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College 101

Checklist: Preparing to Apply to College
Article Type: Checklist

Organize Your Space

Organization is key. Would anyone listen to Martha Stewart explain how to keep a clean home if her den was a pig sty? Girl’s got it together (insider trading aside).

  Create paper and file management systems so that you can keep track of all the documents, essays, brochures and full-ride scholarship offers that are going to pile up on your doorstep. Don’t let this happen to you.

You may want to create an online file management system as well, since most applications are done online now. We recommend creating a Dropbox or Google Drive, lest you spill water on your computer and lose all your files the day before everything is due. Your work will stay safe in cyberspace. Unless, of course, it gets abducted by a group of cyberaliens.

"We come to your PC in peace…"


Organize your Time

  Set aside a block of time every day or week that you can dedicate to the college application process. Think of it as a part-time job (that costs you money).

Say you pour 50 total hours of work into the college application process. Sounds like a lot of hours you could be spending beating new levels on Candy Crush or whatever the new hot game is, but those 50 hours could be the difference between a state school and a top university… or the difference between $1,000 in scholarship money and $10,000 in scholarship money.

Those 50 hours now could translate into 50 years of freedom later in life. Wouldn’t it be nice to retire at 40? It can be done… but you may have to decide between a long retirement and Candy Crush. It’s a close one.

  Get to know a good calendar system where you can set goals and get reminders for upcoming deadlines. We suggest you Make a Plan with Shmoop. In fact, we strongly suggest it. (Winks, pounds open palm with billy club.)

Organize Your Brain

Let’s face it – your brain’s a mess. There’s too much going on in there. And Merry Maids won’t touch it with a ten-foot Swiffer.

Ask yourself… what do I like to do? Like something that could be a career. In other words, you may enjoy downloading questionable content from the internet (don’t forget to clear your download history afterward), but it’s more of a hobby than a calling.

The more time you spend organizing your brain, the better you’ll be prepared for college and the real world. Have you thought about what classes you want to take? Do you have the rest of your life planned, so you’re just going to enroll in a given program, take the required courses, earn your degree and skedaddle? Or do you want to take a slew of varying courses so you can figure it out?

Do you know where you want to go to school? Maybe not a specific school, but at least what type of school? Community college? Ivy League? Military academy? School of hard knocks?

And what are you doing outside of school to better yourself? No one likes a well-rounded student more than an admissions officer… what are you doing in your free time to blow their minds with your awesomeness? Cleaning up your neighborhood? Starting your own company? Volunteering at soup kitchens? Finding a vaccine for polio? (Got some bad news for you on that last one…)

You’ve got your whole life in front of you, but it’s closing in on you quickly. Time to get your brain in gear.

  You’re going to have to decide where you want to apply and, eventually, where you want to attend. You don’t have to have the next 50 years of your life planned just yet, but at least start thinking about what and where you might want to study. You know… something more specific than “the library.”

Important points to consider include:

  What you like to do and what you are good at. More specifically, something you could make a living doing. You might be a world-beater at clipping your toenails, but no one’s currently hiring for that. Check out some interest and skill surveys.

"Tools of the trade"


  What you want from your college experience. Have a look at what you should consider in a school. It’s your turn to be the picky, critical one. Don’t let those admissions officers have all the fun.

  How strong of an applicant are you? It’s great that you can bench press your body weight, but we’re thinking more… intangible strengths. Take an honest inventory of the goods, considering:

  What are your grades like? Oh, and straight C’s are not “like” straight B’s.

  What are your test scores? If you got a 28, we sincerely hope you took the ACT and not the SAT.

  What does your transcript look like? Not the court transcript from your recent armed robbery hearing – the other one.

  What have you done outside of school? Are you as… well-rounded as Elle Woods?


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