Keep in Touch

Rounded Rectangle Edges
Home > Student Services > Guide to College Admissions

Guide to College Admissions

Click on the topic to expand the section.

You may also wish to review the Student Services Blackboard site for additional information.

College Admissions Testing

For EARLY DECISION/ACTION, all of your testing needs to be completed by November of your senior year.

For REGULAR DECISION, all of your testing needs to be completed by December of your senior year.


The SAT is the nation's most widely used admissions test among colleges and universities. It tests students' knowledge of subjects that are necessary for college success: reading, writing, language and mathematics. A new version of the SAT will first be administered in March 2016. The major differences are: it is scored out of 1600 points, there is no penalty for wrong answers, and there is more emphasis on science and social science.  Similarly to previous versions, it consists of multiple-choice questions and an optional essay. Current juniors should check with potential colleges to see if the new version is required. It is administered seven times a year; the schedule can be found on www.collegeboard.org. Most TJ students opt to take the test twice over the course of their junior and senior years.  When it comes time to send your scores to colleges senior year, you  have the option with Scorechoice to choose which scores to send to colleges (by test date for the SAT and by individual test for SAT Subject Tests) -- in accordance with each institution's stated score-use practice. Colleges still prefer, however, to see all of your scores and their best practice is to super score  (combine the top scores whether or not they were from tests administered on the same date).

For a more detailed comparison of the old vs. new SAT please visit here:  https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat/inside-the-test/compare-current-new-specifications

SAT Subject Tests (aka SAT 2’s)

The SAT Subject Tests measure your knowledge and skills in particular subject areas, and your ability to apply that knowledge. These tests are one hour long and you can take up to three in one day. You cannot however take the SAT and Subject Tests on the same day. The schedule of when these are offered in also on www.collegeboard.org.

Many colleges use the SAT Subject Tests for admission or course placement. Some colleges specify the SAT Subject Tests that they require for admission or placement while others allow applicants to choose which tests to take. If the school does not specify, we suggest that you choose the subjects you feel most confident in. Most competitive colleges require 2-3. If you are interested in a particular school or program, please refer to the college’s website to verify you are meeting its requirements. We strongly encourage students to take these tests at the end of the school year which will coincide with preparation for AP and final exams.

ACT Exam

The ACT is different from the SAT; it is not owned by or associated with College Board. It is similar in that the test assesses students’ general educational development and their ability to complete college-level work, but the multiple-choice tests cover four skill areas: English, mathematics, reading, and science. The writing test is optional, but you should elect to complete it just the same. Test dates and registration deadlines can be found on www.actstudent.org.

Scores range from 1 (low) to 36 (high) for each of the four tests and the composite. The composite score is the average of the four test scores,
rounded to the nearest whole number.

As ACT is separate from College Board, your scores will not be reported to college on the same report. So, you could take the ACT, see how you do, and then decide whether or not to report the grade.

College Visits

The college process is a time-consuming one that requires extensive research even to plan the list of potential choices. For some students, visiting a prospective school can make all of the difference in determining if it is worth applying to. Below are some tips designed to help you make the most out of your next college visit.

Before you visit

Explore the college’s website – you can find out a lot about the college this way, including what majors are offered, campus tour times, and requirements for admissions. If necessary, make campus tour arrangements in advance and inquire about an appointment for an on- campus interview. Also, refer to the Alumni books in our College & Career Center to help initiate contact with TJ students on campus. Does the school have an active Twitter, Facebook, or other social media presence? If so, follow!

When to visit

There are several opportunities to visit colleges during junior year, including teacher workdays, various long holiday weekends, and Spring Break. We suggest, whenever possible, to go when the college is in session as it paints a very different picture.

At the visit

  • Tour only one or two colleges per day.
  • Record your visit with pictures and notes to help you remember important details and features of the college that may be hard to keep straight later.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to see everything that is of interest to you, such as resident halls, libraries, laboratories, student center, dining halls, athletic facilities, bookstore, and classrooms.
  • Eat on campus.
  • If possible, attend a class. You will need to make arrangements with the Admissions Office in advance to do this.
  • Talk to students, faculty, and admissions personnel. Ask questions! What do they like best and least about the college? Notice the “culture” on campus.
  • Some schools allow students to stay overnight in a dorm. At participating schools, these arrangements are organized through the Admissions Office.
  • Pick up a copy of the college newspaper to see what is happening on the campus.

