How to Prep for and Conquer Your College Applications

The UC Application opened August 1, 2017, the Common Application is in full swing and colleges are emailing you saying something like, “Hey! It’s time to apply! Come on over and get your application started!” Okay, awesome, I should start…right? Wait a second, before you dive into the applications and get lost in a sea of username, password combinations with one letter and one
“!@&#” and trying to remember the number of hours you participated in activity  X, Y, Z way back in Sophomore year….STOP. Take a moment.

College admissions can seem daunting. And a sure fire way to add to that pile is to just start the applications before you’ve considered a few key things. Think about this…what if you fill out the Common Application and realize that none of your colleges are actually on the Common Application? What even is the Common Application? Don’t get lost in the details before getting a sense of the bigger picture.

Now is the time to cut out any unnecessary details, distractions and unwarranted pieces of information that you just don’t need to mess with. Take a look at the following key ways to prepare for your college apps so you can stay organized and only exert the energy and mental capacity when needed. Because at some point you’ll want to actually go to that Senior homecoming game, go off campus for lunch and scroll mindlessly through Social Media. 

Tackle these Personal Tasks and College Tasks and you’ll feel like a champ heading into your applications. Really.

Personal Tasks 

  1. Get a copy of your transcript
  2. Have a copy of your resume (or create one!) No need to fret, just write down your extracurriculars in categories (internship, clubs, sports, volunteer, community service, work, family commitments, etc.) and write down the dates of when you participated and a short description of your role/position within that activity
  3. Gather information from your parents/guardians (address, parents job title, income level, their level of education, when they graduated college, etc.)
  4. Download a copy of your high school’s guide with all of the courses offered
  5. Print a copy of your SAT/ACT scores and write down any future test dates
  6. Create a Google Doc or a new notes page in your phone and write “College Applications: Usernames/Passwords and Notes”

College Tasks 

  1. Build your college list. Know WHERE you’re applying before you tackle HOW to apply. Download the Resources for a well-balanced college list as a helpful tool
    • You may discover a new school late in the game…that’s perfectly okay! I encourage students to continue exploring colleges, attend college rep visits at your school, college fairs and exhaust your options to find the best ones, but if you can get your college list started it is incredibly helpful! 
  2. Within your “College Applications” Google Doc or notes page that you created, add a space to document your colleges and universities, deadlines and any supplemental materials such as letters of recommendation, interview, essays required
  3. Also write down where you apply for each university/college. Is it through the UC Application, Common Application, the UCAS, the university’s website itself? Write down the URL and keep track with your usernames and passwords
  4. Know which applications are due first so you know what needs to be tackled first
  5. College essays take time, and multiple drafts! Give yourself time to brainstorm
  6. Utilize your resources at your school, College Center, application workshops and reputable online application sources. UC Admissions page has a ton of downloadable guides! Go directly on the colleges/universities’ websites and just start digging!


  • Dedicate specific times to work on college applications and actually schedule it in your calendar or set a reminder on your phone. For example, “Every Tuesday and Thursday from 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.” This time could be used for anything application related (writing essays, exploring the university more in depth, organizing, etc.)

  • Shut off or silence your phone, let your family know to give you some space and crank it out, then when the time is up…put it to rest and give yourself a break!


Published by Casey Barneson

Author of The College Wellness Guide. Beverly Hills High School College Counselor.

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