Staring your first college application is very exciting but potentially stressful and even intimidating. Break the steps of the application down into manageable tasks on a checklist. You can relax knowing that you are doing everything right when applying to your dream schools.

Tip

A college application checklist is a simple but effective "To Do" list with required tasks and due dates of materials needed to supplement your college application form.

Create a College Application Checklist

Your college checklist should start with a list of schools you want to research further. Include dates of any upcoming open houses. Sign up for a campus tour through the admissions office to get a feel for how you fit in at each school.

Learn About Admissions Deadlines

Most schools have strict college application deadlines. Talk to your guidance counselor about the pros and cons of submitting an Early Decision or Early Action application instead of waiting until the deadline for regular admission. You may want to consider applying early if you are sure of your top school, and financial aid is not a deciding factor in whether you accept their offer of admission.

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Study Admission Office Websites

Use information on the school’s admissions office website to add to your list of tasks that must be done before the school will consider your application complete. Noting these tasks on your checklist and in a planner or calendar will help you stay on track. Failing to get everything in on time may knock you out of the running.

Read Application Instructions

College admissions committees take their job very seriously and carefully review applications. Closely read each question to make sure you provide the right information. Conscientious students who follow directions have a leg up on the competition.

Choose an Application Platform

Go to the admissions website of the college to find out which admissions application platform is preferred. Many schools use what’s called the Common or Coalition Application, which is an online form that lets you apply to more than one school at the same time. Some schools have their own application forms for applying to that school and others like it in the state public school system.

Start Your College Application

A college application asks lots of questions about you and your academic interests, extracurricular involvements, awards, honors, work experience, volunteer contributions and career plans. Take your time and be sure whatever information you include is honest and accurate. Proofread and fix typos before final submission.

Tackle Essay Questions

Schools generally include supplemental essay questions on the application because they want to get to know you as a person. Genuine, self-reflective answers that reflect your personality are better than a rehash of awards and honors previously mentioned. Cross off essay questions on your college checklist after all are written.

Submit recommendation letters

Selective schools require two to three recommendation letters from teachers who can speak to your academic ability and high school counselors attesting to good character. Ask well in advance of the application deadline. Give your teachers and guidance counselor several weeks to work on a quality letter. Gently remind them of the deadline.

Take College Admission Tests

Most schools require SAT or ACT scores. Your college application checklist should include the date of your exam and prep classes you may arrange. Your scores will be sent to the schools you indicated on your test forms. You may also be asked to self-report your scores on your college application.

Send High School Transcripts

Colleges require official midyear reports at the time of application. High school staff routinely transmit academic transcripts requested by students. Also ask your school to submit a final transcript after you graduate.

Pay College Application Fee

Most schools charge a nonrefundable application fee to process your application. The fee varies from school to school. Some schools offer free college applications to students from low-income families. Application fees may also be waived for students regardless of income if they attend a special admissions recruitment event.

About the Author

Dr. Mary Dowd is a dean of students whose job includes student conduct, leading the behavioral consultation team, crisis response, retention and the working with the veterans resource center. She enjoys helping parents and students solve problems through advising, teaching and writing online articles that appear on many sites. Dr. Dowd also contributes to scholarly books and journal articles.