Applying to College: An Organized Approach

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Some ideas, a list of documents, and useful resources for applying to college in the most organized way possible.

Applying to college can be a complicated process; forms to fill out, documents to fax, and application after application to submit. All of this is complicated by the fact that in order to enter a university the fall following high school graduation Most students will be filling out these applications prior to receipt of their diploma and sometimes prior to turning eighteen which necessitates parental involvement every step of the way; or at least parental signatures.

Awareness of deadlines is a key part of the college application.

Many colleges have application deadlines which are six or more months prior to the start date. There’s also the FAFSA application which needs to be completed and is most easily accomplished if all your information is organized. Much of the stress of applying to one’s chosen college or colleges can be alleviated by proper preparation and an organized approach.

So you’ve picked out the colleges you are interested in....Now what?

A consistent organized application campaign starts at the beginning. It is generally difficult to get one’s self-organized after the fact or partway through a project. So when it comes to something as important as college applications; it is best not to do things haphazardly at first and then get it organized later. Be prepared for mail. Set aside a special place for school correspondence; a file folder, mail sorter, or its own drawer in your file cabinet. Ideally, paperwork should be separated by the school (which should be ordered by the application deadline), and by mail received and, photocopies of mail sent.


Don't throw anything important away.

Yes, if it is possible to keep photocopies of what is submitted to colleges, then by all means, do it. Online submissions should be printed out. For convenience sake keep important and necessary documents (plus extra copies), handy in their own folder as well. It might also be a good idea to have an email account solely dedicated to college correspondence or to create a folder within an existing account, if it is at all possible, and have all college-related mails routed or saved to it. If submissions cannot be completed from home (i.e. they need to be carried somewhere to make fax or to be mailed) be sure to keep a sturdy folder solely dedicated to carrying important documents around.

What documents do I actually need during the application process? THE List

Well..., the answer to that question varies depending on the status of the student; those who are still minors or not yet financially independent may have different requirements from the returning student who has been independent for quite some time. But this is a general list of documents which you might need to keep copies of handy while filling out applications. Mind you may need college essay writing help, but not all of these things are necessary for all applicants.

These documents are necessary for all applicants:

  • Transcripts; high school and any previous colleges, and yes it is possible to get partial and incomplete transcripts from your high school if you haven't yet graduated.
  • Diploma or GED
  • Your most recent tax returns and your parents if you are still living with them or under the age of twenty-five, or the tax returns of anyone who might be able to claim you as a dependant, and your spouse’s returns if you filed separately. This will be used for financial aid purposes.
  • Social security card; or at least your social security number.
  • Immunization and Health Records –Some schools, particularly large schools with a high percentage of international students or are located in an area of high international traffic may require immunization records and proof of having passed a recent TB test.

For Minors: There are a few extra documents which may be needed for students who will still be minors when they start school.

  • Birth certificate – some schools may ask for a copy of this for proof of age.
  • Parents divorce papers - If a minor student’s parents are divorced additional documentation may be requested to verify that the parent signing permission for the minor to attend college actually has the legal authority to do so.
  • Copy of the custody agreement - Sometimes used in conjunction with the Divorce papers to verify that the legal guardian is the one actually signing the papers.
  • Child Support documentation – This may or may not be requested for need based scholarship information. The most necessary information can be obtained from one's FAFSA application.

Study Abroad and Over Seas College Applications may also request copies of these documents:

  • Passport – This is not always necessary for application but some schools may ask for a fax of your passport when applying overseas, in order to get a student visa a passport is necessary and it should be valid for several months past your intended stay.
  • Visa – If you are accepted it will be necessary to obtain a visa to start at your school.
  • Helpful resources for studying abroad can be found in the Study Abroad section of


But there’s so many!

So you couldn’t narrow down your choices, or maybe you are just desperately applying to every school you can with the hope of getting accepted anywhere. Time consuming and much more stress than one would have if you had narrowed it down to a few. Not to worry. Many schools have online applications; which, as long as your internet connection isn’t slow really do not take all that long to fill out.

Online application services can save lots of time.

There are also incredibly awesome services like Essay Help Online and Embark which are college application databases where a student fills out one application and if a school is registered with that particular service all you have to do is submit every time you find a school you like. In some cases it is even possible to submit entrance essays through online forums like these.

Stay organized.

In the end the key is to keep a cool head and organize, organize, organize. Request, fill out, and send out applications in order of soonest deadline first. Just remember to keep up with the results of everything that has been submitted. Keep a log of what you've done, what needs to be done, and reminders to check back with the schools if you aren't getting timely responses. A printed list of department and contact numbers for a particular college or university should be included in its file so that it doesn't need to be looked up every time it's needed.

An early organized start can minimize complications down the line.

Start early enough that you won't run out of time so as not to stress unnecessarily. It is okay to apply to an institution a full year or more prior to your anticipated start date, and if you keep organized it won’t be a big deal if a portion of your application gets lost because it can just be resubmitted with plenty of time to spare. But you never want to be too late.

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