Checklist: Applying for College

Your college application checklist includes many steps, like filling out the FAFSA®, narrowing down your list of schools, and working on your application essay. You need to complete your application checklist before January of the year you’ll be starting college, because that’s when most applications are due. Take note of any early deadlines, and start preparing as soon as your senior year in high school begins.

Sign up for Testing

You’ll need SAT and ACT scores for your college applications. In the fall of your senior year, make sure you sign up for SAT and ACT test dates. When you go to take your test, know which schools you’ll be applying to. You can ask that your scores be sent to some of those schools for free, and the rest of them for a fee. Taking AP or IB tests is also a good idea. High scores on AP and IB tests will give you college credit, which can reduce the amount of time it takes you to graduate.

Fill out the FAFSA®

The FAFSA® application opens on October 1. Prepare for filing it before the application is available by gathering up your financial materials. If you’re filing as an independent student, you don’t need financial information from your parents. If your parents claim you as a dependent on their tax returns, then you will need their financial information. You’ll need:

  • Your social security number.
  • Your most recent tax return.
  • Bank statements and investment information.
  • Your electronic FSA ID.

Finalize Your College List

With due dates approaching right after New Year’s, you should be finalizing your college list during the first semester of your senior year.

  • Take campus visits.
  • Look at tuition and attendance costs.
  • Research the cities the schools are in.
  • Check information about financial aid, including scholarships offered.

Work on Your Essay

The essay portion of your college application is very important, so start working on it as soon as you know which schools you want to apply to. Though some schools will have slightly different essays, many of them are some variation on why you want to attend that school. To ensure your essay is top-notch, you need to:

  • Write a rough draft.
  • Proofread that draft.
  • Get feedback from at least two people.
  • Revise the essay based on feedback.
  • Proofread again.

Gather and Submit All Application Components

Your application has more components than just the parts you fill out. Make a list for each application you’re submitting to ensure you get every part of it sent in by the due date. Applications often consist of:

  • Online profiles for each school.
  • Transcripts from your high school.
  • Recommendations from teachers.
  • Test scores (SAT, ACT, IB, and AP.)
  • An interview (if applicable.)
  • Application fee.

The college application process takes time. You can’t rush your checklists in a weekend and hope to submit a quality application. Take months and spread out these tasks so you don’t lose sight of your high school academic work or overwhelm yourself with too much at once.