Questions you may want to ask

  • What is the most popular reason why students select this college?
  • What are the most popular majors? Are there any 5-year Master’s programs?
  • What security precautions are taken on-campus?
  • Is housing guaranteed all 4 years? What percentage of students live on-campus?
  • Are students required to have their own computer?
  • What opportunities are available for study abroad, research, internships/co-ops, and work experiences?
  • Do professors or graduate students teach the courses? What is the student/professor ratio?
  • What clubs and activities are available? Are there intramurals?
  • Is Greek life an option? If so, what percentage of students is involved?
  • What is your policy when it comes to accepting AP credits?

When you are unable to visit a college

If you are unable to visit, explore the campus online by accessing its virtual tour (available on most college websites.) Our College & Career Center hosts over 100 different college and university representatives each fall and these are the individuals who read your application! Please register on Family Connection to receive email reminders about the ones that you are interested in learning more about.

College Vocabulary

Regular Decision (RD): The student applies to the college by the regular deadline (usually early January) with the majority of other applicants, and a
decision is made by April 1.

Early Decision (ED): The student applies to the college by November 1 and receives a decision typically by mid-December. This option is a binding
agreement in which the student is committed to enroll if offered admission, regardless of offers of financial assistance. The student must withdraw all
other applications admitted. If not accepted under Early Decision, a student can be deferred to the regular admission decision pool or denied admission.

Early Action (EA): Students receive an admissions decision typically by mid-December. If accepted under Early Action, students are not required to accept admission or withdraw other applications. They have until the spring to respond to the offer. Depending on the college’s rules, students may apply
to more than one school Early Action. Students may be deferred from EA and placed into the regular admission pool or denied admission.

Restrictive Early Action (REA): The same timelines apply as with other early programs, however, the student may ONLY apply to ONE school Early
Action. This is sometime also called “Single Choice” Early Action.

Rolling Admission: The college considers each student’s application as soon as all the required credentials (application, school record, and test
scores) have been received. Students are typically notified of the decision within 4-6 weeks.

Deferred Admission: Students who have applied under an Early Decision plan and are deferred will be considered during the school’s regular decision
timeframe. Often, the college wants to see the student’s first semester senior grades and the rest of the applicant pool before making an admission decision.

C.E.E.B. Code: The six-digit College Entrance Examination Board Code that the College Board and universities use to identify high schools. TJ’s code is 470-054.

Common Application (Common App): The standard application form that can be sent to close to 500 college institutions. Note that many, but not all,
colleges use this universal application along with an additional supplement.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA): A form completed by all applicants interested in receiving federal student aid. The form is typically
available January 1 of the year the student will be entering college.

eDocs: Sends your transcript, teacher recommendation letters, and secondary school report forms (aka Counselor Recommendation Letter) electronically to both CommonApp and non-CommonApp schools.

Secondary School Report Form (SSRF): A form counselors use to provide information about students, in addition to a letter of recommendation. TJ
has its own version of an SSRF and thus we do not require students to turn in SSRF forms from any schools.

Family Connection (aka Naviance): A software program adopted by FCPS that can aid families with the college search and admissions process. This invaluable program can also be used to track the exact date that a transcript was sent from TJ. Family Connections can be accessed from the Blackboard home page.

Junior Packet: A set of questions distributed to students and parents to complete prior to writing the letter of recommendation. This essential packet helps counselors learn more about the student for whom they will write. This is completed in the spring of junior year. Students and parents are encouraged to spend significant amount of time working on this packet.

Score Choice: An optional score-reporting feature that gives students the option to choose the SAT scores by test date and SAT Subject Test scores by
individual test that they send to colleges, in accordance with each institution’s individual score-use practice.

College Scholarship Service Profile (CSS Profile): An application distributed by the Collegeboard that allows students to apply for financial aid.


