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Organizing the Process

Updated 8/30/22

One of the most harrowing things about applying to college is that there are so many details to keep track of that you can easily lose sight of one. An applicant may forget to send score reports to a particular college, overlook the SAT subject test requirement at another school, or fail to notice that applications need to be submitted by a certain date to qualify for an alumnae interview at a third institution. The best way to avoid these kinds of mishaps is to be organized. Encourage your senior to follow this six-step process to help her bring order to her applications.

Organizing Applications

Finalize Your List of Colleges. Before you start filling out applications, take the time to thoughtfully review your list of colleges to ensure that it’s complete. Make certain it includes an appropriate number of affordable reach, likely, and safety schools and that all schools are ones you would be happy to attend. For more information on this topic, read Compose the List.

Get an Overview of the Process. I recommend two key organizing tools. First, create a  spreadsheet on which you list your college choices and make columns for deadlines and special requirements. Then go to college websites and the Common Application to get the information to complete the spreadsheet.

The second key tool is a calendar just for college-related deadlines. If you’re like me, however, and suffer from the tendency to dutifully record important dates on your calendar and then forget to look at it, consider creating an electronic calendar on your computer or smart phone. You’ll be able to access it from anywhere and send yourself e-mail reminders of key dates.

Check your standardized testing. First, review the testing requirements of all the colleges on your list to make sure you’ve taken all required tests. The majority of schools are test optional at this point, but that could change, so check each college's policy. Many colleges also allow students who choose to submit scores to self-report, i.e. they do not require that students send official scores from the College Board or ACT until and unless the student is accepted and chooses to enroll at the school.

Request Recommendations. Most colleges require a secondary school report form to be completed by a student’s school counselor. Competitive colleges often require two recommendation letters from teachers as well. To give your counselor and teachers plenty of time to complete these forms thoughtfully, speak to them at least two weeks before the forms are due (three weeks would be better still).

If you have applications due January 1, you need to request the teacher or counselor recommendation forms before the holiday break, since school will be closed between Christmas and New Year. Most school counseling offices set a deadline by which forms must be requested, often ten days to two weeks before the first day of the break. Be sure to ask your school counselor about your school’s deadline and get your requests turned in on time. Read the article on Recommendations for more information on this topic.

Complete any early application first——then start on the rest. Don’t wait to hear from your early school before completing the others. If you get disappointing news in mid-December, the last thing you’ll want to face will be a stack of unfinished applications.

Best of luck with your applications and remember that college is a great experience that is well worth the effort it takes to get there!

Next article:  Early Applications


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