The Big Deadlines: Applying to College

Julia Wezio / Colleges of Distinction »

This post is part of a series. We recommend that you first check out How I Made My College Mega-List (Part 2)!

Now that I had a list of colleges I wanted to apply to in my hand, I knew that it would be time to really plan out everything. Yes, everything. 

Once upon a time, applying to college would involve an essay, your transcript, and perhaps an interview. Today, however, most applications require far more steps. A college application will usually start on the college’s website or an application site—such as Common App—where you will fill out personal information and write a little bit about the classes you took, the clubs you were involved in, and the sports you played. A tool that I loved to use to keep me on top of my college application process was none other than Google Calendar. With this, I was able to share my calendar with my guidance counselor, who would work with me to make sure I was staying on track. A majority of my college applications had two deadline options: a “priority” deadline on November 1st and a “regular” one sometime between January and March. This varies across schools, so make sure to do adequate research on your own deadlines!

In addition to the application deadlines, I filled my calendar with other important dates. Any of the SAT and ACT exam times, for example, were crucially important to note. Some high schools also offer practice exams, so while mine did not, I was able to drive to a nearby school to take one after school a couple of times to get the full experience in practice. Keep track of both official and practice exam dates so that you can organize how you spend your time studying. There are lots of times to take the SAT or the ACT, but they happen on average once a month during the school year. To ensure my success and give myself multiple opportunities, I signed up for the earliest one that I could as well as many follow-up exams to give me the chance to improve with each test. Proctored exams can be expensive to take, so check with the counseling office at your high school to learn about fee waivers or other financial assistance.

I also made sure to start looking for some scholarships. For me, I found it very helpful to create a simple Google Sheets document like the one shown below. Not only did it help organize such an immense amount of information, but it also made me feel super accomplished with each one I got done!

Perhaps the biggest part of any good college application, regardless of the schools you apply to, is your résumé. A résumé might seem scary, especially if you have never worked a part-time job in high school or weren’t very involved otherwise. But the good news is that there are still tons of things to mention! Practically everything you have done outside of academics has played a part in who you are today, so think back to some highlights that helped you learn new skills. If you volunteered at a local hospital, or even if you spent your riding dirt bikes, you can draw from your experiences to talk about how you learned how to work with others, persevere through challenges, and anything else to show that you are a worthwhile candidate. 

It’s always helpful to ask your teachers and parents to review your résumé, and don’t be shy about asking them for letters of recommendation as well! Lots of colleges require them, so even if any of yours don’t, it’s always good to have them on hand. I am currently a college student, and I still have strong letters of recommendation that I send out from previous employers! I started asking for my first recommendation letters right at the start of the school year (early September) to give people as much time as possible to write and send them.

There are lots of moving parts in a college application, but an organized plan can keep you on track to pour your heart and soul into your applications. All you have to do is plan wisely and work up the confidence to hit that “Send” button. 

Now that you’re in the application pool, let’s talk about how to pay for the next amazing, 4+ years ahead of you!