December Checklist for Students Applying to College

Two boys dressed in pajamas open a pizza and celebrate.


Oh, December! What a magical month! Finally, we can indulge in fresh-baked cookies and eggnog and feel no shame. We get to spoil each other with gifts, catch up with cousins, and—drumroll please—take a few days off from school. If you’re currently applying to college, you’ll absolutely deserve that week off by the time you finish everything on your to-do list.

That’s right, December is the time to submit your regular decision applications and apply for financial aid! So, if you’ve checked off all of the boxes on our other college application checklists (and hopefully you have!), here is how you should wrap up 2016:

  • Sit for the December SAT or ACT if you registered in November.

    Unfortunately, the registration period for the last SAT, SAT Subject Test, and ACT test date of the year closed in November. (If you didn’t register, you will not have time to retake any of these tests before most application deadlines, so make sure you have sent your scores from another test date to your prospective colleges.) If you did register, it’s time to sit for these exams. You have very little time between these exams and regular decision deadlines, which means that you should send your scores to your schools immediately; you do not have time to wait around for your scores and then decide if you want your prospective colleges to see them too.

  • Follow up with your recommendation writers and transcript requests. 

    There is no time to lose. If you are submitting your application electronically through a platform like the Common App, you can check to see if your teachers have submitted their recommendation letters or if the registrar has submitted your transcript. If something is missing, you must follow up as soon as possible. Approach the recommendation writer after class to gently convey the urgency of the situation or send an email. Here’s one way you could do it:

    Dear [name here],

    Thank you for agreeing to write me a letter of recommendation for my applications to [institution names]. The deadline of [date] is fast approaching, and I wanted to know if there is anything I could do to be of assistance. You can find the link to upload your letter to [application platform] in your email, which you probably received on [date you sent a recommendation request].

    Kind Regards,
    [Your name]

  • When you finish college applications, like this man, you wipe your hands clean of them.


    Submit regular decision applications. 

    Although deadlines vary from institution to institution, now is a good time to start tying bows on them (figuratively, of course). Upload your essay if you haven’t done so already. You’ll feel so accomplished when you finally submit your materials, but do remember that your work isn’t over yet.

  • Request an interview. 

    Unless your program requires an audition, you probably will not have to meet an admissions representative in person. That said, many schools, especially prestigious universities and liberal arts colleges, give prospective students the option to interview. These interviews help the admissions committee see you as a person, rather than as just a name. You can discuss anything that isn’t in your application while also asking questions of your interviewer. Consider requesting an interview as soon as possible; often, the sign-up period closes in mid-December.

  • Work on the FAFSA and the College Board’s CSS Financial Aid Profile. 

    Financial aid deadlines aren’t until the spring, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get started. Filling out the FAFSA as early as possible helps you qualify for as many forms of financial aid as possible. Now is a great time to check to see whether any of your schools also require the submission of the CSS Profile. This form is required by more than 400 colleges, including Harvard, Princeton, and Columbia. To make the process easier, encourage your parents to help you fill out the forms with last year’s tax returns and be sure to update them when your family files for 2016.

  • Apply for scholarships. 

    Different scholarships have different deadlines, but there is always a scholarship out there that you can apply for. Take advantage of your winter break and submit applications for private scholarships. Winning money for college that you’ll never have to pay back will put a dent in the tuition bill you’ll receive come summer.

  • Send thank-you notes. 

    People who wrote letters of recommendation for your regular decision applications should get thank you notes soon.


    The first rule about asking someone to do you a favor is to say, “Thank you!” This is pretty basic, and you’ve probably already thanked your recommendation writers when they first agreed to give you a reference earlier this fall. Thank them again! Send a card (yes, in the mail to the school’s address!) or deliver it in person. It is sometimes appropriate to give a small gift, nothing flashy. Consider a book or a bag of coffee, but don’t overdo it. Your recommendation writers helped you out because they genuinely believe you deserve the praise; they weren’t doing it for the swag. Another great way to thank your teachers and counselors is to keep them updated on your college acceptances. They are excited for your future and can’t wait to see where you’ll go!

Last, but not least, recognize yourself and your own efforts. You’ve come so far! During your winter break, take some time to sip hot cocoa and educate yourself on how to afford college. Before you know it, you’ll be receiving responses from institutions and packing your bags. Let us know if you need a hand!

Leave a comment