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

College Admissions

Our counselors answered:

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

Wendy Andreen, PhD
College & Career Planning

College Central, Files, and Charts

Devise a plan that works for you and work the plan. Everybody 'organizes' differently so don't think there is only one best way to attack the college application process. Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses and graciously accept help from those around you. Students, this is definitely a time when you want a parent/guardian as an ally! Don't push them away. If you are not an organized, self-motivated, high-achieving student then let an adult support (not do it for you!!) you with the organization process. 5 tips to help you get organized: 1. Find one location in your home to be 'COLLEGE CENTRAL'. Keep all materials in this space - a desk, folding table, or the dining room table works well. A place where everything can stay for the duration of the process. 2. Select your method of organization - binders (one for each college) or FILE box with hanging folders. My preference is a file box with hanging folders. It doesn't have to be expensive. This allows for expansion and it's easy to drop materials into the labeled folders. 3. Label the binder dividers or folders. Examples of labeled folders may include: One for each college (with name, email, & cell phone of rep written inside each folder), paper copies of the applications, supplements, financial aid/FAFSA, test scores (ACT, SAT, PSAT, AP), essays, resume, your high school info/handouts on the college application process procedures, transcript request forms, paper copy of the Common Application chart with all the schools and their deadlines and requirements. 4. Folders with pockets to give to teachers/counselor with your recommendation forms (if submitting by paper) or a list of schools if they are writing recs online. Stamped, addressed envelopes, and a complimentary resume for reference. Follow your school's procedures on this process. 5. Once you have your list of colleges identified, prepare a CHART (computer spreadsheet or by hand) with rows for each college. The column headings should include: your ID# for each college, DEADLINE DATES for application, scholarships, financial aid, auditions/portfolios (if applicable), supplements, SAT/ACT sent, Subject Tests required (if any), transcript requested, essays & how many, and other information you need to stay on track for each college. This chart should be posted where it is clearly visible - closet door, above your desk, refrigerator - to be sure you don't miss a deadline or forget something!

Ellen erichards@ellened.com
Owner Ellen Richards Admissions Consulting

Junior year: The best time to start preparing for the college admissions process

As students begin the school year, high school juniors may start becoming more aware of colleges, choices and college rankings. Here are some tips to for students to make the most of their junior year: 1) Standardized Tests The best advice anyone can give a high school junior is to complete ALL standardized tests by the end of their junior year. These include the ACT, the SAT, and SAT Subject Tests. Countless students before you made the mistake of talking letting the tests linger over the summer. What seems prudent during one’s junior year transforms into a disaster in the fall when so many other responsibilities demand attention. Plan ahead and take all the tests before summer starts so you can spend your summer reflecting on colleges and the essays that accompany the applications. 2) Grades & Classes Everyone has heard that one’s junior year grades are the most important and it’s true. Nothing is more significant than how a student performs during his or her junior year. Why? By the time students reach their junior year in high school they have settled into a routine and matured to the point that colleges can ascertain how they will perform in college. The courses are more demanding and colleges want to see how students handle the pressure. Also, the classes students take speak volumes about their level of motivation and extent of their intellectual curiosity. If a student receives an A in a class as a sophomore, the student should select a more demanding class the following year. Otherwise, college admissions officers see right through the ruse: the student opted for the easy A and evaded the challenge of a more difficult class. What does that choice say about the student’s character? 3) Teacher Recommendations In high school students do not want others to consider them the “teacher’s pet”. But guess what? The teacher’s pet secures the best college recommendations. In many cases a student genuinely possesses an interest in a class and pursues that curiosity outside the classroom. Other times, students fake a deeper interest just to impress a teacher; this is not an advisable course to take. Students should pursue academic areas that interest them to the fullest extent possible. If a student shares an intellectual interest with a teacher, naturally the more the teacher will consider the student a “good student”, a “dedicated student” and “a student who always goes beyond what is expected.” On the flip side, the students who huddle in the back of the room and barely speak to teachers all year will find themselves in a rather stressful place when it’s time to request teacher recommendations. Ultimately, let’s face it: if a high school teacher cannot vouch for you, why would a college want you in their classrooms? What can you offer to the discussion? 4) Activities The way in which students spend their time outside the classroom serves as a testimony to their moral fiber. Students often assume that involvement in as many activities as humanly possible renders the ticket into college. Wrong! This misnomer pervades the high school student’s brain, but the inaccuracy of this type of thinking can lead to a student’s downfall (at least as far as gaining admission into college). French philosopher Denis Diderot wrote, “Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things.” When beginning the junior year, students should assess their activities and reflect on whether or not the activities in which they participate offer a depiction of their interests and passions. If not, students need to straighten out their priorities fast. Colleges want people who remain dedicated to one interest; the activities in which they participate should have a common thread that binds them together and culminate to present a person dedicated to a passion. 5) Take Advantage of Your Opportunities This adage stands true for students during any year of high school – or any time in one’s life for that matter. College opens up a new world for most people and opportunities to try new things abound. Since past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior, admissions officers look for students who step out of their comfort zone and seek new experiences. Students who choose to ignore opportunities do not appeal to admissions officers. Colleges seek students who will bring diverse viewpoints and experiences to the campus. They also want to bring students to the school who will get involved. If students do not make the most of their opportunities during high school then chances are they will do the same not only in college, but throughout their lives. Colleges do not accept students who most likely will not contribute to life on the campus or make a difference in the world when their college years end.

