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This week's question from Steve Griffin, Eau Claire, WI asks:

What are the best ways to stay organized during the application process?

A spreadsheet will keep you organized and aware of all deadlines and requirements

Jill Madenberg | Independent Educational Consultant
Keep a spreadsheet to organize all deadlines and requirements. It's the easiest way to stay on top of the college process. Make columns to indicate whether you are applying Early Action, Early Decision or Regular Decision. Determine requirements for standardized testing and letters of recommendation. As for the essays, save them as drafts, separate for each school, even if you are using the Common Application. There are lots of details but using your personal spreadsheet will make it all much easier.

A well-kept calendar is critical to a successful application process

George Mills | Vice President for Enrollment
The college application process is complex and can cover more than a year. Organizing yourself is key to completing it successfully and not letting an important task slip by. Keep a paper calendar which is visible to all who have a role in the application process. A calendar held on a refrigerator door with a magnet is an effective strategy. Also, keep an electronic copy of the calendar so that you can check it often. Update both regularly with application deadline dates, testing dates, and information on sessions offered in your area by colleges in which you have an interest.

An easy to read chart is your best tool

Whitney Bruce | Independent College Counselor
It might even sound a bit old-fashioned, but a master spreadsheet is a key tool for keeping track of all of your application details. A well organized chart will not only track application due dates, but also allow you to look for similarities in easy questions, meet scholarship consideration requirements, and ensure that supplementary materials and recommendations are directed to the appropriate spot. At a bare minimum, use your spreadsheet to keep careful tabs on your application login names and passwords!

Arm Yourself with a Calendar and Files

Megan Dorsey | SAT Prep & College Advisor
The tremendous volume of due dates, shiny brochures, application forms, and scholarship opportunities can be overwhelming. Stay organized by creating and using a college-planning calendar to keep track of application due dates, college visits, test dates, and school functions. Then, you’ll need a file on your computer for essays, account passwords, resumes, and other application-related electronic documents. Next, use file folders to organize the mountains of paper. Keep documents only from colleges that are truly under consideration, making a file for each school on your list. Make another file for copies of your transcript and test scores. It’s easier to meet deadlines and manage details when you know where everything is!

Avoid the “toss it in a box” trap!

Carol Stack | Principal
There is one absolute piece of advice I have – do not just dump all your materials in a box or milk crate assuming you’ll get to it later. Because you won’t! Do use either a loose leaf notebook with sleeves to hold copies, a series of manila file folders, or a spreadsheets and scanned/saved copies of everything you have submitted. Be vigilant and organized from the get-go and the entire process will be easier, and less fraught with student-parent tension.

Commitment to Organization + Good System = Eternal Bliss

Don Fraser, Jr. | Director of Education and Training
Before you revamp or create your system of organization, be realistic about what will work best for you, otherwise you won’t utilize your system. Get a handle on the flow/amount of information—emails, brochures, social media. Consider creating an email account just for the college application process and create special folders (e.g., “Colleges of Interest”, “Financial Aid”). Develop a master calendar (paper or digital—whatever works for you) complete with important deadlines (e.g., college application due dates) and tasks. Develop a realistic timeline and goals for yourself (plug into calendar!). If you’re not sure of when something needs to be done, ask your counselor or someone who knows the process well. Got a smartphone? Sync everything and create alerts!

Don’t rely on your iPhone!

Marilyn Morrison | Founder
Instead of organizing your applications electronically, try good old-fashioned paper. Using a crate or box, create a folder for each step of the process, including college list research, test registration and scores, campus visit notes, essay drafts, financial aid forms, and scholarship opportunities. Then get a big wall calendar to keep track of deadlines, and put it where you and your family will see it every day and can’t ignore it. And finally, write down all of your user names and passwords, because if you lose them you’ll have to start your applications all over again.

Focus.

