College Applications, Financial Aid, and Crying Your Eyes Out

Applying to college can be super hard.

This simple checklist is made by me, a recent college applicant, trying to help the world out a little bit. If you guys have any helpful tips go ahead and put them below in the comments!

Sophomore/Junior Year of High School

1. Find out what you want from your education.

This can include the size of your classes, the feel of the campus, and what kind of students attend. It’s also at least a little important to know what you want to do with your life. Of course you can change your mind from then (because trying to decide what you want for the rest of your life in high school is crazy), but it can be doubly helpful in the admissions process to know what program you want to go into. This way, you know what departments to focus on when researching, and colleges know what type of applicant you are, and can fill their departments accordingly.

2. Draft a list of the colleges you like.

I had a good head start because I started doing this in the 8th grade. I was always a little bit crazy about college, and it showed in my browser history. It seemed like I would have a new favorite college every day. Most college advisors say to narrow your list down to about 10, but the perfect number for me was 30. From there, I weeded out colleges based on if they had my major, different reviews and rankings from Niche, and my probability of acceptance.

2a? Visit those schools!

It was also reallllyyyy helpful for me to visit the schools I had on my list. If you have the time and resources, visiting a school can really help you get the vibe of the campus and figure out if you would be a good fit there. For example, a teacher had recommended I look at Boston College but once I visited, I really did not like the atmosphere. Everyone on campus looked super depressed, and it didn’t really strike me as a place that I would want to spend 4 years of my life at. I immediately took it off the list, and I was down to 29.

3. Make good relationships with your teachers so they’ll be willing to write you great letters of recommendations.

Unfortunately, I did not do this. I was pretty good friends with a lot of my teachers, but I wasn’t sure which ones would write me the best letters of rec. I eventually chose two of my teachers from junior year, but I had a lot of difficulty doing so.

Senior Year

4. Fill out the CommonApp, or Coalition App, and if you’re ambitious, the QuestBridge application

coalition for access, affordability and success application logo

These platforms will make it super easy to send out all your applications at once. I Common Application Logo submitted most of my applications through the Common Application. It’s fairly easy to figure out, but you might need your parents’ help on some of the questions (like Parent Education, Income, stuff like that.)

I also was going to fill out the QuestBridge application, but ain’t nobody got time for that. It had a lot of benefits, but the first round of applications was basically like an early decision application, so I decided against it. This application also had a ton of essays to submit for it. The Common App only has one, plus the supplements for each school.

Questbridge Application LogoIt’s a great option to do Questbridge if you’re applying to a lot of higher tier schools, but your family income is less than $65,000/year.

Larger schools (like state schools) and international universities tend to have their own applications. If you can’t add it onto your Common App, it’s likely that you will have to apply through a different online platform, or old-school through the mail.

5. Send your SAT/ACT scores and your SAT Subject Tests

Even though some schools are test optional now, it’s really to your benefit to send them in. I was able to get a pretty decent score on my SAT and SAT Subject tests, so I sent mine in.

I would also advise taking the SAT with essay. A lot of schools require this for application, and I didn’t take it! Oops! Now I can’t apply to schools like UMich, UC Berkeley, or really any other big state schools. Schools also sometimes require a certain amount of Subject tests to apply. I applied to Tufts and Cornell (Arts and Sciences) who both required two or more Subject tests to be submitted. You can send your scores when you take the test for free, or if you want to wait until you know your score, you can send them here.

6. Make sure your school knows what it’s doing.

4Mine didn’t. Kind of. They had a pretty organized system for sending out my grades for schools through Naviance, but you should really check in every once in a while with your guidance counselor to make sure that everything is done before the deadline.

7. Interviews

If you had the time to visit schools during your junior year, go you. If you didn’t, make the time now. It’s soooooo important to interview at schools where you can. It can really make a difference if you have strong connections with the schools you like, and know your way around the admissions office staff. At my top choice college, I made it a point to introduce myself and make an impression on everyone in the office. I’ve been getting coffee with my regional admissions officer since last year, and I think that it’s helped a lot for my prospects of admissions.

8. Fill out Financial Aid forms.

Every school is different, so you’ll have to research what they want you to do to apply for their financial aid. Usually, they’ll want you to fill out the FAFSA (which now opens on October 1), and the CSS Profile (which costs money to send, but is more detailed.)

CSS Financial Aid Profile Logo FAFSA Banner Post

9. Wait.

This is the part of the checklist I’m at now. It’s hard to wait isn’t it! I have slowly been getting my responses from the schools I applied early action to, but I wish I knew all the schools I got into. I’m both excited and nervous for March, but I know that I will be happy with where I end up going.


As I come to the end of my college application journey, I pass my knowledge on to you guys. I hope you find this at least a little bit helpful!!



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