Tips for Preparing Your College Application

Find the right college for you.

Tips on How to Fill Out a College Application

Correctly submitting all the different pieces of your college application is like a test─one you can easily pass. While the process may seem complicated, a little organization and attention go a long way.

Process for Completing Your College Applications

Preparing for college application season will require some effort. There are many pieces to the application puzzle and several documents to submit. There’s fees and transcripts and test scores─a lot to keep up with during this process.

To avoid feeling overwhelmed, follow these college application tips.

students on laptop

Getting College Applications Organized

Preparing for college application season is about staying organized. Applying for schools is much easier these days. Online applications are standard. They're quick to process and usually have built-in checks to ensure you provide all the necessary materials. Nevertheless, you must stay on top of the process to submit the application and supplementary documents correctly and on time.

Start early. Set deadlines for completing essays, collecting recommendations, and filling out forms a few weeks before they're due. Mark these earlier deadlines on your calendar. You can also track dates by setting a spreadsheet. Gather dates from all your college applications so that you can view everything from one document. College websites are the best place to find accurate deadline information.

Be consistent. Using the same name on all your forms makes things easier for admissions officers. It's also wise to use your full legal name. Doing so will avoid mistakes, delays, and discrepancies when matching data across other systems for, among other items, test scores and FAFSA®. Some applications have space for preferred names, but it's best to stick to your legal name everywhere else. Switching names─going from Bill to Billy, for example─increases the odds that your materials will get misfiled.

Be careful. Careless mistakes on your application can hurt your chances of getting accepted. A strong piece of college application advice is to set your application aside for a day before checking it for errors. You can view it with fresh eyes and spot errors more efficiently. If you can, have a teacher or parent proofread it as well. Save and review online applications before you submit them.

Alert your school. Follow your school's process for submitting transcripts. Most schools use an online platform, making things much more efficient and easier to manage. The same goes for letters of recommendation. Usually, writers can submit letters electronically through an easy-to-use linked platform. If paper documents are necessary, provide accurate addresses and follow up to ensure everything goes out when needed.

Completing the Application Package

Once you’ve completed your college application, follow these tips to make sure all the parts get where they’re going.

Don't wait. Submit online materials a few weeks before the deadline. Send anything that needs physical mailing several weeks before it’s due. To stay on track and get everything in on time, we recommend creating an application checklist.

Submit once. When you apply online, you'll usually get an automated response saying the school received your materials. If you don't, contact the college's admissions office. Don't apply online again or mail in another application.

Keep copies. Save a copy of each piece of each application. Save personal identification numbers, passwords, confirmations, and email notifications from admissions officers. Having this documentation for future reference can save you if a problem arises.

Get confirmation. If you mail documents, put a stamped postcard addressed to your house in each package so that admissions officers can let you know that your materials have arrived. The U.S. Post Office also offers a similar "return receipt" service and online tracking.

If you get an email or notification saying something is missing, don't panic. Read the email closely. It should list what you still need to submit and detailed instructions on what you can do to get it in. If the information is unclear, don't hesitate to call the admissions office for guidance.

Monitor your email. When preparing for college application cycles, create a professional-sounding email account exclusively for college matters. Use it for your applications. Check it regularly so you don't miss anything important regarding your submitted applications.


What are the main steps to applying to college?

The process involves more than just filling out the online application form. You'll also need to do other things like completing supplemental documents like the FAFSA, drafting personal essays, and getting school transcripts. When you begin the application process, the best approach is to break things down into manageable steps. You'll need to gather information, talk to family and teachers, brainstorm app/essay points, and get organized before sending an application off.

Read more

What are the major parts of a college application?

The elements of a college application can vary from one school to the next. They include:

  • Application forms.
  • Application fees.
  • Cover letter or personal statement.
  • Essays and personal statements.
  • School transcripts.
  • Test scores.
  • Recommendation letters.
  • Portfolios.
  • List of extracurriculars and school activities.

Read more

How long is the college application process?

Filling out an application and gathering supplemental materials can take several weeks, but it can vary based on the complexity of the application. Simpler applications can often be completed in one sitting if you have the necessary information handy. However, you should allow several weeks to work on more involved applications. Take into consideration your course load, work schedule, and commitment to extracurriculars.

Read more

Can you submit college applications online?

If you want to learn how to fill out a college application efficiently while staying organized, turn to the school's online portal. You can fill out applications online. It's the standard for most schools.

Read more

Is it OK to lie on your college application?

It’s never OK to lie on a college application. The best college admission advice you can get is to remain honest. Lying can result in the complete revocation of your application. Even if you get accepted, there's a risk that if you’ve already been accepted, your acceptance can be rescinded.

It's not worth the risk. If you’re concerned about putting something in your application that might negatively impact it, seek guidance from your school counselor.

Read more