to request one. Some colleges accept the same application, called the Common Application . Historically Black Institutions also have a Shared Application . All or only parts of these applications may be accepted, so be sure to check the specific requirements for the college you are interested.

When are applications due?

The due date will depend on the college. Most colleges have a December or January deadline for submission. Earlier decision options require a November or sooner submission. There are also colleges that have rolling admissions, meaning there is no specific due date; but the application should be submitted in time to begin in the fall.

What should I do before I submit the application?

First, make sure you followed all directions carefully. The next step is to proofread - always proofread! Even if submitting online, print and proofread the application before submitting it. Finally, you should make a copy of every application for your records.

How is the application submitted?

Most colleges have an online application process, but you can also mail the application. Check with the college to find out the preferred method for submitting the application. Keep in mind that each application usually requires a fee (about $25 to $100+). You may be eligible for an application fee waiver, talk to your guidance counselor about your options.

Before You Apply

Take time to prepare a strong application. Along the way, never hesitate to ask questions – there are people willing to help you! It’s important to start early and to get organized.

Start early

  • Collect information about colleges and scholarships as soon as possible. You can get information from your guidance counselor, and by going on the college website or calling the college to request a catalog and other information.
  • Schedule a meeting with your guidance counselor.
    • Take a list of extracurricular activities and accomplishments with you.
    • Discuss career goals, academic interests, and what colleges might be a good fit.
    • Discuss letters of recommendations and other forms needed for the application.
  • Register to take the SAT or ACT.
    • Check admission requirements to find out which test the college requires or prefers.
    • The ACT and SAT are offered several times a year.
  • Put your plan for college in writing. It will help keep you focused.

Get organized

  • Make a list of what you will need to complete the application. This will include such things as letters of recommendation, essays, transcripts, etc.
  • Get a binder or folder to keep college information and applications in.
  • Keep a calendar with ACT, SAT, admission, financial aid, and scholarship deadlines. Check out the calendar on this website, it will help keep you organized.
  • Talk to your guidance counselor and teachers about letters of recommendation and when you will need them. Be sure to give plenty of notice to get them completed on time.
  • Schedule time in a quiet place, where you will not be interrupted, to work on the applications.

The Application

Parts of the Application

  • The application consists of several parts. You will be required to provide personal, family, academic, and extracurricular information; as well as work experience.

Other Application Requirements

  • At least one letter of recommendation is usually required, often a letter from your guidance counselor. You may also have to submit a teacher’s recommendation.
  • You will also need to send your transcript. This is your official record showing all high school courses and grades. You should review your transcript, to make sure it’s accurate, before beginning the application process. High schools have their own procedures for transcript requests. Allow at least two weeks to have a transcript mailed to the college.

Writing the Essay

  • Many four-year colleges and universities have applications that require one or more essays. The essay makes an important impression about your thinking, personality, adversities that you have had to overcome, and work ethic. Here are a few suggestions for writing the essay: 
    • Don’t panic, but don’t leave them to the last minute.
    • Follow the directions, and try to discuss something you care about and understand.
    • You must write and edit your own essays, but it’s a good idea to have others to read and give you feedback for improvement.
    • The best essays are the product of careful thinking and careful revising.
    • Be specific. Avoid generalities. Essays should demonstrate your values and character through examples, explanation, and tone.
    • If comfortable, you can be creative or funny – but not sarcastic.
    • Read the essay aloud to make sure it sounds clear.
    • Check spelling and grammar. (Watch out: grammar-checking is not foolproof, and spell-checkers won’t catch errors like “their” for “there.”)

Maryland Colleges

    Types of Colleges

    Maryland has many postsecondary institutions for a State of its size. These consist of two year public and independent colleges, four year public and independent colleges and universities, and many private career schools. To get you started in the right direction, consider what each has to offer.

    Community Colleges

    • Relatively inexpensive
    • Offer associate degrees and certificates
    • Students can transfer to a four-year college or university from a community college
    • May require placement tests
    • Do not require the ACT or SAT for admission

    Some community college credits can be transferred to four year colleges. Community colleges have transfer counselors who help students with this process. In addition, consult ARTSYS  to find out what courses from Maryland community colleges will transfer to Maryland four-year institutions.

    Usually, transfer-oriented degrees offered at community colleges tend to be an Associate of Science or A.S., an Associate of Arts or A.A., and an Associate of Arts in Teaching or A.A.T. These degrees include introductory courses in various fields (that is, “general education courses”) that are usually taken in the first two years at a four-year institution.

