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How to Start Organizing Your College Application Process

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Now that you’re back in school, it’s time to get organized. This is the time to sit down and make yourself a college application to-do list. Think of all the things you need to accomplish, how much time you have, and set priorities. Use a calendar, whether on your phone, computer, or an old style paper agenda, to keep track of all your deadlines. Remember you have your school work and extracurricular commitments to fit into your schedule as well.

At this time you should focus on the following steps of the college application process to organize your calendar:


One of the first things you should be concentrating on is testing.

Seniors, are you planning to take any standardized tests? The next ACT is on October 26th (registration deadline is September 27th) and the next SAT is on November 2nd (registration deadline is October 3rd, 2013). If you’re considering applying early decision, identify the latest test date that is accepted by that school.

Juniors, meet with your guidance counselor to decide which tests you’re going to take and develop a testing calendar that corresponds best with your curriculum.

Researching Schools

Seniors, it’s time to work on your final list of schools to apply to. Your goal should be to compile a balanced list of safety, target, and reach schools. Consider both academic and financial aspects of each school. Are you still uncertain about schools on your final list? Are there any schools you might want to add? Begin scheduling school visits as soon as possible. Reach out to current students, alum and your admissions rep to find the answers to any questions you may have.

Juniors, talk to your parents and guidance counselor about the type of college experience you’re hoping for. Think about the schools you’d like to look into. Start researching online and talk to your family about visiting schools.

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You may be applying to colleges with the Common App, individual school applications, or a combination of both. Begin by creating a Common App account. The application requires a great deal of information, so start working on it as soon as possible. Review the essay choices, choose your topic(s) and give it a go. Know what your schools require—will you need to complete supplemental essays or submit supporting materials? Make sure to leave enough time to proofread all of your work and even have a second set of eyes take a look as well.

Managing Your Process

Each application has different requirements. Spend the time now to be sure you’re aware of what’s expected. Confirm the number of recommendations you’ll need to submit, and if you haven’t already requested recommendations, now’s the time to ask. Do the schools you’re interested in require or offer admissions interviews? If so, schedule them as soon as possible. Each of these materials has a distinct due date that varies at each school—try creating a chart to keep track of all of these details. The due dates for required materials vary by each school, so keep track of all these details by creating a chart or other organizational tools.

With so many components of the college application process outside of your control, you’ll want to manage those you can control. If you stay organized throughout the process, you’ll be able to pace yourself, remain focused, and ensure the accuracy and thoughtfulness of your work—not to mention the timeliness of your applications. You have one chance to go through this process. Do the best you can by using organization as your ticket to a successful college application process.

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Check out Fiske Interactive Online for an insider’s look at over 300 of the best and most interesting colleges.

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Anna Costaras and Gail Liss are coauthors of The College Bound Organizer, the step-by-step guide to getting into the college of your choice. As cofounders of Bound to Organize LLC, the authors are dedicated to empowering students to successfully navigate the complicated college application process by providing a logical, easy-to-use organization system.

Anna Costaras holds a BS and MBA from New York University Stern School of Business. She is the founder of a college-bound mentoring program for disadvantaged students from her community. She also serves on the Board of Directors of Adventures in Learning, an educational enrichment program for children in need of after-school support.

Gail Liss earned an MBA from New York University Stern School of Business, studied at The London School of Economics, and holds a BA from the University of Rochester. Gail serves on the Advisory Board of Young Women’s Leadership Network, which supports The Young Women’s Leadership Schools and College Bound Initiative.

See The College Bound Organizer in the College Countdown Bookstore.