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Do Your Best with Apps! Get Organized!

Smiling happy female students preparing for exam

Feeling overwhelmed by all there is to do to apply to college? Not sure where to begin? Before you hit the panic button, try some of these tips for organizing your apps.

The key to finishing your college applications on time--and keeping your stress down--is getting organized, as many successful college applicants will testify. Here are some tried-and-true methods for staying on top of your application tasks. 

The Folder

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 admission 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

The Application Calendar

Fill in a calendar with application deadlines and test dates. Use different colors for different colleges. Put the calendar 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 phone. Here's what to put on the calendar:

  • Deadlines for all parts of your college applications, such as recommendation letters, and transcripts
  • Your own personal deadlines, such as starting your essay
  • Test dates, including registration deadlines
  • Any scholarship application deadlines

The Application Chart

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. Here are just some of the tasks that could appear on such a chart:


XYZ College      
Action to Take Tasks Deadline Completed
Write draft of personal essay. Outline topics, review with Mom, and write draft on chosen topic. Aug 1 Aug 1
Revise essay. Review draft with English teacher. 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 forms, due dates, and stamped envelopes addressed to the admissions department. One month before due date Jan 3
Send school report and transcript to college. Submit to counselor the school report and transcript request forms supplied by high school and college. One month before due date Jan 3
Thank recommenders. Send note of thanks to each recommender. Jan 10 Jan 5
Send FAFSA results to colleges. Enter college ID code in the college list section of the FAFSA. Submit FAFSA. One week after FAFSA opens (Jan 1) Jan 7
Complete and review application. Check that all fields are filled in, all parts are complete, and all written responses are error-free. Three weeks before due date Jan 12
Submit application. Check that credit card information is accurate and confirm receipt online. Two weeks before due date Jan 15
Confirm application arrived. E-mail or call admissions office to confirm receipt. Two weeks after app. is sent Feb 1

Tips for Application Success

Create a Command Center. Decide where you will keep your folders, calendar, charts, etc. Just make sure it isn't the bottom of your backpack or under your laundry.

Use your system consistently. Spend quality time in your command center every week. Review where you are in the application process with each college and assign yourself upcoming high priority tasks.

Find out your high school's process and timeline for sending transcripts and recommendations. You don't want to miss deadlines just because you "didn't know" how requests should be submitted and when they are due.

What's Next?

Take a look at Get to Know the Common Application for an overview of this widely used application service.

Intimidated by writing your essay? See How to Shine in Your College Application Essay for help.

Take a few minutes to start your Admissions Tracker Profile. You can compare your college list with hundreds of students, even students who got into your favorite colleges.