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Resources to Support the College Search

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… No really, it is!  There is an entire world of opportunity waiting out there for young people today.  Planning to apply for college early on in high school can alleviate stress and leave the senior year for celebrating successes. Fortunately, there are college application process checklist to help you along the way!

Your school counselor may also have college preparation resources

My first article, How to Prepare for College in High School, an A-Z list, walked through all the important pieces of college prep.  This article will focus on the letter A:

A is for application, your knock at the college door.  The admission process begins senior year, in fact, the summer before!

Fortunately, there are many college application process checklists for you to use.  I’m NOT recieving any compensation for the ones that I’m going to mention. I have found them useful when helping students plan.  It also helps me to understand what colleges are looking for when selecting students for admission.

Begin with the End in Mind

Does your child have a dream school?  Why not start with that school and piece apart the steps that are needed?  If you’re thinking “Come on Christy, my kid dreams of going to Harvard but can’t find it on the map.”  Well, maybe they’ll get a geography lesson in the mix. At this stage in the game, let your child’s enthusiasm or interest guide the discussion.  Nix the personal commentary as the natural competitiveness of this process will temper the water soon enough.

A piece of white paper is taped to a green background.  At the top of the paper, "Priority's" is listed, followed by the numbers "1", "2", and "3"
Beginning with a college’s admission requirements will help plan high school activities
(I also just realized the grammatical error but I like the picture too much to change it)

The greatest part of the application process is that YOU CAN FIND IT ALL ON THE INTERNET.  Long gone are the days when the guidance counselor had the black binder of hidden forms and secret scholarships.  (That probably didn’t really happen but we all treated our counselors office like a mystical portal to higher learning.)  Schools put everything out there so that applicants know what to expect. It makes sense for the colleges as well; it improves their candidate pool and even cuts down the work on their end.  They can direct to their application portals, freeing up their counselors to answer specific questions.

How do you find such information?  Just Google it. If you want to grab your wand and yell out your desired school’s name along with “Accio College Application Process Checklist!” please feel free to do so as well.  There won’t be any owls bringing you letters from Hogwarts but your search results will bring you to a webpage with all the answers.

College Application Process Checklist:

Year by Year

I’ll start with my alma mater, the University of Illinois.  Their Admissions Department has created a Yearly Planning page that spells out activities that interested students are encouraged to complete, starting in 9th grade. Read through each year to see what is recommended.  Remember, we LOVE acronyms in education. If you come across some that are unfamiliar, such as PSAT, FAFSA, etc., just hop back on your Google Search Bar to see what they mean.

Is your child a little further down the high school road, perhaps a 10th or 11th grader?  Don’t panic! Review the previous year’s activities and fill in as much as possible. It’s likely that your son or daughter has been completing college preparation activities without even knowing it!  For example, your child is interested in the engineering field. Did they participate in a summer coding program or are of the school’s robotics team? Put a big check next to “Become more involved with extracurricular activities that relate to your academic interests”!

College Application Process Checklist:

Necessary Info

The amount of information collected by colleges can at first seem overwhelming.  However, after a few, there becomes a familiar rhythm to the types and kinds of information required.  Some of the common needed items:

  • personal information
  • test scores
  • classes taken in high school 
  • grades
  • supplemental information (recommendation letter, essays, etc.)

Commonapp.com has a college application process checklist that itemizes the information needed for each application.  Students can print out as many copies as colleges/universities they have applied to keep organized. Find it here.

College Application Process Checklist:

Planning, Admission, Decision

Now that you have ALL the needed items for admission, it’s necessary to make sure they are submitted in a timely manner.  CollegeBoard.org has created a checklist for all parts of the admission process. (Click here). FYI, CollegeBoard is the parent company of AP®, SAT®, PSAT® so keep in mind this is why their testing programs are listed on the checklist.  

A teal circle background with a white rectangle centered.  The white box is a representation of a piece of paper.  There are checks and lines that move from left to right.  A pencil is at the bottom right hand corner of the white rectangle.
The application “To Do” list can seem daunting but there are many tools available

Here’s why you’re going to love this checklist:

  • Check boxes to track 4 colleges simultaneously
  • It’s a comprehensive list of application activities from start to finish including financial aid tasks
  • Inclusion overlooked details such as completing thank you notes for recommenders* and reminders to have others proofread the application
  • The “Decision” portion is invaluable because it outlines what should happen AFTER the acceptance letters are received

*Slight but important tangent, as someone who has written many recommendation letters, recieving a note of appreciation from a student is incredibly meaningful and leaves a lasting impression.  Keep this in mind as recommenders often have to revise letters to reflect specific questions based on multiple application requirements. A happy letter writer is a GOOD THING!

Application Process Checklist:

Admission Deadlines

The change in the FAFSA submission opening date has had a great impact on the college application timelines. Now that families can complete the application in October, many colleges and universities open their admission window during the summer. That’s the summer before the incoming freshmen class even steps foot in the door of the senior year of high school! To make things more interesting/confusing, there are several types of admission opportunities:

  • Early Action
  • Early Decision
  • Regular Decision
  • Rolling Admission

ACT has created an incredibly helpful infographic to help students understand the pro’s and con’s of each.  Find the infographic here.

As a good rule of thumb, the earlier the better!  Why? Yes, it has to do with the number smaller of applicants, but more importantly?  THE MONEY $$$!!! Financial aid will be a later post but think of institutional gifts (scholarships, grants, etc) like Pooh Bear and his honey pot.  He gobbles his sweet treat until it’s gone. Then he is incredibly sad. Don’t be like Pooh. Support your child to apply early, complete the necessary financial aid applications so that there is the greatest likelihood of obtaining opportunities that will make college more affordable.  

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Don’t forget to hop over to the original A-Z list for more helpful tips!

Click the photo to read the “A-Z List”