How to Get Your College Apps in Order if You Majorly Procrastinated

So, you waited until the last minute to start working on your college applications and now you're stressing hardcore. It's not the end of the world ––or the end of most deadlines, yet! Since your timeline is cut short, you'll have to prioritize and set some realistic goals. This means breaking out your planner and working with your guidance counselor to meet those deadlines. Here're five tips to get yourself and your college apps in order so you can leave high school behind. 

1. Gather what you need

It's better to hand in a few complete applications than a ton of incomplete applications. To do this promptly, you're going to need a few things, including a list of your achievements and extracurricular activities, SAT/ACT scores and your official high school transcript. Gather these materials to make filling out applications painless.

Keep in mind that it can take seven to ten days for scores from the College Board to reach your school, and your high school will probably need time to gather your transcript information, as well. Give yourself as much extra room as possible by crossing these off your to-do list first.

Caitlin Fitzpatrick, a guidance counselor at Preston High School, has seen students miss deadlines because they receive their test scores too late. She recommends that pre-collegiettes write everything down ––this will give you a visual of what to prioritize. 

Don't underestimate the power of planners, highlighters, and sticky notes. Invest in a planner so you can keep yourself on-track. "Deadlines are crucial in the college process, so having a list of all the schools and deadlines can help keep the student organized and hopefully on task," Fitzpatrick says. Don't underestimate the power of planners, highlighters, and sticky notes to keep yourself on track.

2. Prioritize your schools

You need to know where you're applying before you can actually make moves. Make a list of schools you have visited, spoken to at college fairs or plan to visit. Rank them from "most interested" to "least interested." The ones you feel most strongly about are the ones that you should prioritize in the application process.

With that being said, make sure you include safety, target and reach schools. Your guidance counselor can help you figure out which schools these are for you specifically but look at acceptance rates and what the schools usual SAT scores are for accepted students. 

We recommend you apply to about six or so schools in total since you are short on time. Six isn't a magic number, though. Some people recommend fifteen, but since you're behind in the application process, a smaller number will allow you to apply to at least two safety, match and reach schools. If you include too many of one type, you won’t give yourself enough options to pick from once acceptance letters come rolling in. 

3. Fill out the Common App

This application is kind of like a one-stop shop ––you create an account and pick the schools that you want to apply to. Remember that every school has different application requirements. One might ask for your grades from a specific class and another might ask you to answer a specific essay question. Make sure to read the fine print for each school so that you hand in everything it needs.

Kayla Graniero, a recent graduate of Pace University, submitted her college applications the day before the final deadline. She recommends filling out a little bit of the Common App each week. "Give yourself assignments to get your fees, letters of recommendation, and other paperwork together," Graniero says. Not all schools use this application, though. For those that don't, you'll have to head to their website to find their specific application.

4. Ask your parents to help you fill out your FAFSA

Now, let's get down to the money since this can be the biggest stressor during all stages of college life, pay extra attention here. You should fill out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in October (but the sooner you get this in, the better). Most schools have a FAFSA deadline in early February, but check your school specifically to know the date you have to work around. You'll be updating this bad boy for the next four years, so get used to the look and feel of the site.

Some of the information for the FAFSA will come from your parent's’ tax forms and other financial documents. Talk to them to see if they want to pass the information to you, or help you with the application itself.

Also, be sure to check your school's website for other scholarship opportunities. "Don't get scared about money," Graniero says. While the time to apply for federal aid is now, remember that you have the whole summer to save up for spending money before you leave for school. Right now, you should focus on being able to pay for tuition and other fees.

5. Nail your admissions essay

This is probably the most dreaded part of the application process. Schools may specify what questions your essay or personal statement should answer, but others are super lenient. Start with one general essay topic that could be used for multiple schools and then work on the specific ones later.

Over the years, Fitzpatrick has seen students put off their essay because they are frustrated with reaching the word count or coming up with ideas. She suggests eating the frog and prioritizing the essay, since it tends to be the biggest hold-up in the application process. Chat with your guidance counselor about this and ask your English teacher for assistance. 

Related: 5 Key Decisions You’ll Have to Make in High School

Applying to college sounds like a daunting task, but splitting up your to-do list and limiting the number of schools you apply to can help make the process less painful. By organizing yourself, writing down deadlines and giving other people time to get you what you need, you can apply to your schools just in time.The end product means you can look forward to enjoying the rest of senior year and watching those acceptance letters roll in.