Annie Reznik
Counselor/CEO College Guidance Coach

Go "Type A"

1. Narrow Your List In the fall of your senior year, you should create a narrowed list of schools to which you will apply. Keep the final list small (6-10) and balanced (equal number of likely, 50/50, and reach schools) for your sanity (and the sanity of those around you). 2. Make a Chart When this list is finalized, make a chart to keep track of supplements, deadline type and date, sending standardized test scores, working with your school counselor to send letters of recommendation and transcript, scheduling and completing an interview, etc. No need to reinvent the wheel, check out this great sample from College Board: http://www.collegeboard.com/student/apply/the-application/8435.html 3. Check it Twice Put the final chart on the fridge (or some other central, regularly viewed location). Check tasks off as you complete them. Create a once-per-day, very short "check in" routine (before bed, when you get breakfast, after dinner) to review your deadlines. 4. Take Help Graciously With your chart prominently posted, others (parents) will likely create a routine of checking-in (probably more than once a day). Take the reminders graciously (yes, let them nag).

Mollie Reznick
Associate Director The College Connection

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

Your guidance counselor, or an independent educational consultant can be invaluable in helping you to keep on top of everything. In lieu of those, try making a spreadsheet that tables all of the schools you are applying to as well as all of the components they require with their application (essays, recommendations, test scores, transcripts) and then check off each one as it has been completed.

Geoff Broome
Assistant Director of Admissions Widener University

like mom's recipe book

keep a notebook of the colleges that you are looking at. Make sure to save all of your log ins and passwords for the countless websites that you need an account for. Save your correspondence from each school that you are interested in by creating a folder either actual or virtually in your email or on your computer desktop. Save all of your essays. Keep a check list of what you need to do. When completing a task, write the date of completing. Don't just check it off. Keep your dates and deadlines organized. Get a calendar and use it. Write important deadlines and dates on it. Make sure that you are checking your email. You may not use email that much, but I can assure you that colleges do. You may miss something that is important.

Karen Ekman-Baur
Director of College Counseling Leysin American School

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

At the very beginning of the process, set up a calendar, specifically dedicated to this purpose, on which you enter standardized testing dates - SAT, ACT, TOEFL (if applicable), in-school tests, college fairs, when you plan to visit certain schools, and so on. In order to avoid time conflicts, it would also be helpful to schedule in the time that you will need to prepare for standardized and in-school tests. Add relevant dates as you become aware of them and make any necessary schedule adjustments. When you're investigating schools, create a folder for each one in which you will include printouts about the schools, copies of information from college evaluation books, brochures from the institutions, and notes that you yourself have taken while researching online, visiting the schools, etc. Include anything that gives you a better overview of each institution. Keep all of the folders together in a file box or cabinet. Before deciding which schools you will apply do, thoroughly review the material you have gathered in order to make a considered decision. A good way to compare various institutions is to prepare a document which you can fill in for each school, entering information about specific qualities/features/offerings that are of interest to you - application deadline, size of student body, student to faculty ratio, tuition . . . The list goes on. After you have made a decision as to which institutions you want to apply, carefully note all relevant deadlines and enter them on your calendar - application deadlines, financial aid application deadlines, and any other dates which are applicable. By knowing when various bits of information are due, you will be able to schedule your time effectively with a minimum of stress. Plan your time so that you are not waiting until the last minute.

Nancy Milne
Owner Milne Collegiate Consulting

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

Learn organizational techniques now and you'll have greater success in college. I recommend that my clients create a file for each school. In each file is a checklist that tracks all the pieces of an application. Note the dates you submitted your test scores, asked for a recommendation, submitted the recommendation, etc. Whether you do this on your computer or a hard copy, it will help create order among all the steps involved in applying. In addition, designate a calendar dedicated solely to college application deadlines, test dates, campus visits, etc.

Bill Pruden
Head of Upper School, College Counselor Ravenscroft School

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

You should probably begin by setting up a filing system where everything for each school is kept together. Then after you have narrowed things down and you have determined which schools you are applying to, you will need to organize the pieces of the actual application process. Some sort of chart that helps you keep track of the various requirements--what tests do they want, what are the deadlines for early application, regular decision, financial aid etc, how many recommendations and from whom, essay requirements, etc—can be very helpful. At its worst, the application process can seem like an additional course in the fall of you senior year, but an organized approach can ease a lot of the stress.

Felice Kobrick
Owner, College Consultant, Kobrick College Consulting, LLC

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

Here's where a college consultant can be invaluable. I have software that is designed and personalized for each student. We keep track of application deadlines, financial aid dates, when the SAT/ACT tests are given, as well as monitor the progress of each application, and the specific essays associated with each of those applications. If you don't have a college consultant, a good old excel spreadsheet can keep you on track, as long as you update it regularly. Staying organized in the application progress is also good practice for all the assignments you will need to balance in college.

Reecy Aresty
College Admissions/Financial Aid Expert & Author Payless For College, Inc.

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

I have a GRID which I give to each family so they can list all items to be submitted to a college and the dates they are due. This way NO deadlines should be missed. Also, have a file folder on each college w/copies of all correspondence.