Applying to college: 10 simple steps

If you haven’t already, read Some suggestions for high school college applicants. Lately, a handful of type-A underclassmen peers have asked me how I went about applying for college. So here’s a concise but comprehensive outline.


1. Make a spreadsheet

  • List schools you’re applying to
  • Organize by priority
  • List what they need: scores, transcripts, letters, financial aid forms, etc.
  • Color code, use markings to track progress
  • Use supplemental notes and tools for small-scale reminders
Suggested time allocation: 1-2 days

 2. List essay prompts

  • Make a list of all the prompts you plan to write on, get familiar
  • Organize by school
  • Jot ideas you want to convey
  • Outline one at a time; ideas are likely to overlap
  • Seriously, outline
Suggested time allocation: 1-2 days

3. Make a resume

  • Be organized and aesthetic
  • Be thorough
  • Include the following:
    • Awards
    • Leadership
    • Academics
    • Tests
    • Extracurricular activities
    • Volunteerism
    • Work experience
    • Interests and hobbies
Suggested time allocation: 1-2 days

4. Make a timeline

  • Distinguish early application deadlines
  • Pace yourself
  • Do as much as you can before senior year starts
Suggested time allocation: 1-2 days


5. Fill out the Common Application

  • Be thorough
  • Be accurate
  • Note: some schools use their own application
Suggested time allocation: 1-2 days

6. Write essays and fill out supplements

  • Before writing, outline
  • Revisit and revise continuously
  • Seek counsel from teachers and mentors
  • Assemble other supplemental materials like music and art
Suggested time allocation: 3-4 weeks

7. Perfect (the verb)

  • Revise, revise, revise
  • Establish a common thread, idea, or sentiment throughout your entire application
  • Making something pretty can make a difference, but not all the difference
  • Go above and beyond within the application itself
Suggested time allocation: 1-2 weeks

8. Collect and send

  • Transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Score reports
  • Financial aid forms
Suggested time allocation: 2-4 weeks

9. Interviews

  • Be sincere
  • Bring energy
  • Dress well
  • Build on your application

10. Wait for your decision

Probably the hardest part!

Best of luck.

2 thoughts on “Applying to college: 10 simple steps

  1. I suggest adding this to the spreadsheet section something along the lines of color coding/otherwise indicating what has been finished, what is in process, and what still needs to be done, so you can see your progress at a glance. But great job 🙂


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