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Organizing the Process

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: Six Steps for Seniors

1. 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.

2. 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. For example, some colleges require scores from two SAT Subject tests. Read the instructions for all applications to find deadlines and special requirements and then 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.

3. 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. If not, make sure to register for them in time to have results seen by the college. Check the college website to find out when the last testing dates are for early and regular decision applicants. Next, make sure that you’ve sent official score reports for all required tests to each college. 

4. 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).

Key Point: 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.

5. Make a separate manila folder for each college. Keep a printed copy of each application  and any correspondence with that college inside. On the outside, tape a cover sheet on which is printed a checklist for recording when each part of the application was sent. And to help you quickly pick the folder you’re looking for out of the pile, use cover sheets of different colors—say blue for Virginia Tech and green for Clemson.

6. 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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