Learn about college admissions criteria
The college admissions process may seem daunting, but if you approach it systematically, you'll stand a much better chance of getting into the college of your choice. Admissions criteria differ from school to school, but there are some common elements that you should be prepared for no matter where you're planning to apply.
When you apply to a college in the United States, you'll have to fill out a Common Application form and have your SAT scores submitted to each institution. There is no limit to the number of colleges you can apply to, but you'll have to pay separate application fees to each school, unless they're waived based on financial need.
Many schools also ask for letters of recommendation and at least one admissions essay. These criteria are designed to help the admissions officers get a sense of what you're all about, what your goals are and what you've been doing so far to help you get closer to them. This is common practice for Ivy League admissions and entry into elite programs at other schools because there's often not enough variance in grades and SAT scores for admissions officers to base their decisions solely on marks and numbers.
If you have any questions about a given college's procedures and policies, contact their admissions office for clarification before proceeding.
Graduate admissions are similar to undergraduate admissions except that it's not possible to circumvent the system by attending a community college before transferring into a full degree program. That approach is often used by high school graduates who don't have the grades or money to attend the four-year undergraduate program of their choice.
Depending on the grad school you're applying to, you may have to write the GRE, MCAT, LSAT or GMAT. The GRE is the standard exam written by graduate school candidates, while the others must be written for entry to medical, law and business school respectively.
Beyond admissions, tuition fees are a primary concern for many applicants. Most schools will inform you about the financial aid options that are available if your application to the school is accepted.