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The Six-Point College Application Checklist

With the exception of a small number of universities, most Regular Decision deadlines fall between December 15th and February 1st of the academic year. Many high school seniors are already hard at work preparing their application materials while managing the responsibilities accompanying a full-time student. Yet with numerous projects to complete before finally clicking “SUBMIT," it can be easy to overlook important creative and clerical application tasks until its too late, resulting in uninspired essays or, even worse, missed deadlines.

To help students effectively manage their college application workload, I created the following Six-Point College Application Checklist:

1) Create College List

Most guidance departments require students to notify them of all colleges they intend to apply to well in advance of Regular Decision deadlines. Because of this accelerated timeline, I recommend students research all schools of interest, including scheduling campus tours, by the end of Fall. Remember that a balanced college list will include a prudent number of safeties to join targeted match and reach schools.

2) Coordinate with Guidance Department

It is the responsibility of high school guidance departments to send all relevant high school records — including transcripts, school reports and recommendation letters — to students’ colleges of interest. Therefore, it is important to coordinate with guidance departments to ensure all pertinent documents are sent to colleges by the appropriate dates. I recommend seniors communicate with guidance counselors shortly after returning to school to coordinate logistics.

3) Compose Personal Statement Essay

A hallmark of the Common Application for years, this 650-word essay represents one of the best opportunities students have to distinguish themselves from their fellow applicants. Due to the outsize significance of this essay in the eyes of Admissions Officers, I often encourage students to compose several drafts of this essay over a series of weeks, if not months. Read my article to learn more about how to approach this important essay.

4) Complete Activities List

The Common Application’s Activities List invites students to describe as many as ten extracurricular activities they participated in throughout high school. Similar to the Personal Statement essay, the Activities List has taken on increased importance in recent years as universities have transitioned to test-optional admissions policies. I've also written a helpful article that helps explain how to make the most of this section.

5) Finish Supplemental Essays

A growing number of colleges now require students to complete supplemental essays in addition to the Personal Statement. Because the number of school-specific supplements can vary considerably by school, it is important students consult the additional requirements for schools on their list as early in the process as possible. As with the Common Application's Personal Statement, the more drafts a student can compose of their supplements, the better.

6) Provide Additional Information

This year the Common Application has introduced a 250-word “Community Disruptions” essay to its Additional Information section, providing students a second opportunity to elaborate on experiences of personal import during one of the most challenging years on record. Though both Additional Information essay prompts are optional to answer, students should think long and heard about ways in which they can make the most of these essay opportunities.

I encourage students to monitor their college application progress by following my Six-Point College Application Checklist. While some projects on this list may require more work than others, creating project deadlines for each task and planning accordingly will help students alleviate stress and produce better application materials!


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