Are you wondering what are all the steps you need to take to apply to college? If so, that’s what we’ll go over in this blog in detail. We’ll start off with a timeline, although we get it if some of you are procrastinating. That’s totally cool, just pick up and move as quickly as you can. This checklist is intended for students applying in the fall. However, these are all the same steps applicants in the spring need as well.
Looking for our College List Spreadsheet Template? Make a copy, or download it here!
Explore Your Interests and Figure Out Your Major
At some point while you’re applying to college, you’ll have to check a box asking what major you’re planning to major in. In some instances, you have to apply into the major you want in order to get into college. Start early when exploring your interests and majors! Don’t neglect this part of the process. Knowing your major can also help you figure out what schools to apply to, and it can help your essay writing too. Check out our video on How to Choose Your College Major.
Build Your College List
Make sure your college list is a good mix of safety schools, fits, and reach schools. This could be five up to 15 schools depending on how competitive the schools are. Check out our video on How To Build Your College List.
Start Your Search for Scholarships
Start your search for scholarships, and also search for the colleges that offer those scholarships. Because most scholarships are institution dependent, the institution itself is more likely to give you a full ride than a third party organization. Check out our video on Merit Scholarships.
Research and Understand Student Loans
If you’re planning to potentially borrow money for college, June is a great time to figure out how these loans, and how much you can get from each type of loan. Typically, federal loans will have preferable terms than private loans, and there are limits to how much you can draw from those.
Prepare for your SAT and ACT Exams
Even in a test optional environment, most colleges and universities are still excepting standardized tests as a metric to help you get into college. It’s a lot easier to take a test and get a great test score than it is to do something like cure cancer. Taking the SAT or ACT can also help you qualify for merit scholarships and financial aid. Check out our videos on SAT Prep!
Chat With Your Parents
Have a chat with your parents now about money and expectations. Can your parents only afford a certain number? If so, learn what that number is, and you can start looking at cost of attendance. 40% of students cited costs as the reason why they didn’t attend their first choice university. If that might be you, talk to your parents now about expectations moving forward.
Engage With Your Interests
Make sure you stay engaged with your interests over the summer and throughout the application process. Many students don’t realize that even if you’re turning in your applications as early as October, that doesn’t mean that everything’s over and colleges won’t consider anything else down the line. If you stay involved your senior year and end up getting waitlisted, you will have more things to talk about if you continue to expand your interest and explore them. This could mean an internship, personal project, or a summer class. Check out 50 Summer Activities for High School Students.
Have a Plan B and Plan C
Make sure you know what your Plan B and Plan C is. This means understanding your community college and safety school options. Community college is an awesome opportunity for something super affordable, and you can also follow community college with a transfer plan to a 4-year university. Even if you know now that you prefer a 4-year university, it’s a good idea to have a back up plan just in case you end up not getting into any of those schools. In this case, it may end up being smarter to go to a community college and transferring into your school of choice, rather than starting at a different 4-year university. Check out College Transfer Tips.
Take the ACT
July is a great time to take the ACT. It’s one of our favorite test dates, because you can study during the summer. Make sure you sign up early though, because seats tend to go fast.
Start Your College Essays
Although most college applications don’t open until August 1st, but just because the official application isn’t open doesn’t mean you can’t start on your essays. Most schools use the same essay prompts every year, and even if they are changed it is only very slightly. If you’ve written a good essay, you can also always find a way to adjust or recycle it to use for other essay prompts. Check out Brooke’s summer Essay Course!
Make an Application Timeline or Spreadsheet
Download our College List Spreadsheet Template here. In your spreadsheet, put in the list of all the schools you’re applying to, all the essay prompts you have to write, and detail any supplemental information you will need to complete. Then, put in any important dates you need to remember, like priority, early action, or final deadlines. After you’ve made your spreadsheet, start prioritizing when you plan to finish your applications for each of these schools. Remember to prioritize schools with priority deadlines, early action, or rolling admissions, because it’s always good to try to get some responses back early so you’re less stressed during this process, and you know you got in somewhere.
Reach out to Teachers and Secure Letters of Rec.
Reach out to the teachers you want letters of recommendation from, and make sure you can secure them to help you write those letters. Check out How to Get AWESOME Letters of Recommendation!
Meet with Your School Counselor
Set a time to meet with your school counselor and discuss your college application.
If you’re planning on visiting any colleges, we recommend visiting after school is in session if at all possible. Check out How to Choose a College When You Can’t Visit in Person.
Take the SAT
One of our favorite SAT test dates is the end of August, because you can get in a lot of summer studying, and you don’t have school hanging over your head.
Fill Out the Common Application
Start to fill out the common application, and make sure to fill out all the easy sections, as well as your activities section.
Once the prompts drop on August 1st, it’s time to start finalizing your essays. Check out College Application Essay Tips!
Retake the SAT or ACT if necessary
If you need to retake the SAT or ACT, now is the time to do so.
Start Applying to Colleges
Once September hits, start applying to colleges, especially schools with rolling admissions, because they’ll let you know soon. You should also apply earlier rather than later to any large state universities, or universities that offer merit scholarships.
Fill Out the FAFSA
The FAFSA opens at the beginning of October. So if you’re looking for scholarships or financial aid, it’s a good idea to fill out the FAFSA as early and quickly as possible.
Finish and Apply to All Early Deadline Applications
Make sure to finish all your early and rolling deadlines by the end of October. After that, remember to check your spreadsheet to know when your next deadlines are coming up. And then, by early January you’ll be sitting pretty waiting for your applications to come back. Finally, by May first you’ll put down a deposit and make your decision. If you get waitlisted or deferred, we have videos to help with that as well!