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How to Get Your College Application Done—and, Done on Time

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November, the magic word! Even when you’re not applying for Early Decision, it is still best to be finished with ALL your college applications by November 1. Even for state universities that have rolling admissions, getting your application in early is better for acceptance.

How can you do it all?

College Basics has some tips for getting an early start and organizing yourself for staying on target.

Step 1: Resister right away for ACT, SAT, and SAT Subject tests. You will want to take all tests and still have time to re-take them to improve your scores if needed. Once you’re registered, you will be better motivated to start preparing for the tests, too. Visit the test websites and read about tips for taking the test as well as take the practice tests.

Step 2: Start visiting the websites of all the colleges you are considering. Take the online tour, register for information, and read about the school. (Many schools require you to write an essay about why you want to go to their school. If you read closely about the schools now and take notes, it will help you write this essay. For more information about how to write this essay, see College Basics’ “Why I want to Go to this College Essay.”) Request a brochure of the school by mail.

Step 3: Make an appointment with your guidance counselor by the first week of school. You need to check on some things: whether or not you are on track to meet all your graduations requirements, what your class rank or standing is, and looking at your transcript to make sure there are no mistakes. At this time make future appointments for every two weeks with your counselor so you can check in and keep your application process moving. You will also need to get help deciding on a good balance of schools to apply to. There should be reach schools, likely or safe schools, and possible schools on your list.

Step 4: Establish an account at the Common Application site. This application will cover many of the colleges and universities you will apply to. Download all the application forms, including the short answer and essay topics. Actually start filling in the forms which you can save and recheck. Now is also the time to start your personal essay, at least to brainstorm what you may write about. For help getting started you can go to College Basics “Help Getting Started on your College Application Essay.” Note: Even when using the Common Application, individual schools may also require you to write supplemental essays; always check with the school!

[Wait a minute! It’s not even September 15th and look what you’ve done! But, have you remembered to keep a book of all the information you are gathering. You should have written down all your user names and passwords at the sites you’ve been on and be keeping notes on individual schools you are looking at. You should also be developing a spread sheet with two major categories: Deadlines and Requirements per college.]

Step 5: Develop a high school résumé or brag sheet. If you’re not sure what this is, see College Basics “The Basics of Developing a High School Résumé.” Here you will list all the activities and accomplishments you have achieved through out your years in high school. By late September, you should have shared your résumé with your guidance counselor and the teachers you are asking to write recommendations for you. Make sure you also provide them basic forms and correctly addressed and stamped envelops. You need also to check back with each one in late October to make sure the recommendations are complete and sent.

November is now here and you’re basically done. You still have time for last-minute additions and revisions.

Another Step: With this extra time you have, do one more thing before January 1, the dead line to apply for financial aid. Gather information about financial aid and scholarships. Get the Free Application Form for Student Aid (FAFSA) and check with each of the schools you are applying to to see if you need to fill out the Private School Financial Aid Form (CSS). Also begin looking for scholarships and note the deadline for their applications.