The September Checklist for Students Applying to College

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You’ve been working hard throughout high school to take standardized tests and think about your future, but senior year is crunch time for college applications. If you are applying to start college next year, here’s what you should be doing this September:

  • Print out the complete college application checklist to use as you go.

    It’s a good idea to know what’s ahead of you during the entire application process, not just September. Take a moment to download Student Caffé’s free, printable College Application Checklist. Reading ahead will give you an overview of the entire admissions process, but then, if the process seems overwhelming, you can take it month by month. An application checklist will keep you focused, on task, and not likely to forget to do anything important.

  • Add important dates (and alarm reminders!) to your master calendar.

    You know you’re truly organized when you have a color-coordinated calendar and application checklist for each college. Pull out your college short-list (you know, those eight or so schools you want to apply to), and start scouring each of their websites for important dates:

    A man moving things around on his desk saying "But I'm pretty organized myself."


  • Early and regular decision application deadlines
  • Deadlines for test score submission (as well as the last possible testing date you could take the SAT, ACT, and/or SAT Subject Tests so that schools receive your scores before their deadlines)
  • Deadlines for transcript submission (be sure to request transcripts well before the deadline)
  • Deadlines for teacher recommendations (be sure to request recommendation letters well before the deadline)
  • Deadlines for all necessary financial aid forms (FAFSA, CSS Profile, etc.)
  • Mark all of those dates in an agenda or a Google calendar. You might consider using a different colored highlighter for each school or scholarship. Keep in mind that most of the deadlines you find on a school’s website are the dates that your materials need to be submitted/received, not requested. Therefore, it’s very important to set goals for yourself to manage your time wisely. It’s your responsibility to make sure that your application materials (transcripts, recommendation letters, test scores, etc.) arrive before the submission deadline, so you can’t wait until the deadlines you find online to request those items. Be sure to assign yourself your own deadline for requesting the materials. Add the “to-do list” you create to your master calendar.
  • Search for scholarships.

    Scholarships are the golden ticket to affording college. Not applying is just plain silly. Research a variety of opportunities. Which scholarships are available to students attending the colleges you are applying to? Which are available to students from your community or town? What about to students of your racial, ethnic, or economic background? Check out some of the scholarship opportunities we’ve posted here, and continue thinking about what makes you unique; more than likely, there’s a scholarship for a student like you! Make a list of the scholarships you are eligible for and their deadlines so that you can check them off as you apply.

  • Ask for teacher recommendations.

    Almost all colleges want to read their applicants’ letters of recommendation. These need to be written by adults who aren’t related to you, like teachers, coaches, and counselors. It’s necessary to request these letters as early as September because most students need them for their applications. Your favorite teacher may have to write 50 recommendation letters this fall. Pick your first-choice references this month and reach out to them to ask if they’d be willing to write your letters. Follow up shortly after (no later than October) with a detailed email or spreadsheet that lists each college that requires their reference, plus submission instructions and deadlines. If a college requires a hard copy, you need to address and stamp the envelopes and give them to your recommendation writer to minimize his or her responsibilities.

  • Request paper applications or create online accounts.

    Most college applications are online these days. Some use the Common App; others, the Coalition or the Universal College Application. A college may give you your choice of the three, or it may ask you to apply directly on its website. September is the time to check with each of your colleges to see which application platform(s) it offers or requires. Once you know, create your online accounts and write down your username and password to keep in a safe place. Then, request supplementary application materials from each school. Keep everything organized by institution.

    Doug looks confused as numbers fly around his head.

    Doug / Giphy

  • Register to retake standardized tests.

    So, you’ve already taken the SAT, ACT, and/or SAT Subject Test. Great! But not so fast. Retaking those standardized tests gives you a chance to improve your scores. Plus, the colleges on your short-list will love to see how you improve. Reach out to the admissions offices at your prospective colleges. Ask them when the latest date is to take each test. Hint, hint: Add these deadlines to your master calendar. Even if you aren’t planning to test in September, go ahead and register for your preferred testing date. Slots for later in the fall may fill up quickly as seniors rush to retake their tests before the deadline.

  • Write your admissions essay.

    If you haven’t started your admissions essay yet, now is the time. Luckily, many colleges use the same prompt, so you will likely only need to write one essay (and adjust it for each college you apply to). Read the prompts on your application platform and spend a few days brainstorming. Then, get to writing. It doesn’t have to be perfect just yet. By the end of September, you should have your first draft finished and ready for suggestions from your parents, trusted friends, and teachers.

If you’re looking for our complete checklist for applying to college, click right here.

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