    Liberal Arts Colleges

    • Offer baccalaureate degrees (B.A., or Bachelor of Arts; B.S., Bachelor of Science, sometimes others)
    • Degrees granted in a major (B.A. History, B.S. Physics)
    • Usually smaller than universities, even if they offer some graduate degrees
    • Usually require the ACT or SAT for admissions


    • Offer baccalaureate degrees like those in liberal arts colleges and also technical degrees (B.S., electrical engineering; B.S.N., Bachelor of Science in Nursing,) and graduate degrees (M.F.A., Master of Fine Arts; Ph.D. Doctor of Philosophy, etc.)
    • Have divisions often called “schools” or “colleges” – a university could have a division called a School of Engineering or a College of Liberal Arts.
    • Usually require the ACT or SAT for admissions

    Private Career Schools

    • Offers training in many fields for new jobs opportunities or upgrading existing skills
    • Privately owned and operated
    • Usually requires a GED or high school diploma
    • Some offer job placement assistance

    When choosing a private career school, it’s important to get the facts and ask questions. Here is a guide  to help you choose the right career school. To search for private career schools in Maryland, go here .

    College Visits

    It’s hard to figure out if a college is a good fit without spending time on the campus and talking to students who have been there a year or more. Even if the college is local or a community college, visit the campus. If your family can’t travel to a college, check with your guidance counselor to find out if your high school is planning a group college tour. Also, a lot of colleges now offer virtual tours . To help you prepare for a visit to a college campus, there are some key things to keep in mind.

    Plan Ahead:

    A campus visit goes quickly, so you and your parents should have a plan for the visit. Here are some things to look into ahead of time:

    • You should find information about tours and contact the admissions office as needed. Print a campus map from the Internet or ask how to get a campus map before you arrive.
    • Admissions offices generally provide campus tours. Find out how many tours there are per day. Do the tours leave from admissions or elsewhere? Are reservations required? How long does a tour last?
    • Ask about visiting a class or two. Ask which ones are open to visitors, when they are open, and how to go about getting into the class for a visit.
    • Find out if parking is readily available and if you will have to pay. Inquire if parking lots/garages are far from the building where your meeting will take place, and if there is a place where you can drop off people who can’t walk far.
    • Look at the college website and catalog. Think about what you want to learn on campus and try to figure out where you can find that information while on campus.
    • You should consider attending an extracurricular activity that you would be interested in participating as a student. Find out where and when activities take place on campus.
    • Fit in additional activities that will give you a better sense of campus life, such as eating in the cafeteria and reading a copy of the student newspaper. Watch how students interact with one another and think about if this is an environment you would feel comfortable.
    • Schedule enough time to see and do all you want to do on campus and in the area. It may be easier to visit a college during the summer or winter break, but try to go when school is in session. It will give you a better feel for campus life.

    What to Bring:

    • Comfortable shoes – campuses can be spread out, and you may be walking for a long time.
    • Layered clothing – some buildings may be well air-conditioned and some may not.
    • Pen, paper, and a list of questions to ask.
    • A lightweight bag for carrying your pen, paper, and information you pick up on campus.
    • A camera, if you have one.
    • Anything the college may have asked you to bring.
    • Money for lunch, parking, and other incidental expenses.

    Questions To Ask During a Campus Visit

    A college guide will tell you some, but not all, of the things you need to know. Always come prepared to ask the admissions office staff and students on campus questions. Here are a few questions to get you started:

    For Students

    • Are you happy here? What do you like best? What would you change if you could?
    • What are your favorite courses? Why?
    • Who are your favorite professors, what do they teach, and why do you like them?
    • What kind of extracurricular activities are available to students?
    • Did you have trouble getting the classes you wanted?
    • Is this dorm room we’re seeing typical for a first-year dorm room? Do you know how big a typical first-year dorm room is? What’s the maximum number of people in a first-year dorm room?

    For the Admissions Office

    • What percentage of first-year students return for their second year of college?
    • What is the graduation rate for students here? How much does that rate vary if students are… low-income? African American? Latino?
    • What is the average amount of time it takes students to graduate?
    • What is the average size of general education courses here?
    • Do classes often fill before first-year students are allowed to register for classes? If so, what accommodations are made for first-year students who have difficulty getting into classes?
    • What types of support-services are available for students having problems? (physical, mental, academic, roommate-related, etc.)
    • For how many years are students guaranteed campus housing?