Parent's Guide:

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Some guidance from our team. 

Here's some general knowledge from our experts

Application Venues

Common Application

 As the title suggests, The Common Application is the most common way to apply to most universities across the nation, and the one we prefer at Ivy Guru. Using the Common App allows college applicants to fill out a single form and complete a single set of college application essays, with that application package being sent to each Common App school the student selects. The Common App allows students to apply to several schools without multiplying the workload. While the Common App is generally considered the easiest application platform and many schools are on it, note that 1) not every school accepts the Common App and 2) some college admissions offices that do accept the Common App also require supplemental, school-specific essays in addition to the Common App essay prompts. The Common App also limits the number of schools a student can apply to 20 in total.

Coalition Application

The Coalition App works much like the Common App as a single application application package that a student can send to any number of Coalition App member schools. Run by the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success, the Coalition App offers students an application platform by which students can apply to a smaller number of colleges than does the Common App. The Coalition Application team encourages the schools that use the platform to meet standards in access for underrepresented and underprivileged student populations.

Questbridge Application

QuestBridge is an online application platform that matches the nation’s most brilliant students from low-income backgrounds with selective higher education institutions. Considered an aggregator of excellence, the QuestBridge platform aims to increase the percentage of exceptional low-income students gaining access to the nation’s top universities. Questbridge finalists must meet rigid income and academic requirements in order to be eligible. The Questbridge application is significantly larger and more involved than most school applications and due earlier in the school year. There are several phases in the application process. Students start application and submit the application in the late summer/early fall. They submit the application and are then asked to rank 12 of their top choice schools. They are later selected or denied as Finalists. Finalists are notified and then are considered for a “match school” from their list of 12 top choice schools. If they are matched, they must attend the school they are matched to and will attend with a full four year scholarship.

Application Paths

Early Action (EA)

Many schools offer Early Action application deadlines, generally in October and November. Students who apply Early Action receive their decisions early (typically in December/January). Applying Early Action is non-binding, meaning that students who apply Early Action are not required to attend that school if admitted. There are two types of Early Action applications: Single-Choice Early Action where students may usually apply only to one private school, one public school or military academy. The most highly selective universities in the country employ SC-EA in order to curb student applications and ensure only serious students apply. For regular EA schools, students may apply broadly to as many other EA schools as they wish. There are three potential outcomes to an Early Action college application: admitted, denied, and deferred/waitlisted (which means that the application will be reviewed again with the general deadline applications).

Early Decision (ED)

Many schools offer Early Decision application deadlines on a similar timeline to Early Action: Early Decision applications are generally due in October/November with decisions being released in December/January. Early Decision applications are binding, meaning that a student who applies Early Decision and is admitted must attend that school. Early Decision college applications have three potential outcomes: admitted, deferred, or denied. Because students commit to a binding agreement before a decision is made, ED can sometime impact a student’s financial package.

Rolling Admissions

Some schools and many state schools offer Rolling Admissions far beyond the November and January deadlines of Early and Regular Decision.Students can apply at any point prior to the general college application deadline and schools will make decisions on a rolling basis, with the admissions committee reviewing applications continually as they come in. Students who apply to universities under Rolling Admissions often receive their decisions within 2-4 weeks of submitting their applications, well in advance of their application deadlines to other schools.

Instant Decision

A few schools host “Instant Decision Days” or “Instant Decision Interviews”. Students are invited to attend these events at specific schools and encouraged to bring their completed applications, transcripts, and any supporting materials the school may require. Committee members host interviews or the event day and make a decision on the spot during the interview/event.

Standardized Tests


The PSAT is a test taken by 10th and 11th graders essentially as a “practice” SAT. (The P in PSAT stands for “Preliminary SAT”) NMSQT stands for National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, as the PSAT is used to qualify students for National Merit Scholarship recognition.


The SAT is one of two universally-accepted college admissions tests. While it used to stand for Scholastic Aptitude Test (and then Scholastic Assessment Test), the acronym was dropped and the test is now simply SAT. Administered by the College Board, the SAT is scored on a scale up to 1600 and has four mandatory sections (SAT Reading, SAT Writing, SAT Math – No Calculator, and SAT Math – Calculator), as well as an optional essay. Students generally take the SAT beginning in the spring of their 11th grade year, and have the option to retake the test up until December of their 12th grade year before application deadlines in January. For early decision and early action applicants, October is usually the final recommended SAT testing date though some schools will also accept the November test.


The ACT is the other universally-accepted college admissions test. Formerly an acronym for American College Testing, the ACT, too, has dropped the acronym and is now known as simply the ACT. The ACT is scored on a 36-point scale and has four mandatory sections: ACT English, ACT Reading, ACT Math, and ACT Science, as well as an optional essay. Students typically take the ACT in the spring of their junior year and have the option to retake the exam several times before application deadlines in January of their senior year of high school


The Test of English as a Foreign Language is a test taken by non-native English speakers applying to American colleges as a way to ensure their ability to succeed in English-speaking classrooms.

SAT Subject Tests

In addition to the general SAT, the College Board offers twenty SAT Subject Tests, which assess students in a particular field of study. Most elite schools (such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Princeton) require or recommend that a student take at least two SAT Subject tests and submit the scores as part of a completed college application.

AP Tests

AP  tests are college-level exams on specific subjects and are administered in May upon the completion of an AP course taken at a student’s high school. At many colleges and universities, a high enough score will earn the student college credit. 

Financial Aid


The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is a form completed by families of college applicants in order for the applicant to qualify for federal financial aid. The FAFSA opens in October of each year for 12th graders, and many states offer FAFSA aid on a first-come, first-served basis so it is important for families to begin the FAFSA as soon as possible, particularly in those states. Those states include: Alaska, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont and Washington.

CSS Profile

The CSS Profile, or College Scholarship Service Profile, is a form filled out by families of college applicants in order for the applicant to qualify for non-federal financial aid (typically financial aid offered by the colleges themselves, including grants and work-study programs). The CSS Profile is a more-detailed form than the FAFSA and generally requires a good deal more effort and documentation to complete than the FAFSA does.


The IDOC, or Institutional Documentation Service, is College Board’s tool to receive and process the financial aid application materials that accompany the CSS Profile and FAFSA. There is no cost to students for the IDOC service. After submitting the CSS Profile, IDOC allows for secure electronic upload, transmission, and submission of supporting financial aid documents and materials (federal income tax returns and schedules, W-2s, 1099 forms, etc.).  

Need-Based Financial Aid

Need-based aid is awarded to families to cover the difference between what colleges calculate the family can pay and what the actual cost of attendance is. Those calculations are based off of the information gathered from the FAFSA and CSS forms.

Merit-Based Financial Aid

Merit-based aid is awarded by colleges as an enticement for a student to attend. The level of merit-based aid depends largely on how much the school values that student as an asset to the entering class (for things like exceptional test scores that raise the school’s averages, exceptional grades and leadership ability, athletic prowess, etc.).


Subsidized Loans: With subsidized loans, interest does not accrue on the loan principal while a student is in school. The federal government offers subsidized Stafford and Perkins loans to students based on need.

Unsubsidized Loans: With unsubsidized loans, interest accrues from the first period in which the loan funds have been disbursed, although students generally do not have to begin making payments until they have finished school. Some federal Stafford loans as well as virtually all private loans are unsubsidized.