13 College Application Goals for This Fall
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As this school year winds down, it’s time to start thinking about your college applications. Current juniors will need to start planning and working on college apps. It is imperative to set goals now; that way, you’ll be well prepared for your busiest high school year yet. Read on for our suggestions for what to add to your to-do list now to reach your college application goals in Fall.
Goal #1: Make a Timeline to Stay Organized
As this year comes to a close, make a timeline for next school year. You’ll need to stay on top of your other commitments in addition to your applications. Create a system, such as an online calendar, to stay organized for the Fall. You’ll want to include the key deadlines we’ve outlined below, along with personal commitments or other academic work and deadlines—such as tryouts for your sports team, awards ceremonies, volunteer work, and so on.
Other options for creating a timeline include working on a spreadsheet, making a physical calendar, or setting up alerts on your phone to remind you when deadlines or coming up and materials are due. Here are some more tips for how to stay organized.
Goal #2: Get Familiar With College Applications
By now, the Common App and Coalition Application will be available for the new application cycle. You might not be ready to fill out your information, but you should still take a look at the questions and essay prompts to familiarize yourself and prepare for completing them. Look through each section to make sure you understand the requirements. For instance, you’ll need to list your activities along with brief descriptions, so make sure you understand the requirements and word counts to get an idea of what you’ll say.
You can even get a head start on perusing the applications, since they tend to follow similar formats from year to year. Check out our guides for completing individual sections of the Common App for advice.
Goal #3: Decide Which Application to Use
You should also decide on which application to use. There are pros and cons to using each application. For instance, the Coalition Application offers the unique Locker Tool for ease in storing documents and materials during high school, while the Common App streamlines the process of recording your grades and coursework. If you’re having trouble deciding, and the colleges on your list accept both, check out Common App vs. Coalition Application: Which to Use.
Some schools may require unique applications. For example, Georgetown requires its own application. Identify which schools on your list don’t accept the Common or Coalition applications, so you’ll know to plan for the extra work.
Goal #4: Write Down or Record Your Summer Experiences
Chances are, you’ve done something worth mentioning to colleges over the summer. Whether you took college classes, volunteered at a camp, or held a summer job, these are all experiences that help you grow and demonstrate that you’re serious about your future.
Take a moment to write down your summer experiences to get ideas flowing for your essays. Alternatively, you could use your phone to record yourself describing your experiences. You may not end up using these thoughts, but brainstorming can help you hone your eventual topic. Check out Where to Begin? 3 Personal Essay Brainstorming Exercises for more ideas on how to generate essay topics.
Goal #5: Finalize Your College List
By the start of the school year, you should finalize your college list. Make sure you’ve finished up any last-minute college tours and taken the time to reflect on each visit, so you know whether or not the school is a fit.
Now it’s time to draft your final college list. We recommend including 7-10 schools with equal parts middle, reach, and safety schools. Unless you apply somewhere early decision or early action, you should try to stick to this list.
Goal #6: Decide if You Are Going to Apply Early Decision or Early Action
You’ll also need to come to closure on whether you’ll apply to somewhere early decision or early action. If you are, you need to accelerate your timeline, because you’ll be applying in November. For example, you should start filling out your application in August when it comes out rather than in September.
Goal #7: Gather and Organize Your College Application Materials
Gather together your application materials. Ask your teachers for recommendations now—there are probably other seniors asking them, too, and you want to make sure they’re on board and have time. Make sure you spend some time thinking about whom you’ll ask. It might not be the teacher who gave you an A, but someone who knows you well and has insight into your ambitions and character.
You’ll also need to discuss your transcript with your guidance counselor. She’ll probably be the one to send it, but make sure she’s aware of your deadlines, and be sure to look it over before she does to catch any errors. Make sure you gather any other documents, such as your portfolio if you’re sending one, so you have everything ready and appended to your application when the time comes to hit send. Read Breaking Down the Admissions Process: Your 5-Part Guide for more advice.
Goal #8: Take Standardized Tests
If you need to take any standardized tests one more time, do it now. You should really aim to take your last iteration before now, so you’ll have a chance to see your scores before they go to colleges, but if you want to see if you can inch up your score one last time, do it now. Check out When Is The Best Time To Take The SAT? for advice on planning your test taking.
Goal #9: Finish Up Any ED or EA Applications
If you’re applying early ED or, your deadlines are probably in early November. Finish up your application now, so you have time to look it over one last time—several times, actually—and ask a parent, friend, or teacher to read it over as well.
You should also finish up your essay, or at least write the final draft. Have a few people read it over to catch any errors. Try to fix any big-picture issues—such as the structure—early in the month, so when you’re nearing the deadline, you’re just down to copy-editing details.
Goal #10: Tie Up Loose Ends and Meet with Your Guidance Counselor
You should also sit down with your guidance counselor one more time to make sure your transcript and other paperwork is in order. Now is a good time to tie up any loose ends, especially if you’re applying somewhere early. Remind her of deadlines (without being annoying). Check in with your teacher recommenders as well (again, without being annoying) to make sure they’re on track to submit your letters.
Goal #11: Submit Your ED or EA Applications
Submit your ED and EA applications. Then, try to relax—while you work on regular decision applications. Even if you applied ED, you don’t want to have to rush everything at the last minute if it’s not good news. Plus, you’ll be in less of the mood to work on apps later if you’re disappointed.
Goal #12: Regular Decision – Work on Essays and Filling Out Applications
Whether or not you apply anywhere early, you should be making major headway on your regular decision applications. By now, you should have finalized an essay idea and started writing. It’s a good idea to have at least your first draft done early in the month, so you can work out any major issues. Have other people, such as teachers, your guidance counselor, parents, or peers, read it over to get feedback. Just remember that they’re probably not experts on the admissions process, so you don’t necessarily need to enact all their suggestions. For advice on writing a great essay, check out How to Write a Personal Statement That Wows Colleges.
You should also work on other aspects of your application. Some sections, such as activities, require attention and time, so start working on them earlier rather than later. Pay attention to the supplements for colleges on your list, too. Most colleges require essays in additional to the main essay (such as the “Why Us?” essay), and you want to take as much care with these as you do with your main essay.
Goal #13: Finish Up Regular Applications
In December, you’ll hear from any schools to which you applied early. If you’re in, congratulations! Your work is done. But if not—or if you got in somewhere under an EA plan and still want to apply to some other schools—don’t stress.
Finish up all your regular applications and submit them—after reading everything over several times and getting a fresh set of eyes on them.
Mapping out your timeline now will help you make sure everything runs smoothly in the Fall. Remember: Preparation is key to a successful application season!
For more tips on preparing for admissions season, check out these guides:
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