Steve Thomas | Director of Admissions
Concentrate only on the things you have control over in this crazy process; don't worry about the things you can't control. You can control your application and what it says about you and you can control when you complete it and send it in. You can't control who else applies to the schools to which you apply and you can't control the selection process at any college or university. Stay organized with a list of specific tasks you need to accomplish in their order of importance. Start early and don't wait to the last minute. Realize what is most important for you and set yourself to the tasks. Keep lists. Ask for help in doing so. Focus!

Getting Organized For the College Search Just Takes Planning!

Jill Greenbaum | Founder
When I work with students, I ask about their ways of organizing themselves-and then we add to their existing habits and techniques. Specifically, I check in in with them about use of a planning device/a calendar-paper and pen, on a computer or online/on your phone-to create deadlines and milestone blocking out work time for applications, research, sending emails and making calls to set up tours, info sessions, class visits, overnights, and interviews creating a routine about when work gets done. And, of course, celebrating the achievement of those milestones!

Have an application management system in place to stay organized

Robyn Moreth | Independent Educational Consultant
I encourage my students to keep track of all deadlines on an Excel spreadsheet. I also suggest they keep a “cheat sheet” for each school and write down their username and password for each application (especially important if a non-Common App school) plus record these other items: ACT scores sent (Date), SAT scores sent (Date), SAT Subject Scores (Date, Resume, Letter(s) of Recommendation, Counselor Recommendation, Transcript Requested, Supplement(s) Written, Art Supplement/Athletic Supplement, Portfolio, Made contact with at least 1 person in Admissions, Thank you notes sent to teachers/interviewers/admission reps.

Here’s my top 5 list

Robin Groelle | Founder
1.) In your junior year begin email folders for your college mail – yes, no, maybe and review them occasionally. 2.) Create yes, no, and maybe piles for your snail mail correspondence - thin out and review monthly. 3.) Create individual email folders for each college on your college list. 4.) Begin actual physical folders for all colleges that you apply to. 5.) Create a check list for each college application noting sending dates for each application, supplement, application fee, transcript, recommendations, testing, college visit, alumni interview, FA application, follow-up correspondence, etc. In the end, you will want to have a contact at each of the colleges where you apply. Creating a way to manage all the information you receive from the start will help you stay in touch with the colleges to which you apply and with the one that you eventually choose to attend.

Is Your College Application Process Well Thought-Out?

Jeannie Borin | Founder & President
With so much going on during application season, it can be difficult to stay organized. Here are a few tips to help you stay on track. Start a filing system on your computer and or on paper. Make a folder for each college where you intend to apply. Each school’s folder should contain a checklist of things you have completed and still need to do for the admissions process. Create a calendar (Google or others) for all deadlines and scheduling. Keep an ongoing “to do” list and stick to it. Have a dedicated workspace. Print or photocopy all completed applications. Ask lots of questions and get help if needed.

Keep clearly posted, written checklists at your workspace!

Jane Gabin | College Counselor
Do not rely on electronic notes, either on a computer or small device. You'll have to remember to look up your information. Instead, keep a week-by-week checklist posted where you can see it all the time. Have due dates highlighted. Check off tasks as you complete them: ask English teacher to review essay: check! Order SAT scores from College Board, have them sent to 4 colleges: check! Submit my Common App applications to 4 colleges by Nov. 28: check! Send thank-you notes to the teachers who wrote recommendations for me: check! Working step-by-step, methodically, will keep you organized and therefore lower your stress.

Keep Track of the Ins and Outs of the Process!

Betsy Morgan | Founder
In the college application process, an accordion file and a calendar will be your best friends. Have separate sections in the file for each college. Make sure that you make a copy of everything that goes out AND comes in, especially electronically. Keep good track of when you send standardized test scores, supplements, payments, and financial aid applications. With so much going out, it is easy to miss something. Put all deadlines on the calendar. Finally, check your email regularly. I can’t tell you how often a student misses an opportunity because they ignored an email.