Essays are used as an evaluative tool to ensure that you can write at a college level, which means that you should have command of the English language and use it to craft a strong written statement. They are also used to gain a better understanding of how you think and what you’re passionate about. So, write about an activity that interests you or an event that changed your outlook on life.

What do Admissions Officers like to read about? Simply put, curiosity, passion, and persistence. These are the sorts of attributes that great college students have. These great students go on to be great alumni. Colleges that have great students and great alumni tend to attract quality applicants! But you shouldn’t tell the admissions office that you are curious, passionate, or persistent; you should show them. Let your narrative tell the story!

A few pointers from Admissions experts:

  • Use your own “voice.” Keep your essay personal and simple.
  • Be yourself! If you are funny, be funny!
  • Write what you know and don’t worry about being completely original in the subject matter.
  • Once you’ve written your essays, let them sit for a few days. The greater the evidence of thoughtfulness, the better.
  • Be careful not to over edit your essays.
  • Have another person (English teacher, parent, trusted adult, counselor, etc) read your essay.
  • Grammatical accuracy is key. Your prose should be clear and direct.
  • Get to the point! Be brief. Be focused. And if there is a word limit, abide by it.
Information for Student Athletes

If you are a prospective Division I or Division II athlete, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Clearinghouse must certify your academic eligibility. As they maintain and process all of the initial eligibility certifications, each candidate will need to register with its office, especially if you intend to participate in Division I or II athletics as a freshman. Although there is no deadline to register, it is suggested you do so after your junior year of high school. During their senior year, student athletes are also responsible for sending their standardized testing scores and final transcripts to the NCAA for final review before they can play as freshmen.

To register you must complete the registration process found at www.eligibilitycenter.org. As an official transcript is required, you will need to fill out a transcript request form that can be found online in the Document Library of Blackboard. The form should be submitted directly to our Transcript Office.

Thankfully, as a TJ student, you do not need to worry about meeting the academic standards to be eligible participate in Division I or II sports. By completing the TJ diploma requirements and maintaining over a B average, you will pass all of the requirements.

Further questions can be directed to your counselor or the NCAA’s Customer Service Line at (877) 262-1492.

Junior/Senior Year Calendar


Fall/Winter of Junior Year

  • Focus on your academics. This year is the last full year of grades that colleges will see in order to make admissions decisions.
  • Make an effort to get to know all of your teachers. After all, you may be asking them to write you a recommendation later on.
  • Save your best work. If you ask one of those teachers to write a rec for you, arm him or her with the specifics necessary to do a great job.
  • Continue/expand your extracurricular activities. Explore the possibilities of leadership positions. Remember, you don’t have to be the President to make an impact.
  • Using the test book, review your PSAT score. Is more preparation needed before you take the SAT?
  • Sign-up for emails about college representative visits via Family Connections.
  • Begin looking for a meaningful (to you) summer activity like an internship, college program, job, etc.
  • Parents & students, attend the Junior College Program hosted by your counselor.
  • Begin researching colleges; plan a broad list of choices and begin planning visits. Use sites like Family Connection or CollegeBoard to assist you. Look at a variety of colleges ranging in size, selectivity, location, and other attributes.
  • Think ahead! Plan, register, and study for the ACT or SAT, as well as SAT Subject Test(s). Select dates that work the best with your Spring schedule. Remember, APs in May; finals in June.

Fall of Senior Year

  • Review your transcript. Will you have completed all of the necessary courses for a TJ diploma?
  • Sign-up for emails about college representative visits in the College and Career Center via Family Connections.
  • Decide if you will apply Early Decision/Early Action and let your counselor and teachers know if you are doing so!
  • Work on your Common Application online.
  • Work on your college essays.
  • Register for the SAT/SAT Subject Test(s) or ACT if necessary.
  • Speak with the teachers who have agreed to write a letter of recommendation. Does he/she need anything else from you other than your college list, due dates, and stamped/addressed envelopes?
  • Request transcripts from the Transcript Office (the form can be found in the Document Library in Blackboard). Be sure to provide any payment that may be necessary.
  • Schedule college interviews and/or overnight visits.
  • Visit colleges if necessary.
  • Attend the “Financial Aid” program sponsored by Student Services.
  • Request SAT, SAT Subject Test, and/or ACT scores are sent to colleges.
  • Maintain your grades! Colleges sometimes call your counselor for quarter grades.

