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How to Stay Organized During the College Application Process

Thursday | February 15, 2018 | by Imelda Bangun

college application process

The process of applying to college can be overwhelming, especially when applying to more than one university. As one anonymous author noted, “The best way to get something done is to begin,” but oftentimes different programs have different application forms, different requirements, and different deadlines. If applying to one university can feel overwhelming, then the difficulties in attempting to apply to multiple universities can be paralyzing. So, how do you overcome the feelings of paralysis? The answer is to begin, but to begin by getting organized.

Here are some steps for applicants to follow during the college admission process and tips to stay organized. Keep in mind that everybody organizes differently, so feel free to take some of the steps and tips here and add them to your own ideas. Devise a plan that works for you, work the plan, and stay organized!

Systems of Organization

The uncertainty of not knowing where to start with the college application process can cause both prospective undergraduate and graduate students to postpone or completely avoid the process of applying to college. Creating a system of organization is a good starting point. One of the best organizational systems is a spreadsheet. It can be used to keep track of the various requirements for each college’s application, such as:

  • Required standardized tests, including the GRE, GMAT, IELTS, or TOEFL
  • Application deadline
  • Number of letters of recommendation required
  • Statements of purpose
  • Entrance essay requirements
  • Curriculum vitae (CV) or résumé submission requirements

You may also want to include the following additional information in the spreadsheet:

  • Name of the university
  • URLs of the universities’ websites
  • Name of the program
  • Application fee
  • Writing samples (if applicable)
  • Important information about the program
  • Admission contact information
  • Location of the university
  • Ranking of the university
  • Login information and password for the online application

Many universities have unique requirements. These specific requirements should be recorded in the spreadsheet for the respective universities. An example of a unique requirement is a university that does not accept TOEFL scores, but instead requires prospective students to submit an IELTS score. Some universities may ask for a CV and not a résumé, or they may state that letters of recommendation will be accepted only from university faculty members. A spreadsheet can help applicants avoid overlooking one university’s requirement that differs from most of the other universities’ requirements.

Aside from the college application requirements, knowing the vision and mission of the program, the faculty members, and their research interests, and the courses offered can help you decide which universities are your top choices. Save any new information about each prospective university in the spreadsheet.

A spreadsheet is an organized way to begin the college application process. It will serve as a reference that will prove useful in deciding which universities to apply to and determining which university to attend if you are accepted to more than one.

If you do not know already how to create a spreadsheet, the start of the college application process is the best time to learn. Knowing how to create and manipulate a spreadsheet will be a useful tool in many university-level classes, as well as a skill that can help with many tasks throughout life.

Get a Head Start

It is imperative to apply to universities ahead of time. Each university will have a deadline for completing applications. There are several common application requirements that cannot be done at the last minute. Keep the following points in mind:

  • Allow ample time for people to write recommendation letters. When sending a request email for a letter of recommendation, give sufficient time for your recommender(s) to write a letter of recommendation and send it to the university. Your recommenders likely have a busy work schedule and you should allow for extra time if you are asking them to write letters to multiple universities.
  • Test results may not be available to send to the university until days or weeks after the test is taken. Plan for adequate time to study for the required tests, and then make a reservation to take the test. Generally, it is best to study for a test intensively between three to six months ahead of time.
  • Taking time to revise and rewrite draft statements of purpose, résumés, and entrance essays increases the likelihood of acceptance into a university. Start writing your résumé, entrance essays, and statement of purpose as early as possible.

Note: Often, a writing sample is required for graduate applicants, but not for undergraduate students. A writing sample that was written as a class requirement or thesis can be submitted to fulfill this application requirement instead of writing something new. However, the quality of the writing sample should be outstanding and you should consider revising and improving the writing in the sample.

Be Proactive

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, being proactive means having the intention to produce a good work or an endeavor to prevent imminent problems. College applicants should actively contact their prospective universities. Do not only contact the admission officer, but also contact the faculty members who might have similar research interests. This is especially true for graduate school applicants.

This is where an inquiry email may come in handy. In your inquiry email to the university, you should state your educational background, work experience, goals and research interests, and any questions you have about the program that are not answered on the website. The email should also request an opportunity for a campus visit or video call with someone at the university who can answer questions about the program, preferably someone who is involved in the decision-making process whereby applications are accepted or rejected. A campus visit or video interview can give you a better understanding of the school, its culture, and the particular program of study, making it easier to place that program in a prioritized list of universities.

Check It Twice

It may seem that all the requirements have been met, but it does not hurt to go back to the spreadsheet and recheck the requirements. Spreadsheets can easily be converted into checklists.

Also, be sure to contact your recommenders close to the deadline if they have not submitted their letters of recommendation, and check that all your test scores are in the online application system. Check tasks off as they are completed. When in doubt, do not hesitate to contact the admissions office regarding your college application.

Final Tips

The college application process can be stressful. Take things one step at a time and be proactive by staying organized. Using a spreadsheet will help you tackle the college application process as calmly, collectively, and intelligently as possible. And being organized will make the application process so much easier!

Related Reading

The U.S. College Application Process

U.S. Colleges and Universities

Imelda Bangun is a PhD student in Technology in Education and Second Language Acquisition (TESLA) and English instructor at INTO English Language Program at the University of South Florida.