The 10 Most Important Items on Your College Application Checklist
1. Calendar it out.
Write down on paper (or via an online calendar) all of the schools you're applying to and each one's final due date to help ensure that you don't submit anything late. For instance, some schools might require applications to be completed by December 15, while others might not be due until January or even February. Knowing which ones to prioritize will help keep you on track.
2. Check if your schools use the Common Application.
The Common Application is a general application that is used by more than 600 schools. You can save time by filling it out once and have it submitted to multiple institutions. Keep in mind, however, that some Common Application schools still have extra requirements that will need to be completed by a school-specific deadline.
3. Keep track of all moving parts.
Whether your schools use the Common Application or not, it's wise to jot down each one's specific set of admissions requirements. The more selective the school, the more items you'll most likely be asked to submit. Having everything listed out will help make sure that nothing slips through the cracks.
4. Request your high school transcripts.
The earlier you can do this, the better, that way your school will have plenty of advanced notice to meet your application deadlines. Check with your guidance counselor to find out if there's a specific request process you need to follow.
5. Figure out who should vouch for you.
When asking for letters of recommendation, you want to choose teachers who know you well, both as a hard-working student and as a person. Again, providing them with advanced notice along with some bullet points to help remind them of your accomplishments will go a long way. Stay on top of them (politely), and follow up with a thank-you note once they've sent your letter.
6. Fill out the actual application forms carefully.
Make sure you answer each question thoroughly and without error, including your biographical data since mistakes or omissions can delay your application and make you seem careless. Many application forms also include short-answer questions and ask you to list extracurricular activities.
7. Tackle your essays or personal statements.
Don't try to get away with one generic essay for all schools. Each one should be somewhat tailored, not to mention you might have totally different questions to answer. Give yourself ample time to work on these, have someone look them over, and revise accordingly.
8. Make sure your SAT/ACT scores go where they need to.
You can choose up to four schools when you register for each exam and can request additional reports be sent later on (for a fee). Be aware that it could take up to a week for your reports to be sent, so put in your requests as soon as you determine your final list of schools. Also, it is worth noting that many colleges are test score optional, so you might not have to send your scores to all of your picks.
9. Earn extra credit.
Some schools give you the option of submitting additional materials, whether it's writing samples or videos. If you go this route, be sure that your supplemental items add value to your application. For instance, reading your poetry, watching a short film you made, or seeing photos of your robotics competition entry can really add depth in a way that the basic application might not.
10. Don't just set it and forget it.
After you submit, make sure that you receive some notification from the colleges that your application has been received. Some schools will let you set up an account to view your application status while others might send you a postcard in the mail. Either way, if you don't hear anything within a week of your submission, send an e-mail or call the admissions office to make sure your application isn't lost somewhere in cyberspace.
As you tick off each item on your college application checklist, you'll begin to feel a sense of accomplishment. Stick with it, and then you'll be in good shape for phase two — waiting for all of those acceptance letters to arrive.