Spring of Junior Year

  • Maintain your grades.
  • Visit some potential colleges on your list, keeping a journal about what you liked about each one. Begin narrowing/modifying the list as you visit.
  • Consider attending the College Fair at GMU.
  • Search for potential scholarships.
  • Take the SAT or ACT and the appropriate SAT Subject Tests.
  • Fully complete & return the “Junior Packet” given out by your counselor. Please take the time to do this well!
  • Ask two teachers if he/she would be willing to write a positive letter of recommendation on your behalf. Ask if there is there anything you need to complete for him/her over the summer.

Winter of Senior Year

  • Write thank you notes to those who wrote letters of recommendation for you.
  • Parents should complete the FAFSA for financial aid. The CSS PROFILE may be required as well (for private colleges).
  • Search for potential scholarships.
  • Finish your college applications so that you can enjoy Winter Break!
  • Remember: Notify all of your college choices about any schedule changes made after you have requested transcripts.
  • Maintain your grades! Colleges often call your counselor for quarter grades.
  • Update your counselor about any Early Decision/Early Action decisions.

Summer of Junior Year

  • Complete whatever is necessary for the teachers writing a letter on your behalf. Send that to them ASAP.
  • Organize a record of your extracurricular activities, honors, awards, and standardized test scores. You’ll need this later.
  • Continue visiting colleges, honing your list as you go.
  • Complete your final college list. Decide if you’ll be applying anywhere early.
  • Research which of your schools offer college interviews and how/if you can sign up for one.
  • In August, sign up for a Common Application account and begin working on the application.
  • Consider organizing all of your accompanying essays. Don’t delay; this will inevitably take longer than you think. Refer back to the journal you started on college visits for specifics about each school or program.

Spring of Senior Year

  • Notify the college that you will accept its offer of admissions, as well as those that you have decided not to attend. Will you stay on a wait list (if appropriate)? Talk with your counselor if necessary.
  • Maintain your grades! Colleges may rescind offers for disappointing grades.
  • Complete the “Senior Survey”.
Letters of Recommendation

Who should write for you?

Choosing the right people to write for you is critical. You want to select those who know you well enough to write a recommendation that will make a lasting impression upon the admissions officers. The best recommenders are those teachers, coaches, employers, supervisors, mentors, and others with whom you interact with often and who you think can emphasize your best qualities and achievements. Choose someone who can write in concrete terms what you bring to your work. The best recommenders write well, speak highly of you, and are able to give specific examples that support their comments.

What types of teachers should I consider asking?

Colleges want current perspectives on their potential candidates. Usually, colleges are looking for recommendations from junior year teachers. (It is important to note that some schools will not consider recs from sophomore year teachers. Senior year teachers may be a possibility IF you are not applying early and they have gotten to know you long enough to form an opinion.) If you get a recommendation from a teacher you’ve had who’s also been involved with you outside the classroom, all the better! Most importantly, make sure this person can attest to your academic achievements and potential. It is, after all, why you are going to college in the first place.

As most colleges request two letters, try considering a math/science/tech teacher for one and a language/humanities teacher for the other. This should showcase two very different sides of you as a student. Can you ask your AP Biology and AP Chemistry teacher to write for you? Technically, yes, but it may be redundant. In an ideal world, every piece of your application introduces something new to the reader. For some, your success and passion reside in one area and you are applying to a particular program within a college. You could choose two teachers who teach in similar fields.

How do I ask someone to write for me?

When you approach someone for a recommendation, remember to be polite and tactful. We’re fortunate to have great teachers who will take time out of their busy schedules to vouch for you! But, since junior teachers are often the target of everyone’s request, it is suggested that for college recs you ask early and respect their deadlines. Additionally, some teachers will ask for some organized information (like a résumé, questionnaire, etc.) about yourself to help to make their letter more personal and detailed. Make the time to do this! The more the letter writer seems to know about you, the better the letter will be. Ask directly if they will be able to write a “good” letter of recommendation. This is important.

