The college application season is an exciting time—and a busy one. There are applications to fill out, essays to write, deadlines to pay attention to, and other tasks to complete. At the end of it, your completed college application is intended to showcase all your hard work and convince your dream schools why they should accept you.

While all the to-dos might seem overwhelming at first, surviving college admissions crunch time is a matter of tackling one task at a time. We put together a college application checklist so you can stay organized, get it all done well, and done on time.

1. Mark your calendar

The application process is filled with lots of deadlines and it’s important not to miss them. Go through the applications for each school you plan to apply to and note important dates, as well as other key deadlines, and add them to your calendar. Include:

  • Standardized test registration deadlines and dates
  • Financial aid deadlines
  • Early decision or early action deadlines if you plan to apply this way
  • Final application deadlines
  • Scholarship deadlines

These dates will vary depending on the school; having everything in one place will help ensure that you don’t submit anything late. It will also help you prioritize all your to-do items so you stay on track.

2. Create a spreadsheet or checklist of all your application materials

Between the Common App, supplemental materials, other applications, scholarship and financial aid applications, and more, there are a lot of moving parts to keep track of. Make a master list or spreadsheet that includes everything you need to complete along with deadlines so you can easily visualize what’s been done and what still needs to be completed. Having everything listed out will help make sure that nothing slips through the cracks.

3. Find out what type of application each prospective school requires

The Common App is a general application that is used by more than 1,000 schools. You can save time by filling it out once and having it submitted to multiple institutions. Keep in mind, that some Common App schools have extra requirements that you will need to complete by a school-specific deadline. Some of these additional materials require quite a bit of thought and effort, like extra essays, so it’s good to know about them in advance. And of course, some schools don’t use the Common App. Find out what each school’s applications entail so you have enough time to complete them.

4. Make sure that your high school transcripts get sent

If you use the Common App, you will invite your guidance counselor to be a recommender; then they can submit your transcript and other school forms. If your school does not use Common App, inquire about the process for having transcripts sent. The earlier you can do this, the better. Check with your guidance counselor to find out if there's a specific request process you need to follow.

5. Ask for letters of recommendation

When deciding who to ask to vouch for you, consider which teachers know you well, both as a hard-working student and as a person. Providing them with plenty of 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. Send in your SAT®/ACT® scores

You can choose up to four schools when you register for each exam and can request additional reports be sent later (for a fee). If you add a college to your list after your test dates, don’t forget to send them your scores. Some schools have gone test-optional; in those cases, you can decide whether to send your scores.

7. 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-form questions and ask you to list extracurricular activities.

8. Tackle your essays or personal statements

If you’re applying to schools that use the Common App, you’ll need to write an essay that answers one of the Common App essay prompts. But you’ll likely need to write a number of other personal statements as well, since individual schools may require supplemental essays and other schools may have their own applications. While you might be able to use some essays for multiple schools (perhaps with a little tweaking), don’t try to get away with writing as few essays as possible. You want to answer each school’s questions with a quality essay. Give yourself ample time to work on these, have someone (or multiple people) look them over, and revise accordingly.

9. Follow up

After you submit, make sure that you receive some notification from the colleges that your application has been received. Schools will send you information to set up an account to view your application status. If you don't hear anything within a week of your submission, send an email or call the admissions office to make sure they received your application.

As you check 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 those acceptance letters to arrive.


ACT® is a trademark registered by ACT, Inc., which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this site.
SAT® is a trademark registered by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this site.

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