Organizational Tips To Make Applying To College Less Stressful

Organize College Planning Efforts

If you have ever googled the phrase “how to prepare for college” then you know, there is a ton of information out there on what parents and students should be doing to prepare for college.

The hard part is knowing how to do it and then, of course, actually doing it. This post will introduce you to a system that will help you set goals and track the information that you will need to fill out college and scholarship applications.

So, first you need to know that there are two major obstacles for students when competing for scholarships and college acceptance. The first is having all the information from four years of high school written down and organized. Having everything written down is the only way to ensure that filling out applications is not an overwhelming experience. If you don’t do this, you’ll sit down as a senior and look at the applications for the first time and say, “what have I done for the last 4 years?” Imagine yourself as a senior trying to remember that time you volunteered your freshman year… What was the date? How many hours were you there? It takes so much extra time to go back and try to account for all of the little details.

The key then is to collect this information as you go – track and organize all of the details of your activities a little bit at a time. The more organized your information is, the less time it takes to fill out applications. The less time it takes to fill out applications, the more likely you are to apply and you can apply for more scholarships with the time you saved.

FACT: Small local scholarships often go un-awarded because not a single student applied.

The second hurdle is knowing what information you even need to be tracking – what you need to do to get the scholarship, program acceptance, internship, fellowship, or job. Typically, students do not know this until they start to apply and see the applications. But by then it is too late. Planning in advance is the only way to make sure you will look competitive on paper and avoid regret. By the time you are applying, it is too late to prepare.

Of course, there is no way to know in high school what the perfect choices are to prepare for college, but what you don’t want is to reach your senior year and realize you should have taken the ACT test one more time, or that a scholarship you want (or need) is going to someone with more volunteer hours.

When should you start getting organized?

You are officially considered a high school student as soon as you graduate from 8th grade. Anything you do after that day can be included on your high school resume for college and scholarship applications. So, the perfect time to start preparing is the summer before freshman year, even if it seems like college is so far away. A little planning each month over four years will make the transition to college less stressful and overwhelming – for students and parents.

At the same time, high school juniors and seniors can still take advantage of the time they have left by identifying areas where they need to improve, setting goals and organizing their information before they sit down to fill out applications. If you do start planning a little late, ask teachers, parents, employers, community leaders and even friends to help you recall what you have done during your high school career. It is amazing the things that are often forgotten that should be included on an application.

So let’s talk more about how this system works. The most important part is making a monthly commitment. Just a few minutes a month can make a significant difference in how prepared you are and it will reduce the amount of time and stress involved in the long run. It is essential that you and a committed adult (parent/guardian/teacher/counselor/consultant) schedule a time to meet each month to document the previous month’s activities.

This monthly meeting is the time to set and review goals. For example, if you committed to joining two student clubs your sophomore year, you need to be reminded near the beginning of that school year. Perhaps you can also pursue an officer position to get some leadership experience. It will become apparent after a few monthly meetings which areas need more attention. This monthly meeting will also keep you on track for important events, such as scheduling ACT/SAT tests. Most importantly, meeting on a monthly basis will allow you to record all the details of your activities.

TIP: Set a reminder on a calendar or your phone to ensure you meet every month.  

What information should you be tracking?

When you sit down each month for your planning session, it is important to keep in mind what type of information you should be tracking for applications.

Here are some sections you might encounter on a college or scholarship application:

  • Academics and Testing
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Community Involvement
  • Leadership Experience
  • Honors and Awards
  • Work Experience
  • Resumes
  • Essays
  • Personal Statements
  • Letters of Recommendation

For each section listed above, ask yourself each month:

  • Is there anything that has happened in the last month that could be included on a college or scholarship application?
  • Are there any upcoming opportunities that I should take advantage of that can then be recorded next month?
  • Are there any pictures, certificates or documents that need to be saved?


  • Discuss current goals and your plan to reach them.
  • Change or add goals if your interests change or goals are reached.
  • Create or update a to-do list for the upcoming month.

Extra Storage: Some applications will ask or allow for attachments. A copy of a newspaper article about an extracurricular activity or community service project is a nice addition.

Here are some examples of common attachments:

  • Certificates: These will be kept in better condition if stored where they are not handled often.
  • Medals and ribbons: These can be copied or photographed as attachments and are stored more easily in a tub or box.
  • Newspaper articles: Keep newspaper clippings somewhere that they do not have to be folded.
  • Awards: Even small samples of artwork or trophies should be kept.

Ideally, all of these items should be stored together in one location. A storage container is a convenient and organized way to keep information together that may be needed later. This will allow you to easily find these items when filling out applications. Going through your storage container may also help you recall experiences that should be included on your application.

So, now you know the obstacles students face, the basics of preparing for the application process and the information that you need to be tracking. The next step is to find the right tools to help you set your goals, track progress, and organize all of the information you’ll need to get accepted into the colleges you apply to, and obtain the scholarships you need to pay for your education. 

Need some help with a college application? That’s what we’re here for!

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