Applying to College by Paige Larson

Applying to College can be a monumental and daunting endeavor: time-consuming, complex with huge consequences. 

It is important to remember, however, that the only time you have NO possibility of getting into a school is if you do not apply.

With that in mind, it is time to get started, make a plan and APPLY.

Get Ready

Before you download your first application, there are several preparatory steps: 

1) Make a list of the schools that interest you.

Keep in mind your living as well as your academic goals.

Do you prefer a small, intimate learning environment or the bustle of a big state school? A city or a small town? A Greek system? Do you have a particular major in mind?

As you amass information from your select schools, including and especially, all letters with ID numbers, proceed to step 2.

2) Buy a folder for each of the schools that you decide upon.

The folder should have 2 pockets; I prefer to color code my folders to make locating them easier, i.e., red for UGA, yellow for Tech, etc. One of my daughters assigns color on the basis of the feeling evoked by that school, such a hot pink for USC because it sounds like a fun place to go. Whatever works best for you, but if you have a stack of applications, you will want to put your hands on the right folder without flipping through them all. Place all college generated information—even handouts and pamphlets in the left hand pocket.

3)   Go to your school registrar or college counselor and request a copy of your transcript.

It does not need to be an official document, which can take time to process, only a copy of your academic record.

4)  Make a resume.

Some schools actually require a resume, and if you have an interview, a resume is an easy memory tool for you (so that you don’t forget a key activity) and a helpful reference for your interviewer when he is writing your report.

Even if you don’t need to submit one and don’t plan to interview, you DO need a resume. It should include the activity, a brief description of it as well as any leadership positions or awards, years of involvement, hours per week, and weeks per year. Do this for school activities, sports, jobs and service work. You will need this for virtually every application; if you have it ready, you can cut and paste—just be sure to do so in the format specified by the application, and, irritatingly, they almost all require their own format.

5) Collect all of your standardized test reports:

SATs, SAT II’s, ACTs, APs.  All of them and NOT the composite scores, but the full breakdown.

Print or scan these for easy reference.

6) Do you have any awards?

Find them and a description of what they were awarded for.  Place your collected information from steps 3, 4 and 5 in an accordion file, with labeled tabs. Now at last you are ready to begin…


Get Set 

Once you have completed the first steps, get on the internet and START!

Virtually all applications will require the personal information you have now organized

This is just plain tedious, but you must input it again and again and again. Remember to SAVE at the bottom of the page and, again, input in the format specified.

For most students, the essays are exhausting.

There is no way around this, but you can make it easier.  

-Never write the essay on the application;

ALWAYS cut and paste from a word document. Most applications time out and you will lose what you have written if you have not finished. More importantly, this is a thoughtful process. It’s meant to be because the school is trying to learn about you. That being said, they are only learning what YOU want them to know. THINK about it. Don’t be afraid to put yourself in the best light as long as you are truthful. DO NOT discuss your weaknesses—they want to know your passions and interests, not your flaws.

-DO, DO; DO get someone—preferably a teacher with whom you are comfortable—to read your essay. Proof read your final document OUT LOUD. Twice.

-Finally, pay attention to the word/character count as specified by the application. Really. 500 words does not mean 527. This is a source of irritation for your application reader, and you do NOT want to annoy this person. This is another good reason to use a word document.

Many well written essays can be modified to fit more than one question—on different applications, of course. Do be careful that you answer the question. Write or amend your essay, then check to insure that it directly addresses the question. Create a separate essay file for each school–be sure to save the original under the name of the first school, in case you need to copy and paste it for a third university application.

Print 2 copies of each essay and place one in the accordion file and one on the right hand side of the folder for the school for which it has been written.



After your creative juices have been tested and most likely exhausted, it’s back to the technicalities… 

Make or print the attached checklist, and place one in each folder; place in front of the college information, on the left side.


Each school will have its own requirements.  

  • ·          Does it require SAT II’s?
  • ·          Does it permit score choice?
  • ·          Does it require a teacher recommendation? Two? PRINT and DELIVER THEM! Try to plan ahead and get them out a month in advance. Chances are that your favorite teacher is someone else’s as well! Some schools and the Common Ap allow submission online, but many teachers want to see the form, and it can act as a visual reminder. Fill in the “student information” part on all forms.
  • ·          Print the midyear and college counselor’s report and deliver them with an addressed, but unstamped and without a return address to the relevant personnel—or as your college counselor stipulates. Fill in the “student info” portion here as well.
  • ·          Are you applying early action, early decision or regular admission? What are the due dates? Are you applying Common Ap? Online? Place any early ap.s on top of your pile. Finish these, including essays early before you wear out!

Once you have submitted your paperwork and your teacher has proofed your essays, cut and paste your answers, CAREFULLY, and… 



Hitting that submit button is scary!

Be certain that you are ready before you do. AND KEEP HARD COPIES.

Print your application in its entirety.  

Place it behind your checklist.

Some college counselors will ask for a copy as well.

Keep a copy of your confirmation from the college as well as your fee receipt.

If you do not get a confirmation, CALL. Do not assume that they have it because you sent it.

NEVER ask your mother to make this call. She would probably do it; she probably WANTS to do it. BUT DON’T!!

Colleges want to know that YOU are interested, not your parents. If you are not motivated enough to call on your own, they will assume that you are either not all that interested or that you’re not quite ready to be in college. This warning applies to information sessions and any other contact with the universities. This is YOUR moment; an over involved parent sends a very negative message about YOU.



Paige Larson is a wife and mother to two delightful and successful daughters who have gone through the college application process. In this article she shares her tips for the student who tends to struggle with executive functioning, or just the teen that needs a little organizational advice!

Professionally she interviews for Georgetown University admissions, and tutors students in Atlanta, Ga.

She is an active volunteer with Garden Club of America, and the National Charity League.