The process of searching for and applying to college can be both exciting and daunting. HCPS school counselors, career counselors, and GRASP representatives are available to help families through various programming and events, small groups, and individual support. This resource is a great place to start. Everyone's process may look a little different and that is ok. By the time students reach senior year, they have developed academic and career plans, met with their school counselor multiple times, had the opportunity to explore their personality traits, identify careers that may be a good fit, and meet with colleges and employers.

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Use this Senior timeline as a great checklist to navigate the college admission process. The Common App also provides helpful timelines for students in grades 8-12.

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College Admission Terms

The language of college admissions can be daunting. This helpful guide from NACAC provides helpful descriptions. What's ED vs EA? What is need-blind vs. need-aware? What is an HBCU?

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Two vs. Four Year Colleges

A two-year college allows students to earn a certificate in a specific field, or an Associate's degree. In Virginia, students are offered the opportunity to transfer to a VA public four-year college through  Transfer Agreements. Richard Bland College, for example, is considered a junior college and is specifically designed for students to transfer to a 4-year college.

A four-year college allows students to earn a Bachelor degree that typically includes both a breadth of curriculum (often called general education) and a depth of curriculum of their choice (called a major).

There are more types of colleges beyond simply 2 and 4 year. Women's colleges, HBCU's, etc. Read more here about the various types.

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Visiting a College Campus

Visiting a college campus can be an insightful experience. There is nothing comparable to setting foot on a college campus and that initial gut reaction. However, it's important to prepare. Learn more about how to best prepare for your visit. Be sure to engage and do more than just drive through.

Can't visit a campus in person? Consider a virtual tour!

Common App Ready

Common App Support

With over 1,000 colleges who are members of Common App, having one application to complete for multiple colleges makes the process a little bit more manageable. When students are ready to apply, they'll need their high school CEEB code located here as well as verifying the exact email of their school counselor for the secondary school report and teachers for recommendations.

In addition to school and career counselor support in completing the Common App, there is a resource called Common App Ready to help students navigate completing their application. Common App Ready has information about teacher recommendations, brag sheets, advice for essays, etc. Finally, Oregon State has partnered with some organizations to create a free tool to help break down completing each section of the Common App. It us updated each year in mid-August.

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Standarized Testing

Four-year colleges and universities may require a standardized test for admission or to be considered for merit scholarships. The SAT (aptitude/reasoning) and ACT (achievement) measure content that students learn in high school. Specifically, they assess reading, writing, and math. The ACT also measures science. These tests are typically taken by Juniors in the spring and Seniors in the fall. The College Essay Guy provides information to better understand the similarities and differences between the SAT and ACT. SAT and ACT have published a concordance table to better see the relationship between scores.

Test Optional/ Test Blind - Check each college website for more specific details on their requirements prior to applying as some colleges still require them (ex: military academies, public colleges in Georgia and Tennessee, MIT, Georgetown, etc.). Over 1800 colleges and universities (40+ in Virginia!!) have become test-optional or test-blind/test-free

In a 2023 survey of colleges by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), almost 70% said the SAT/ACT had little to no importance in an admission decision and these scores ranked 10th in factors that go into making that decision.  Today, approximately 5% of colleges stated SAT/ACT had considerable importance in admissions. Before the pandemic, that number was closer to 50%.

AP & IB Exams - While AP and IB exam scores are rarely used in college admissions, students may want to see what colleges will award college credit. This AP website will allow students to search a college's policy. 

*If the cost of the SAT/ACT tests would cause a financial hardship for a family, please see your school counselor for more information about fee waivers.

**Virginia code requires ACT and SAT scores be reported on the high school transcript. Families can choose to opt-out and have them removed by completing a form in the School Counseling office. 


Learn more about the content of the SAT here. The CollegeBoard provides resources for students to prepare for this test. 

Test Dates for 2023-24


If English is not a student's native language, some colleges may request English proficiency testing. Learn more about the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) here. 


Check each college for more information on their requirements. Some might not require this testing if a student has been in an English curriculum high school for all 4 years. A relatively new test, the DET can be taken at home! Learn more about the DET here.

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College Essays

There are many resources for students to write college application essays. A student's school and career counselor can help students reflect a bit more about what would be helpful to share with a college. Some English classes also include work on the personal statement. Additionally, The College Essay Guy Ethan Sawyer, provides many free resources for students. Watch Randolph-Macon College provide great tips and information to Hanover students about the college essay.

Personal Statement (Common App essay)

Supplemental Essays (School specific essays)

Activities List 

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HCPS students can order a copy of their transcript through Parchment. Each high school provides directions on how students should create an account. It's incredibly important that students create their account using a personal email, not their HCPS student email. It's recommended that a student order a transcript to review themselves prior to sending to any college or organization. Students can then order a transcript to send to Common App (goes to ALL Common App colleges) and/or send directly to colleges that do not accept the Common App. If a student has earned dual enrollment college credit, they'll need to order a transcript from Reynolds, not HCPS, when applying to college.

NCAA Eligibility Center

The Student Athlete

Prospective student-athletes must register with the NCAA Eligibility Center in order for eligibility to be determined. Students who are considering playing at the NCAA level can follow this helpful timeline provided by the NCAA.

If there is a possibility that a student may participate in a Division I or Division II sport at an institution, they must register online with the NCAA Eligibility Center

Each student must also send a transcript to the Eligibility Center through Parchment. If official test scores appear on the transcript, they need not be sent separately. If they do not, the student must request additional score reports to be sent to the Eligibility Center. To do so, simply designate the NCAA Eligibility Center as a score recipient on the test registration form by filling in code 9999 in the section on college and scholarship codes. 

Reynolds Community College

Community College

Through HCPS Advance College Academy and other dual enrollment options, many students will graduate high school with college credit through Reynolds. Students can check to see what Virginia colleges accept Reynolds Dual Enrollment courses by visiting Transfer Virginia. For students who want to continue their education pursuing a certificate or earning an Associate's degree in order to transfer to a 4 year college, Reynolds is a great local option but there are many other community colleges in Virginia as well. If students want to qualify for Reynolds scholarships, they should plan to apply and complete the scholarship application by March 1. After students apply, they should go through the SOAR (orientation and registration) process.

Helpful College Search and Application Tools


Download or make your own copy of this helpful tool to organize your college research and applications.

College App/Research Organizer (**Make a Copy**).xlsx