Maintain a Planning System

James Long | Educational Consultant
The best way to stay organized throughout the application process is to maintain a planning system – either hard copy or on your computer. Whatever method you employ, it must be one that you can easily access on a daily basis and ensure you are following a thoughtful plan for completing the applications. Make sure you have a detailed checklist listing daily tasks and deadlines for applications, essays, recommendations, transcripts, test scores and thank you notes. Stick to your plan and do not surrender to the temptation of working on applications out of order, which may result in being rushed and careless.

Organization is Key to College Application Process

Susie Watts | College Consultant
Choose a place where you keep everything you need. Create a calendar for all deadlines for college applications and scholarships. Read all instructions carefully. It saves time in the end. Work from a personal checklist of “things to do.” Write down all user names and passwords for every college. Brainstorm essays and do more than one draft. Check all supplements and complete them. Print out and read all applications before submitting. Have test scores sent from the ACT and College Board directly to colleges. Have transcripts and teacher recommendations mailed or sent from your high school.

Organization is key to keeping on track with your applications!

Penny Deck | College Counselor
The increasingly complex application process demands that students stay organized and focused or you could miss some key information or deadlines. Keeping a file folder for each college and making notes about each school’s requirements, deadlines, etc., is a must. Keeping all of your folders and notes in one big binder keeps all your college material together for easy reference. Document all phone calls, meetings, visits, etc., so you can easily recall where and when you heard the information helps you to keep important information linked to the right schools. Take pictures when you are on campus and include those in each school folder; it will help you jog your memory about where and when you heard critical information about that school’s programs or processes.

Organize your time, focus on the task and address all the pieces

Peter Brass | Director of Student Services & University Advisor
Staying organized during the application process is never easy because of the sheer range of requirements imposed by the colleges and the natural distractions of the Senior year. Still, it is attainable. First, hone your time management skills. Set aside a reasonable amount of time each week to complete the most pressing tasks at hand and stick to your timetable. Second, disconnect yourself from the electronic and social networking world while you focus completely on the college application task at hand. You can't multitask successfully. Third, create a brief checklist for every application, if one is not available, so you can ensure that all the various pieces are being addressed fully and in a timely manner

Physical organization starts in your head, not on your desk

Jon Boeckenstedt | Associate Vice President for Enrollment Policy & Planning
First, there are many free and abundant tools that help you with the physical task of staying organized, such as Google Documents: Make a spreadsheet of colleges you’re looking at with deadlines and “to do” boxes you can check off, for example. But go beyond the mechanical. Staying organized starts with clear thinking, and you can do more of that by not casting your net too widely. You’ll do much better applying to six colleges than to 15, for instance, so invest your time and effort to weed out the ones at the bottom of your list. This means less work overall, but more focused and better work for those colleges you are serious about. That can help with organization as well as with your application success.

Plan Ahead and Be Disciplined

Gael Casner | Founder
With so many different deadlines and pieces to an application file, it’s no wonder students feel overwhelmed by a world that’s new to them. Using a few simple strategies, though, can help them gain control and master the process. Begin by using a calendar to record important dates. Next, make a check sheet for each college. Be vigilant about tracking the various steps. Finally, identify a handy place to store the usernames and passwords for each online account. Ready, set, go.

Save. File. Save: 2 top organizing tips

Rebecca Joseph | Executive Director & Founder
This is the most important time of the year to get and stay organized. 1.) Save all colege app usernames and passwords in one place. Mac stickies. Word documents. Colleges require different ones and not only do you submit this way but you also get admitted and learn about housing, accepting, and enrolling. 2.) Then use Naviance or a master charter to track all app req requirements. Deadlines. Test scores. Teacher and counselor recs. Transcripts Essays. Track the completion and submission of each. You have the right to check with teachers and counselors. They are busy. So be nice and give little gifts such as Starbucks cards.

Start early with applications to stay organized

Todd Johnson | Founder
Start early. The earlier you start the less likely that you will be running around at the last minute wondering if you completed part of the application. Create a checklist for each school you will be applying to including such issues as test scores sent, transcripts requested, application sent, supplemental applications sent and recommendation letters requested. As you complete each task for each college, check it off. Oh, and did I mention, start early.

