College Prep

College Application Checklist for Success

High School student using checklist for college prep

If your head is spinning with questions about the things you’ll need to do for college preparation, now is a good time to acquaint yourself with the latest questions you’ll need to consider. We’ve called on our Prelum subject matter experts to provide the answers.

First, let’s look at six of the biggest updates that are impacting college admissions. Knowledge of these transitions will help you plot your course of action as you prepare to apply to the colleges of your choice.

6 updates to college admissions process

  1. Although scores and grades are still important, college admissions has shifted from quantitative (grades and test scores) to qualitative, which puts a greater focus on your character, and how well you express your engagement and dreams.
  2. Test sores are back, with roughly 2 out of 3 schools requiring them. And with good reason: a study by Dartmouth researchers found that test scores are a better indicator of college performance than grades, essays, or teacher’s recommendations. Tests like the ACT and the SAT also help admission officers better pick high-achieving, less-advantaged applicants. 
  3. There are far more qualified applicants than places available. This has always been true, but because the U.S. admits so many foreign students, the competition for admittance to the school of your choice has risen dramatically.
  4. The importance of extracurricular activities has grown from athletics and debate to the business engines young people are creating with help from the internet. This includes published research or writing, apps, blogs, startups, and not-for-profit ventures.
  5. The commitment to diversity. It’s more than race; colleges are looking for students who bring diverse perspectives, identities, geographies, or lived experiences. This is one of the main reasons we are seeing legacy admissions on the decline.
  6. Data is being used to identify a student’s fit within a university. It reviews cultural, social, and academic accomplishments to help the admissions process identify students who will best excel at their school. 

With all this in mind, how can you make the application process easier for yourself?

How to make the process of applying to colleges easier

Here are four tips to simplify the college application process:

  • Determine your list of potential schools early: Breaking down your school search it three categories is an important first step in the process — match, safety, and reach:

- Match school (also referred to as “target” or “50/50”), is a school where you feel reasonably certain you’ll be admitted because your GPA and test scores are similar to the average admitted student.

- Safety school is one where you're confident you will gain admission based on your academic profile, and your GPA and test scores are notably higher than the average admitted student.

- Reach school (or dream school), is one where your academic profile puts you at the lower end of the admitted spectrum making it less likely that you'll be admitted. However, a reach school should still be considered within the realm of possibility.

  • Lean on mentors: Identify people in your life that can help you better understand the process of applying to colleges and universities. This could be parents, older siblings, cousins, other family members, school counselors, or other community members. Ask their advice on what went well for them, and what they wish they would have done differently.
  • Research: Do you know what applying to college entails for each of your chosen schools? Do you perhaps need a glossary of terms to better understand what superscoring or test optional means? Also, what do you know about the schools you wish to apply to? Are they big, small, private, public? All these things will shape whether the school is a good fit for you, and help you stay on track in the process. 
  • Be organized: There are a lot of moving pieces to consider when applying for college. Our downloadable spreadsheet can help you enter all the pertinent information you may need for each school’s application process. You might also set alerts and deadlines via your mobile or desktop calendar not only to ensure nothing gets missed, but that you also give yourself adequate time to accomplish each task.
Downloadable College Application Checklist For High Schoolers
Downloadable College Application Tracker For High Schoolers

Applying to college: Here is your checklist for success

Here’s your simplified, downloadable college application checklist that begins before your junior year of high school:

Summer before your junior year:

  • Ensure you have a professional email address.
  • Make a list of your dream colleges and rank them according to match, safety, and reach.
  • Start planning physical or virtual college tours (where applicable).
  • Review each intended college’s application web page.
  • Use our downloadable spreadsheet to pinpoint early acceptance and regular application deadlines, test optional universities, standardized test requirements, etc.

Junior year: take admission tests and standardized tests (ACT / SAT):

  • Meet with your school counselor to establish the foundation for your search.
  • Take the first standardized test, if required.
  • Take an admission test, if required.
  • Take other required or recommended tests (AP exams or IB exams, for instance).
  • Retest by summer of junior year of fall of senior year.
  • Determine whether there are any schools that you would like to try for early action or early acceptance.
  • Add the early action/early acceptance deadlines to your downloadable spreadsheet and calendar.

Early senior year: letters and essays:

  • Draft your essay: give yourself 2 months for revisions before the application deadline.
  • Request recommendation letters from teachers, counselors, and relevant mentors/ bosses — provide a resume for reference.
  • Send thank you notes.
  • Proofread your essay, with help from others (have parents and trusted teachers serve as editors).
  • Make revisions and proof again.
  • Send all relevant materials — test scores with your application, letters of recommendation, transcripts, as required.
  • Save copies of application materials.

Early to mid senior year: submit your applications and pay fees by deadlines:

  • Ensure completion of the applications to your colleges of choice.
  • Pay fees or submit a fee waiver, if eligible.
  • Request high school transcript distribution.
  • Request midyear grades report distribution.
  • Check your application status online.
  • Send additional materials, if required.
  • Inform your school counselor of the schools to which you applied.
  • Receive letters from admissions offices.

Senior year: Make your selection:

  • Choose your school. 
  • Apply for housing and meal plans, if applicable.
  • Apply for financial aid and/or scholarships.
  • Receive financial aid/scholarship award letters.
  • Accept financial aid/scholarship offers.
  • Let other colleges know your final decision.

We agree: this is a lot to determine. But preparing early is vital. That’s why embracing pre-college online courses will help improve your chances at getting into a school of your dreams. 

Want to improve your chances? Start preparing early with pre-college online courses.

Did you know that there are a host of summer enrichment camps that you can participate in as early as aged 13? These experiences not only allow you to test out a subject you may be thinking about for a future college major, but offer the chance to live on campus — a huge plus when it comes to deciding where you see yourself one day.

In addition to summer camps, our Prelum partners’ pre-college enrichment programs are a wonderful opportunity to test out a subject without even stepping into a college classroom. Each course or program is taught through compelling, tech-forward videos that feature renowned professors and experts in the field. Whether it’s STEM, cybersecurity, finance or business, motivated students like you can test out any number of subjects while still in high school from schools like Georgetown University, Rice University, Columbia Business School, University of Rochester, Parsons Paris, and Notre Dame to name a few.

These programs are an excellent addition to your skillset, plus you’ll receive a Certificate of Completion that also looks great on college applications and resumes. 

Discover all the college preparatory programs available through Prelum, and start your journey to college now.

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*Kaplan may receive compensation upon student enrollment in one of our partner programs.*