11/05/2012 05:10 pm ET Updated Jan 05, 2013

5 Tips on Applying to College

The college admissions process can be daunting for students and parents alike. It is all the more challenging for students without the benefit of a supportive family.

"Navigating the college admission process can be confusing. Students who are 'on their own' may have additional challenges as they don't have a parent or guardian to help as their advocates," says Lee Ann Afton, dean of admissions and financial aid at Sewanee: The University of the South.

Students navigating the system alone may benefit by this advice.

Don't let the college admissions process overwhelm you. Selecting a college doesn't need to be that stressful, says Todd Rinehart, associate vice chancellor and director of admissions at the University of Denver. "There is a lot of fear surrounding gaining acceptance into a school and then affording to go," he says. However, the national admissions rate for students around 70 percent. And, according to a national survey of first year students, about 80 percent of students were admitted to their first choice. "Some of the fear is overrated. Enjoy your senior year. Students should be thoughtful about the process and take it seriously, but it isn't something to lose sleep over."

Find a mentor. "Talk with a favorite teacher, counselor or coach and ask them to help," says Jefferson Blackburn-Smith, vice president for enrollment management at Otterbein University in Westerville,Ohio. "They can read essays, help you understand what you need to submit and push you to meet deadlines."

"Take full advantage of your high school counselor," says Afton. You can also look to your prospective colleges for help. "Many smaller colleges will have admission counselors who are 'territory' managers. In that role, the counselors want to help students through the process. Be proactive and try to get to know, through email or a visit, the counselor(s) at the colleges you are applying to for college."

Use your resources. "Find and use college preparation books, websites and handbooks," suggests Danny Green, associate vice president for enrollment at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C. "Visit some campuses and see if your local college or university has a college preparation programs or workshops, likeUpward Bound or GEAR UP. These may be free and very useful resources."

Stay organized. "Create a calendar with all of the required application and financial aid deadlines on it," says Blackburn-Smith. "Include any school-specific requirements so you don't overlook anything." Take notes and make lists. "Write down your questions -- no matter how small -- and categorize them so you can ask for assistance from those in the know," says Green.

Ask a pro. "Find a local college or university and make an appointment with the financial aid director or assistant director," advises Glenn Bozinski, director of admissions at Misericordia University in Dallas, Pa. "Most aid directors are actually pretty nice, and would be glad to explain the aid options to a high school student navigating these issues alone." Even if you're not interested in attending that local college, you'll gain a better understanding of the aid process.