Early decision and early action deadlines have passed, which means it’s time to buckle down and get ready for your final college applications to be due! Whether they need to be in by January 1st, or you still have a couple months to go, you can get a head start for this busy season over winter break by following these eight tips:
1. Start thinking about what you want to write your essays about.
If all of your potential schools participate in the Common App or another universal application, then you know what your essay topics are from the start—but, if not, you’ll need to either choose your own topic, or write on one that each application assigns you. Get started outlining these now so you aren’t scrambling the week they’re due to come up with some things to brag about!
2. Make a list of all of the clubs, activities, and extracurriculars you participated in throughout high school.
This can take more time than you think, so take a second to go through the last four years and list everything you were involved in, what you did for that organization, any awards you received, time you committed each week, and any leadership positions you held while involved. It will save you a lot of time on admission and scholarship applications later!
3. Ask your favorite teachers for letters of recommendation.
It can take your teachers a few weeks to finish these letters, so make sure you give them plenty of notice before the due date. Also, it’s super important to ask more teachers to write letters than you need recommendations—just in case one of them falls through at the last minute. Make sure you give each reference a copy of your accomplishments resume (see #2), too. Don’t let one teacher be the difference between you and your dream school!
4. Put together your portfolio.
If you’re applying to major in visual or performing arts, graphic design, writing, music composition, fashion design, or another art, you’ll probably need to put together a portfolio of your work to include in your application. Make sure you have your most prized pieces bound together nicely to send to the colleges before their application deadlines.
5. Decide whether you want to apply as an undecided major or not.
There are pros and cons to both of these options, but the short answer is this: if you know exactly what you want to do, your major is unpopular, or you don’t want to go to that school if you don’t get into the program, you should declare a major on your application. Otherwise, it’s up to you.
6. Save up some money for application fees.
Depending on the school, these can range anywhere from $20 to $150, so you’ll need to save up some extra cash to cover the cost of applying. Try saving whatever money you received as holiday gifts, or get a quick babysitting or housesitting job or two while you’re out of school to come up with the extra bucks. (You can also request application fee waivers if you need – talk to your guidance counselor to see if you qualify.)
7. Make a list of all the elements of each application and when they’re due.
Spreadsheets will save you for the rest of your life—and this is no exception. For each school, make sure you know what you need to send in and when they need it by. That way, you aren’t surprised and scrambling the night before to pull together an essay on a topic you haven’t even starting thinking about.
8. Sign up for one last SAT or ACT exam.
Since most schools will mix and match your highest scores in each section, it can’t hurt to try again to boost your score by a few more points!
Whether you’re applying to your back-up schools in case you don’t get in early decision or early action, or you’re putting all your eggs in the regular decision basket, if you can check these eight things off your to-do list, you’ll be ready when the dreaded college application due dates come around.