Your 2019 Checklist for Getting Into College (Ordered Chronologically!)
If you’re a senior in high school, you’ve already sent off your college applications. You may have heard back from a few schools already, or perhaps you’re anxiously awaiting your decision letters.
At this point, your job is to finish high school strong, choose the college you’d like to attend, and prepare to ride off into the sunset this fall.
But if you’re a junior, your college application journey is just beginning. 2019 will be the year you send off your college applications — and that can be a little overwhelming.
So, what steps do you need to take this year to land at your dream school in 2020? We’ve made you a 2019 checklist! Follow the steps below to make sure you’re on track for college admissions.
SPRING (March-May 2019)
- Make your list of colleges. If you haven’t already, now is the time to start making a list of colleges that appeal to you. Start with 15-20 for now and narrow them down later as needed. Consider factors like location, tuition, reputation, size, selectivity, and if the school has a strong program for your intended major (if you know what you’d like to major in). Use sites like Niche’s college admissions calculator and college ranking lists to research schools.
- Take the SAT/ACT. The SAT is generally offered in March-June and October-December and the ACT is offered February through December. If you haven’t begun studying, start now! During the test, use test-taking strategies like process of elimination, skipping difficult questions and returning to them later, and answering every question (there’s no “guessing penalty” on the SAT). If you don’t like your score, use your score report to determine what you need to work on, hit the books, and try again in the fall.
- Keep your grades up (or bring them up). The grades you earn junior year are the grades that are most closely analyzed by college admissions teams. Now that you’re in the homestretch of junior year, keep your grades up and/or do everything you can to boost your GPA as much as possible. Ask for extra help, get a tutor, form a study group, etc.
SUMMER (June-August 2019)
- Be productive. Colleges like to know how you spend your summers. Volunteer, get a job, job shadow, or participate in a summer college program or camp. Ideally, you’ll find something that’s relevant to your interests, skills, and/or college and career goals.
- Visit some of the colleges on your list. The best way to decide if a college is right for you is to go see it in person. While you’re there, take a tour, talk to as many people as possible, see the dining hall and even a dorm room if you can, and explore. Soak in the environment and envision yourself there. If a college looks good on paper and feels right in person, it just might be the one. While the visit is still fresh in your memory, make a list of everything you liked (and anything you didn’t like).
- Make a resume. As you start to fill out college and scholarship applications, a resume will be extremely helpful. From ninth grade to now, list your extracurricular activities, any special accomplishments or awards, and your volunteer and work experience. Try to include the dates or date ranges for each item on your list. Write out the specifics of what you accomplished: Did you have a leadership role? If not, in what other ways did you contribute? Gathering this information now will make the application process much smoother in a few months.
- Start making your college application calendar. There are several ways to accomplish this, but the easiest, most straightforward way to do it is this: Buy a big wall calendar and an array of colorful markers. Choose one color for early decision deadlines, one for regular decision, one for other required materials, one for scholarship application deadlines, one for any test dates you’ll have, etc. For now, start by researching scholarships and filling in scholarship deadlines. (We’ll come back to this calendar soon.)
- Get your FSA ID. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) determines your eligibility for student financial aid. Even if you think your family won’t qualify, you need to submit a FAFSA. To do so, you’ll need a username and password, called an FSA ID. This is an easy task to get a head start on over the summer. Simply fill out the information on the FAFSA website. The first day you can file the FAFSA is October 1. Write it on your calendar!
- Get ahead. As you can see below, fall of your senior year will be a VERY busy time. Not only do you have schoolwork, extracurriculars, and a social life, but you’ll also be up to your knees in college application preparation. You may not like this suggestion, but it’s a good idea to research college essay topics for the Common Application and any other applications you’ll be completing and start brainstorming or even drafting your essays. You’ll thank us later!
FALL (September-November 2019)
Congratulations, you’re a senior! Fall will be a busy time for college application season, so buckle up.
- Narrow down your list of colleges. You can apply to your full list of 15-20 colleges if you’d like, but it’s not advisable. Applying to too many colleges is both time-consuming and expensive. It’s best to trim your list down to the 5-10 colleges that you love the most. Be strategic: Choose at least two safety schools, several target schools, and a reach or two.
- Finish making your calendar. Now that you’ve narrowed down your list, finish filling out your calendar. Do you know for sure where you’ll be applying early and where you’ll apply regular decision? If so, list your deadlines accordingly. If you’re undecided, go ahead and list both early and regular decision dates for your schools. But you’ll have to decide soon — early decision dates are in November! Also, record deadlines for transcripts, test scores, and any other necessary materials. If your high school has deadlines for processing applications, write those down too.
- Retake the SAT (if needed). If you weren’t happy with your previous SAT score, now is the time to take it again. Even if you were reasonably happy with your score, taking the test again can be worthwhile. Many students score better during senior year because of additional coursework and experience. Plus, you now know just what to expect.
- Complete and submit your FAFSA. Submit your FAFSA as close to October 1 as possible. Aid is often awarded in the order in which forms are submitted. To complete the FAFSA, you’ll need information about your parents’ income. Gather bank statements and account balances, your driver’s license and Social Security numbers, federal tax forms, and records of untaxed income.
- Write a draft of your college application essay(s). If you already did this over the summer, you can relax a bit. Otherwise, get started on supplemental essays by researching schools and majors. Now is a great time to ask for feedback from family members, teachers, and friends who are really good at English. Otherwise, draft your essays now, then ask for feedback.
- Ask for teacher letters of recommendation. Ideally, you’ll ask the junior-year teachers who know you best. If you know what you’d like to major in, ask a teacher who teaches a relevant subject. Ask at least a few weeks before you need the letters. This is courteous and will give your teachers plenty of time to write excellent letters of recommendation.
- Submit early application/early decision college applications. Most early application/early decision deadlines are November 1 or November 15. The Common Application early decision deadline is typically November 1. Make sure you do not wait until the last minute. College applications should not be rushed. Proofread multiple times before hitting Submit.
- Ask your counselor to send your transcripts. This process may vary depending on your high school, but make sure your guidance counselor has any necessary forms at least two weeks before your transcripts need to be sent. (When you apply online to colleges, your official transcript is sent separately via mail.)
WINTER (December 2019)
- Finish up your college applications. Most Regular Decision deadlines are January 1 or January 15. The Common Application deadline for Regular Decision is typically January 1. Make sure you’re also staying on top of scholarship deadlines — there’s no limit to the amount of scholarship money you can earn, so apply for as many scholarships as possible!
- Give your counselor any necessary forms for second semester grade reports. Some colleges require mid-year or second semester grade reports. If this is the case for you, make sure your counselor has the necessary forms.
And now, you wait. Of course, you should also remain active in school and keep your grades up. Being rescinded from college (having your acceptance changed to a rejection) is not just a threat your teachers made up. It’s real. If your GPA drops too far below the GPA you initially submitted, colleges can change their mind.
Get ready for any AP exams that you have. Remember, these can earn you college credit, which saves you time and money!
By May 1, you’ll need to decide which college you’d like to attend. Send a notification to all colleges that accepted you (“Yes” to one school and “No” to the others). Choose a financial aid package and pay a deposit to the school you’ll be attending in the fall.
Final Thoughts: 2019 Checklist for College Admissions
Hopefully, this checklist has given you a clear idea of the steps you need to take to successfully apply to college in 2019.
It may seem like a long list, but take it one step at a time and stay on top of deadlines, and you’ll be fine. Now, stop reading and start making your list of colleges. Good luck!
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