Exact Steps to Completing College Applications Without Losing Your Sanity
I. Pre-Work Pre-work should be done before you start filling out actual applications. Some pre-work can be done throughout a student’s junior year. Don’t worry if you didn’t get an early jump on this; these items don’t take that long. List all the colleges to which you will apply. — You can change your list, but start with what you know. Make sure you include at least one affordable school (often an in-state tuition option) and one likely admission school (where you are guaranteed admission or almost certain to get in.) Look up application information for each school. — Use the college websites. You are looking for two key pieces of information at this point:
- what applications are accepted and
II. ** Bonus Tasks**Bonus items are little extras, not necessary items. Complete these ONLY if you have the time, energy, and mental bandwidth to tackle them. Don’t stress if you never complete these as pre-work. Look at a sample from each application type your schools offer.— Which format will be easiest to complete? Which format allows you to showcase your strengths best? Try to format your activity list to mirror the format and information requested on your applications.— I work with a lot of student in Texas who are applying to Texas schools and using the Apply Texas application. I have them divide their activity list into the same four sections found on Apply Texas:
- Honors / Awards
- Work, Internships, Summer Experiences
- Activity info (how many spaces, divided into different categories?)
- Essay questions
- Other supplemental info
- Counselor recs?
- Teacher recs?
- Mid-year report?
- Interview required or recommended?
III. Actual Application WorkWhen you are ready to start the actual applications, work on one application for one school. My suggestion is to start with a school that is 1. Affordable and 2. Likely Admit. I know how tempting it can be to start with the favorite school at the top of your list, but there is something to be said for making sure all bases are covered. Not to mention, you may get better at crafting answers as you go, so getting started with another application means you will be a pro when it comes to the app for your top choice school. Create a login.— Save your user name and password to a safe place, preferably one where you are keeping other college logins for things like the SAT or ACT. Enter biographical information.— Mom or dad may need to help with some parts, but this information is pretty straightforward. Add activity information.—Here is where your nicely edited activity list comes in handy. Copy and paste into the application. If you didn’t have certain details on your activity list, make sure to add them, so they will be there for any additional apps. Write, edit, and polish application essays. — It is unfair for me to list this as a single list item because I teach an entire course on application essays. Just take your time and give this step the attention it needs. Complete supplemental information.— Some schools will have institution specific material beyond what is normally required on the application. Texas A&M University asks a series of questions; Rice University requires extra essays. Review your application. Review it again.— Don’t get in such a hurry to submit that you make mistakes. A college consultant colleague of mine offered her clients a $20 gift card if they could enter all the information correctly on the application before sending it to her for review. Her rationale was that she typically spends so much time listing necessary corrections and reviewing applications two or three times, that it would easily be worth $20 to get her students motivated to review on their own. Pay and submit.— Some applications are free, but most will cost you $50 – $75 each. **Pro Tip** Once you get started on your first application, you can feel the momentum and sense of accomplishment. DO NOT be tempted to start filling out bits and pieces of multiple applications. You won’t finish sooner and in many cases you will unnecessarily duplicate effort. For example, if you were to complete your first application on Apply Texas (or Common App or Coalition) you have the option to copy all of the information to your next application. So there is no need to enter biographical or activity information more than once.
IV. Additional ItemsYour part of the college application requires the most work, but you can’t stop once you hit submit. There are a few more things you need to complete. Send SAT / ACT scores.— You need to send scores directly from ACT or College Board to the schools that require them. (If you are applying to a test optional school, you can skip this step for that school.) Request school-based items (transcripts, counselor and teacher letters.)— Every high school will have its own procedures for students to follow. Pay close attention and follow instructions. You may need to verify to make sure everything was sent, but allow a couple weeks, especially if you are asking for letters of recommendation. Submit college transcripts (if any.)— A growing number of students will have completed college courses through dual credit programs. If you have completed any college courses through your high school’s dual credit program or on your own send transcripts. Meet any major specific requirements.— You may find your choice of major requires additional work for admission.
- Will you need a portfolio or audition for your arts or performance major?
- Does the university require a specific essay for applicants in architecture or nursing?