written by
Brynlee Emery

College Application Checklist

6 min read
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College applications deadlines are almost here! Before you submit, run through the following checklist to make sure you have all the pieces of your college application ready.

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1. Personal Information:

Whether you are using the Common App, the Coalition App, or a school-specific college application, make sure you fill out your personal information section. Start a few days ahead of time so you can ask your parents, your advisor, or someone else for help if you have any questions.

2. Activities List, Extracurriculars, and Honors:

On the Common App, activities list descriptions are limited to 150 characters, so it’s helpful to try writing them out on a separate document first. Make sure to highlight your accomplishments, the lessons you learned, and the traits you developed during the activity. The Common App also allows you 50 characters to describe your position information. Be sure to indicate there if you were the president, founder, or held another leadership role.

3. Test Scores:

SAT and ACT scores are less important this year since COVID-19 has made testing so difficult to schedule. However, if you are planning on sending test scores, make sure to send official score reports or self-report your scores on the application. Be sure you know what each school requires. Some encourage self-reported scores (where you only submit score reports after you are accepted and if you decide to attend that school), while others require you to send the official score reports when you apply. Don’t forget about SAT Subject Tests if you took them!

4. Recommendation letters:

You should have already asked your counselor and your teachers for recommendation letters. If you haven’t already received a notification that your recommenders have submitted their letters, send a polite email to check in with them as soon as possible. You are allowed to submit your college application before your recommenders submit their portions, but they must be submitted by each school’s deadline.

5. School-Specific Questions:

Universities usually want more information than what you enter in the personal information section of the Common App. Make sure you have filled out all of their individual sections. Oftentimes, these include questions on your intended major, your interest in special programs like honors colleges or dual degrees, and whether you have family members who attended that university.

6. Essays:

On the Common App, most schools require the main Common App essay (about 650 words). Many schools also require supplemental essays. Coalition App schools also often require individual supplements (sometimes instead of a personal statement, and sometimes alongside a personal statement). Schools that manage their own application systems (like Georgetown or MIT) also have multiple essays. Check out blog posts from CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Experts to get advice about writing essays for specific schools! Hint: it’s best to fill out your whole application a few days in advance of the deadline in case you discover any “surprise” essays—sometimes they only appear after you have selected preference for a particular major program or college within the University.

7. COVID-19 Essay and Additional Information Section:

This year, the Common App includes a space to write up to 250 words explaining how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected you. This can be about your family, your academics, testing, or anything else relevant. In addition, the Common App includes an “Additional Information” section where you can address anything that didn’t fit elsewhere in your application. Usually, it’s best to address any circumstances that affected your academic performance (such as physical or mental health issues or a financial situation with your family), explain a transfer between high schools, or detail additional responsibilities (such as childcare or working to support your family). Don’t repeat any information that you report elsewhere in the application, and don’t link to examples of published work or other projects. Admissions officers will likely not have time to read them, and adding unnecessary information may hurt your application.

8. Portfolios:

Some schools allow you to submit a portfolio exhibiting your artistic or musical talents. This is usually required if you are applying to a fine or performing arts program. If you aren’t applying to a specialized program, you can often still submit this as a supplement. However, it is only advisable if you have a particularly strong art or music sample. Most admissions officers refer portfolios to professors in relevant departments. For example, if you were to submit a sample of paintings, it would be reviewed by an art professor, not by an admissions officer. If you do choose to submit a portfolio, make sure to send high quality scans or recordings.

9. Fees:

Each school requires an application fee, usually around $40-50 but up to $75 per university. If this is a hardship for you and your family, determine whether you may be eligible for a fee waiver. Generally, these are available to students whose families fall within certain income brackets, receive federal/state/local public assistance (including public housing and free or reduced school lunch), or who receive a fee waiver for the SAT or ACT. If you’re not sure, you can also talk to your school counselor who can fill out a fee waiver form for you.

10. Financial Aid Information:

For domestic students, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid if you are hoping to receive need-based aid. It is not necessary to submit this by the application deadline, but try to submit it as early as possible. The earlier you submit, the earlier schools will be able to give you an idea of the financial aid package (including loans, grants, scholarships, and work study) they can offer you. If you’re hoping to attend one of your early schools, having that information as early as possible can help you decide whether or not you need to also apply to schools during the regular decision round. If you’re applying to a highly selective school, you will also need to fill out the CSS Profile through the College Board in order to provide more contextual information about your family’s finances. Note that the CSS Profile is not free, so if you need a fee waiver, be sure to check your eligibility and talk to your school counselor.

Final Thoughts

If you are applying to a school that is not on the Common App, Coalition App, or a university system application (such as the UC App), take extra time to make sure you aren’t missing any additional pieces. Keep in mind that some schools, like Georgetown, require you to submit an application fee before you fill out the rest of the application, so starting early is to your advantage.

Remember to try and submit your application in its entirety a day or two ahead of the deadline in case the application server crashes on November 1st or your school’s early deadline. Congratulations on making it this far, and good luck!


This informational essay was written by Brynlee Emery, Georgetown University Class of ‘19. If you want to get with your application from Brynlee or other CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Experts, register with CollegeAdvisor.com today.