Remember, you are asking for a favor. Your recommender has a right to refuse your request. Don’t assume that it is anyone’s duty to write a letter for you, and realize that these letters take a lot of time out of your recommender’s already busy schedule. Don’t forget that you might need to supply the teachers with stamped addressed envelopes and the indiivudal forms required by each college.

What do recommenders write about?

Recommenders are often asked pointed questions dealing with topics others than your academic potential. To ensure that you are putting your best foot forward, ask yourself if you are demonstrating creativity in the classroom? Do you show a strong work ethic and desire to learn? Are you a leader in group discussions? Can you problem solve on your own? Do you go above and beyond on assignments? Are you adaptable? Are you ethical? These are the types of questions answered in a letter of rec. If you haven’t already, start making lasting impressions now.

Sending Transcripts, Recommendations, and Test Scores


Application Item Who is Responsible for Sending? When?

Test Scores (SAT, Subject tests, ACT)

For admission purposes, sending AP's are optional.


Send after last test taken via

www.collegeboard.org or


Online application


Submit by electronic deadline

Essays and supplemental forms


Submit by electronic deadline

Counselor letter of recommendation


Sent with transcript



Sent by deadline

School Profile


Sent with transcript

Secondary School Report Form (SSRF)


Sent with transcript - TJ version

Mid-Year Report/7th Semester Grades


Automatically sent in Jan/Feb to all schools that received a transcript

Teacher letter(s) of recommendation

Teacher (either via Naviance eDocs or directly via USPS mail)

Request in Junior year

It is the student’s responsibility to know the application deadline for each school to which he/she is applying so that his/her transcripts can be sent on time. Many schools have preferred deadlines, honors deadlines, or scholarship deadlines. Plan in advance – if a student turns in a transcript request after the deadline, there is a late fee and no guarantee that the application materials will be sent on time. Remember that our transcript office processes over 5,000 transcripts a year and a lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on our part!

Web Resources

Unique Resources Available through TJ & FCPS

Family Connection


This resource has a variety of resources about the college process:

  • About Me – develop plans, record activities, create résumés, and career exploration.
  • About College – use its college search engine, view college acceptances of TJ students, and sign up for college representative visits at our school.
  • From Your School – provides more resources for career and college exploration.

The TJ College and Career Center


Provides information about the college search, college representative visits, financial aid, scholarships, test dates and times, volunteer programs, summer opportunities, leadership, and career resources.

Standardized Testing Sites

The College Board www.collegeboard.org

Registration site for the SAT and SAT Subject Tests, as well as
useful information about campus visits, interviews, and a college
search engine.

ACT (alternative test to the SAT) www.actstudent.org

The site provides access to academic and college planning checklists, as well as a college search engine with an option to find institutions within miles of a specified location (instead of just by state). Additionally, it provides information on careers, sample ACT questions, test prep, and test registration.

The College Search

The College View www.collegeview.com

A search engine with data that includes diversity, fields of study, religious affiliation, athletics, and services for students with disabilities.

The College Home Page Listing www.clas.ufl.edu/au/

A listing of American universities and colleges, as well as links to international schools.

College Net www.collegenet.com
Information on colleges, scholarship opportunities, and academic resources. It offers a comprehensive college index with valuable resources.

Fish Net www.mycollegeguide.org

Information on colleges via its college search page, create a profile of yourself to send to colleges, ask questions of its admissions experts, and find out more about how to pay for college.

Peterson’s www.petersons.com/

Includes a college search engine and college planning timeline, as well as information about test prep, financial aid, and advice on writing college essays.

The Princeton Review www.princetonreview.com

Its college search engine includes a wide array of variables, such as location, academics, athletics, student life, and housing.

The Common Application (Common App)

The Common Application www.commonapp.org

Streamlines the college application process and students fill out one online application and send it to almost 400 member institutions.

Federal Financial Aid (FAFSA)

Free Application for Federal Student Aid www.fafsa.ed.gov

This site features information for all applicants interested in receiving federal student aid. Fam




Rounded Rectangle Edges