College application season doesn’t really begin until Apply Texas is activated on Aug. 1, but if you’re a rising senior planning to apply this fall, I hope you don’t wait until then to get started. If you’re applying to more than a couple of schools, you’ll have so many deadlines and moving pieces to keep track of. Don’t set yourself up for a stressful semester by waiting.
Instead, I advise the students I work with to get a jump on the applications over the summer. If nothing else, I suggest they set up an admissions process checklist so they can keep track of all those deadlines and requirements. Here’s how.
Make a list of the schools to which you will apply. By now, you probably have a wish list of your top few schools. If you have more than seven, it’s time to cut the ones where you really can’t see yourself. If you have three or fewer, you may want to add a couple of good possibilities, especially if your favorites are all “reach” schools, and you’re not sure your test scores and grades will get you in.
Create a folder for each school you’re applying to. It’s best to do this both on your computer and on paper. This is where you’ll make a list of every single document you need to complete the application, including whether the college uses the Common Application, Apply Texas, its own online portal, or something else.
Although it’s tempting to do this only on your laptop, an old-fashioned manila folder is useful for keeping any documents that you don’t have electronically. Write the school’s deadline options and dates on the outside of the paper folder and consider making it part of the folder name on your computer. On the paper folder, you should also add the deadline for scholarship applications, which may be different.
Create an account at the online portals you’ll be using. For many schools, you can’t apply until Aug. 1 at the earliest but may be able to create an account now. Make sure it is the 2014-15 application. If not, see if they have a preview of the 2014-15 application and start getting familiar with the process. Because it may be a month or more before you log back in, make sure you remember your ID and password and keep them secure by using a password manager site like lastpass.com. You can do the same thing for your tablet or phone, with apps like mSecure.
Start gathering what you don’t have. This is the time to start writing essays, requesting letters of recommendation if you haven’t already, and making sure you have necessary information such as your Social Security number, school code and any family information. Make sure you have the test scores you want, and if not, prep and practice this summer so you are ready to retest in the fall. Your best test scores must be received (from the testing center) by admission deadline.
Set up an application tracking system. Some very organized students do just fine by writing the application deadlines on a calendar. You might do better with a multiple-alarm system, with reminders on your phone, laptop and on a paper calendar — in addition to your folder system. Once your application is submitted, some colleges have a portal you can set up on their website to track the status of your application. This option lets you see when your supporting documents have arrived … or not. Assuming you are not waiting until the last minute to submit your applications, you should also set a weekly reminder to double-check each application’s status after you’ve submitted it. That way, you’ll have time to fix things if, for instance, the school never received your transcript.
Donna Spann is CEO of Capstone College and Career Advising in Tyler. A college adviser for 11 years, Donna leads a team of professionals who take a personal approach to advising that helps students navigate through career and college exploration, admissions, financial aid, and find the college that’s right for them. Have a question for Donna? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. You just may see your question answered in a future column.