Half of the college application battle is getting organized. The other half is staying organized. If you need reinforcements, here's some help.
Find a System That Works
The most important thing is to find a system that works for you. It does not matter if it's an old-fashioned wall calendar, a stack of folders, an electronic spreadsheet, or all of these.
Fill in a calendar with deadlines and test dates. Put it where you will see it every day, whether that means taping it up in your locker, attaching it to your bathroom mirror, or putting it on your handheld computer or smartphone. Use different colors for different colleges.
What to put on the calendar:
- Deadlines for your college applications, such as the main application, recommendation letters, and transcripts
- Your own personal deadlines, such as when you must begin your essay or ask teachers for letters of recommendation
- Test dates, including registration deadlines
- Any scholarship application deadlines
Many students find it helpful to display all the tasks needed to complete an application in a chart or spreadsheet. Make a separate chart for each college and include a column for noting the date you completed each task.
Here are just some of the tasks that could appear on such a chart:
|Name of College|
|Action to Take||Tasks||Deadline||Completed|
|Write draft of personal essay.||Outline several different topics, review with a parent and close friend, and write rough draft on chosen topic.||Aug 1||Aug 1|
|Revise essay.||Review draft with parent and English teacher for coherence and grammar usage. Revise accordingly. Repeat.||Sept 15||Sept 10|
|Finalize essay.||Ask parent to proof essay. Make corrections and proof again.||Oct 15||Oct 1|
|Arrange for recommendation letters.||Supply recommendation forms (with due date) to recommenders along with stamped envelopes addressed to the college admissions department.||One month before Feb 1 due date||Jan 3|
|Arrange for school report and transcript to be sent to college.||Submit to counselor the school report and transcript request forms supplied by high school and college.||One month before Feb 1 due date||Jan 3|
|Thank recommenders.||Send a handwritten note of thanks to each recommender.||Jan 10||Jan 5|
|Arrange for FAFSA results to be sent to college.||Enter college ID code in the college list section of the FAFSA. Submit FAFSA.||One week after FAFSA is available (Jan 1)||Jan 7|
|Complete and review application.||Fill out application. Check that all fields are filled in, all parts are complete and included, and all written responses are error-free.||Three weeks before Feb 1 due date||Jan 12|
|Submit application.||If mailing, make sure college address is correct, application fee is included, and postage is sufficient. If submitting online, check that credit card information is accurate and confirm receipt online.||Two weeks before Feb 1 due date||Jan 15|
|Confirm application arrived.||E-mail or call admissions office to confirm receipt.||Two weeks after app. is sent||Feb 1|
Set up a folder for each college you are applying to. Put all paperwork related to your application in the folder, including:
- All correspondence between you and the college (including printouts of e-mail messages and notes from phone conversations with admissions officers)
- A copy of your entire application, even if you sent it electronically
- Other documents, such as completed financial aid forms, transcript requests, and letters of recommendation
A Few More Tips
Create a Command Center. In the midst of the torrent of demands that descend on your junior and senior years, you need the serenity that comes from knowing exactly where all your college application stuff is located. Decide where you will keep your folders, calender, charts, etc. Just as long as it is not the bottom of your backpack or somewhere under your laundry.
Find out your high school's process for sending transcripts and recommendations. You don't want to miss any deadlines or do a rushed job just because you "didn't know" how requests should be submitted and when they are due.
Don't forget to check up on yourself. Spend some quality time in your command center every week. Review your application calender and assign yourself upcoming high priority tasks.
Many current college students admit that organization was a huge challenge during their college application period. It's hard to anticipate just how many different deadlines and tasks you will have to juggle, especially if you are applying to more than a few schools. So take a tip from those who have gone before: get organized!