Start with a plan!

Just like with any major project, it’s important to start with a plan! Before you start, determine the deadlines and requirements for each college you intend to apply to. Also, identify colleges that accept the Common Application or other standardized forms in order to avoid unnecessary work. When you’re ready to begin applying, create a checklist for each application noting which materials you’re responsible for and which you’ll need to ask others for (be sure to give them plenty of time!). Keep applications separate from one another using individual folders or binder clips and double check your materials before sending!

Stay Organized with an Excel Spreadsheet

Jolyn Brand | Founder & Director
Making one spreadsheet for your college applications makes forgetting something nearly impossible. Put all the colleges you’d like to apply to down the first column. Then put deadlines, essay requirements, SAT scores, transcripts sent, and application fees in the first row. This allows you to check off anything when it’s completed and stay on track.

Stay organized? Are you kidding!!!

Rachelle Wolosoff | Founder
You had better stay organized if you want to get admitted to the college of your choice. I use proprietary software with my clients to help them know tasks to complete and their deadlines. I also use proprietary software to help them know which essays they need to complete which can be overwhelming. And if they have an art portfolio—when is that due? If you don’t have the benefit of working with me or the software, do research on each school’s website and develop an Excel spreadsheet to list all the necessary information. If you do that accurately, you’re golden!

Staying On Top of the Application Process

Lana Klene | Counselor
Putting together a plan for staying organized as you go through the application process can save you time and stress. As you go through your mail, make decisions right away about whether to keep the material or throw it away. Only touch it once. Keep a folder for each college you are applying to and place appropriate paperwork in these. Use some sort of calendar to map out your strategy for getting college application tasks completed and check your progress on this at least once a week. Carve out dedicated time early in the process and then sit back and enjoy the wait while your friends are still playing catch up!

The Best Ways to Stay Organized During the Application Process

Lynda McGee | College Counselor
Since students are applying to more schools than ever, a good way to stay on top of things is to create a chart or spreadsheet. Categories should include the name of the school, application deadline, whether it’s on the common app or not, if so, whether it has a supplement, number of essays needed, and whether it requires recommendations, an interview, or SAT subject tests. List the schools in the order of the application deadlines, and check them off as you submit. Not only will you keep on top of things this way, you will feel great as you make your way down the list.

This Low-Tech Method is Best to Organize Application Materials

Patricia Young | Independent Counselor
Even if a student uses the Common Application process, there are still tons of potential miscellaneous supplementary material to organize as the application process marches forward throughout the school year. For example, additional letters of recommendation from teachers, coaches, dates for alumni interviews, possible portfolio submissions, etc. need to be tracked so that the application process can be controlled and stress can be reduced. How can this be easy? Simple: Get a box, label file folders by college name, list items to be included on the front cover of each. All college material stays in the box until needed.

Three simple tools you can create to stay on track

Scott Hamilton | Founder
In this era of technology, when a phone has become a hand-held computer, I still find that three straight forward self-created tools are a great way to keep it simple and organized. First, create a document on which you list the colleges you are applying, the admissions deadlines and the requirements (e.g., teacher recommendations, interview). Then, copy and paste the essay prompt(s) for each college onto a separate document. Finally, put together a simple spreadsheet on which you list the general steps for most college applications (e.g., essay completed, recommenders contacted, supplement finished) and then check off the items as you complete them for each application.

Use helpful tools to stay organized

Jane Shropshire | Founder
Folders; calendar/planner; timer with alarm: armed with these things, you can organize your college application process magnificently! Folders will collect all that you receive from a college in one place so you won’t have to sort through, let’s say, Northwestern’s materials when looking for information on Michigan. Use your calendar/planner to track applications and target dates for completion. Finally, use your timer and alarm to pace yourself, allotting specific blocks of time for work and breaks for maximum productivity. A talented carpenter once told me that the best advice he ever received was, “Use your tools!” Many college applicants agree.


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