8 Top Tips to Stay Organized During College Application Season
Want personalized (and free) advice while applying to college?
We’re building a free college guidance platform for high school students like you! This means we’ll let you know exactly what and when you should be focusing on things like extracurriculars, college essays, standardized tests, and more. Sign up now to get early access to our platform and get guidance applying to college!
As you prepare to apply to colleges, you might feel a bit like a circus clown trying to juggle a dozen bowling pins while also taking AP calculus. Or maybe not, but either way, there is a lot to manage and it doesn’t always come easily, even to students who have generally been very organized and responsible about keeping up with all their commitments in the past.
Applying to college is a little different from most responsibilities you’ve probably had before. For one thing, the stakes are certainly high. If you’re successful, you will feel as though the road to your future is paved in gold, but if you’re not, you may feel you’re left to blaze your own trail.
Beyond that, applying to college is generally something you have to do without a ton of oversight or guidance. Sure, you can meet with your guidance counselor and discuss choices with your parents, but ultimately it is you who is making big decisions about the future and you who is responsible for making those decisions possible.
Finally, you have to do all this while also continuing to succeed in school and extracurriculars. You probably don’t have a ton of extra time, yet here you are, juggling this very important process that could determine your future.
This is where CollegeVine comes in. We’re not just used to this frenzy; we actually thrive in it. Here, we unveil some of our top tips for keeping organized during the chaos of college applications. To learn about our top eight organizational tips for applying to college, keep reading.
1. Start a File System
You are about to have a lot of paper to keep track of, and it’s best to have a system in place before it starts to pile up. If you don’t have access to some space in a filing cabinet at home, you can purchase a travel hanging file box or an accordion folder to get started.
Start a file for every school on your college list and include in it everything you’ve received from those schools. Also add contact information for anyone you’ve spoken with there. Include notes about visits, pros and cons, and any other important information you’d like to be able to review easily.
Also keep files for finances. There should be one file for financial aid paperwork and another for each scholarship you’re interested in applying for. These folders should contain copies of any important documents or applications, along with records of the dates you submit your paperwork.
Finally, keep a folder for standardized tests. Include copies of your score reports so that you will be able to access them without needing to go online every time. Also include a calendar of test dates and registration deadlines.
2. Get a Head Start
Procrastination is your worst enemy during college applications season. If you put off one task, it will only snowball towards the deadlines for other important tasks. There are many small ways to stay a step ahead, and if you are consistent with them you won’t feel as hurried when the time comes to complete them.
Begin by staying on top of your college list as your interests grow and adapt throughout high school. Ideally, you aren’t sitting down to a blank slate your senior year and already have some kind of list in progress, even if only in your head.
Also get ahead of standardized tests. Plan to take them initially as a junior and allow plenty of time for studying and retakes so that you won’t be stressed later on.
Finally, you can get a head start on your personal statement by brainstorming about possible essay topics during your junior year, even before essay prompts have been released. Although you might not know the exact spin you’ll need to put on it, most essay choices are broad enough that if there’s something you’re really inclined to write about, you’ll find a way to make it work. Then, keep an eye out in August for the release of most essay prompts so that you can get to work on tailoring your ideas to them as early as possible.
3. Use a Synced Calendar Program
These days, with so much of our lives are governed by technology; this tip almost goes without saying. While you probably already know to put all important dates, deadlines, and other commitments into an online calendar, you need to go one step further and ensure that this calendar syncs across all your devices.
Also be sure to set notifications to alert you to important deadlines and commitments with enough lead time to prepare. For example, if you have an SAT registration deadline coming up, it would be wise to set a notification for both the day before and then again for an hour before, just to be certain that you get it done. Synced calendars ensure that you’ll get these notifications across your devices and are bound to notice at least one before time expires.
4. Take Advantage of Your School’s Resources
Your school’s guidance counselor may have valuable connections or insights into the schools you’re applying to. Make an appointment to meet with this person early in the year, before the mad rush begins. This also allows you time to seek input from other sources afterwards as needed.
If your guidance counselor doesn’t turn out to be especially helpful in the process, seek out other trusted adults like teaches, coaches, or mentors. It’s important to have a large support network as you undertake college applications, and you never know when one of these people might be able to help you with important tasks or networking.
5. Use an Essay Editing Service
You have a lot to stay on top of, and editing your college essay can become a brain-numbing task. Of course you may easily catch large typos, but sometimes after reading and rereading the same piece of writing again and again, it all begins to blend together a little, and you’re bound to miss some little (or even big) mistakes.
Avoid this by using an essay editing service. Having a professional read through your essay ensures that it’s grammatically and structurally sound, and the services generally start at fairly affordable prices.
Check out CollegeVine’s Essay Editing service to learn more.
6. Get a Partner
Everything is easier with a friend. Find a friend who is applying on a similar timeline as you and help to hold one another accountable for deadlines and other steps in the application process. Setting a notification on your phone might be a good way to remind yourself that the first draft of your personal statement should be done, but it certainly won’t invite you to a study date at the library to work on it side by side.
7. Create a Spreadsheet for Your College List
Having a visual for what needs to be completed can be particularly helpful for certain kinds of learners. Put all colleges on your list into a spreadsheet that includes each of the various tasks and stages involved in the college application process, then check off the various fields as you complete them.
These might include things like:
- Request standardized test score reports
- Request teacher recommendations
- Submit art supplement
- Schedule interview or alumni interview
- Edit personal statement
- Complete supplemental essays
- Submit application
For some students, it’s especially helpful to print this spreadsheet or create it on a large poster board so that it can be displayed prominently someplace that they will see it every day.
8. Bring in the Pros
Even for the most organized of high school students, college applications can be a particularly challenging time. The stakes are high, emotions have a tendency to run hot, and the process is almost certainly new to you. There’s no shame in asking for help, and hiring a professional to help you keep track of everything can be a smart investment.
At CollegeVine, we offer a personally tailored College Application Guidance Program that pairs you with a personal admissions specialist who walks you through the process step by step. Our tech platform allows you to easily track deadlines, so that you’re certain you won’t miss a thing. We also offer the CollegeVine Pro Bono program to qualified students.
Don’t let the college application process overwhelm you. If you take things one step at a time and up your organization game to ensure that there’s no last-minute frenzy, you will be able to tackle each step as the calm, cool, and collected applicant you are.
To learn more about getting organized for college applications, check out these posts:
Want more college admissions tips?
We'll send you information to help you throughout the college admissions process.