How To Apply For College – Forbes Advisor

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College Application Checklist

Applying to college can be a long, stressful, and complicated process with many moving parts and deadlines. Completing an undergraduate application typically involves collecting paperwork, taking (and often repeating) standardized tests, writing essays, and requesting letters of recommendation, among other steps. It’s easy to get overwhelmed.

To help you stay organized, we’ve put together this college application checklist. Here we summarize all the materials you will need and the dates by which you need them. We even provide a printable version of this checklist to guide you through the process.

before you start

You cannot begin the application process until you have a plan in place. First things first: narrow down your potential schools. Find out where you are applying, what each application entails and what deadlines you have to meet.

Make up your mind to make an early decision

It is important to determine if you plan to apply to an early decision or early action school. As the name suggests, an early decision often means an earlier submission date for your application.

There are benefits to making an early decision – for example, early decision applicants tend to have higher admission rates, and you will be notified of your admissions decision sooner – but there are also conditions attached to this method. For example, if you are admitted as a result of a premature decision, you may have to give your answer before knowing if other colleges have also accepted your applications, and you may have to withdraw your applications from other schools.

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Get a jump start on standardized testing

You should prepare for the SAT early and complete it, as many students complete the SAT more than once. If you plan to take the ACT more than once, consider taking the ACT early as well. And make sure to sign up for the Common App, which allows you to apply to multiple colleges with a single form.

your checklist

  • Find out which schools interest you
  • Take the SAT
  • Find out if you want to request an early decision
  • Write down all due dates for college applications
  • Sign up for the shared app

Two months before college applications are due

A few months before your deadline, things really get going. If you’re submitting standardized test results, it’s time to make sure your results are up to date. If you are planning to do the ACT, now is the time to do it. And if you weren’t happy with your previous SAT scores, it’s time to take that test again.

your checklist

  • take the ACT
  • Repeat the SAT (if applicable)

Four weeks before college applications are due

Most undergraduate applications require letters of recommendation, at least one of which must be from an academic source. You can ask a teacher, school counselor, or other faculty member to write your letter of recommendation.

Keep in mind that these people are busy professionals who may write multiple letters of recommendation for other students, so it’s important to give them at least a few weeks to complete this task.

your checklist

  • Ask for letters of recommendation
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Several weeks before applications are due

Not all universities require applicants to submit essays, but this is a common requirement for many. If you’re applying to schools that require application essays, chances are you’ve been working on yours for a while—possibly even as assignments in your English classes.

In the weeks leading up to your application deadlines, it’s time to brush up on those essays and prepare them for submission. Gather feedback from trusted peers, teachers, and mentors, and make changes as needed. Make sure your essays answer the prompts, meet word count requirements, and are free of grammatical errors.

your checklist

The week before the applications are due

At this point in the application process, it’s time to screw up. Gather all materials required for your college application. This may include the application forms themselves, preliminary certificates, test results and essays. Make sure your letter writers have completed your letters of recommendation as well.

Once all your documents are in order, there is no more waiting – submit these applications.

your checklist

  • Gather letters of recommendation and required materials
  • Submit all applications

Before, during and after applying to college

Applying for college and applying for financial aid are separate processes. Before, during, and after your college application process, you should look for scholarships and grants to help pay for your education.

Unlike student loans, scholarships and grants do not have to be repaid. These forms of assistance may be need-based, merit-based, or based on other identifying characteristics such as ethnicity or religion. If you qualify for a scholarship or grant, make sure you apply – these awards can make a world of difference.

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your checklist

  • Apply for scholarships and grants

In October

We recommend submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) regardless of whether you feel you are eligible for financial aid. The factors that determine eligibility are complex, so you may qualify for a government student loan, even if it seems unlikely. Many states also use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for government student aid. Some aid is distributed on a first come, first served basis, so it is advisable to apply in good time.

Also by October, you should know if you will be registering for AP exams. The college board typically requires all AP test takers to register for their exams by November 15, but your high school may set an earlier registration deadline. Make sure you are aware of these deadlines and are on track to meet them.

your checklist

  • Gather materials and file the FAFSA
  • Know when to register for AP exams

Until May 1st

By May, you should have received responses to all of your college applications. From the schools that have granted you admission, you should have narrowed down your options and decided where to study. Now it’s time to make it official.

Note that if you were admitted to a school as a result of an early decision, you will need to complete this step of the process much earlier in the year – usually by February.

your checklist

  • Accept an admission offer
  • Reject admission offers from schools you will not attend

In June and July

At this point, you’ve accepted college admission and graduated from high school—but we’re still going. Now that you’ve officially completed your high school career, it’s time to tackle those last remaining tasks: filing AP scores and official transcripts.

If possible, send these materials in June and check with your prospective college for the exact deadlines – they are usually early or mid-July.

your checklist

  • Submit AP results (if applicable)
  • Submit final reports

Save this checklist

Keep track of your most important application tasks and deadlines with the simplified PDF version of this checklist. Save it to your phone or print it out for easy reference. (If you print it out, make sure you choose the “fit to paper” scaling option!)

College Application Checklist from Forbes Advisor

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