Melissa Brock

Melissa Brock

Writer & Blogger

My name is Melissa and I’m a longtime admission professional, personal finance writer, editor  and parent of two (very!) busy kiddos. I couldn’t make it all happen without my husband, Steve.

I hatched my site because I’ve heard so many head-scratching questions from parents. I’ve journeyed in the footsteps of hundreds of families, trekked to dozens of college fairs and even weighed the (billions?) of college savings options for my own two kiddos.

The Complete (De-Stressed!) Guide to Organizing College Applications

by | Sep 6, 2020 | Ask the admission office | 0 comments

Pulling your hair out because your child won’t get going with college applications? Or maybe it’s tricky to get the application deadlines organized, the essays written, understanding the types of college applications… 

Okay, you know what? Let’s not overwhelm you more. 

When I first became an admission counselor, I had zero awareness that other schools even had admission deadlines. 

Why?

Because we used rolling admission and we could accept college applications at any time.

Are you aware of the fact that colleges have application deadlines?

Ha! Just kidding — I know you know. 

Here’s how to take the flummox out of college applications. Flummox: What a great word!

Maybe your kiddo can add it to his application essay! 

Step 1: Review your child’s short list.

Is the list still the list? It could have changed since your daughter’s junior year. COVID-19 hit and everything changed. Your child may no longer want to go to a school far from home. She may be less than interested in the school down the road, which has all online classes — and nothing else. 

The point is, where she was last year could be completely different from now. She also could have added six more to the list since then.

Step 2: Have a family conversation. 

Now’s the time to talk about what makes sense for your child’s needs — together. Maybe your child has severe allergies and you think that wearing a mask everywhere will make it harder to breathe.

Maybe you feel that your child had a horrible junior year and those college prospects don’t look nearly as good as they could have.

Step 3: Understand the various admission types.

Different schools = different admission types. 

Let’s do a quick overview of admission types to help guide you through.

Regular Admission

Your child can apply to a bunch of schools with the regular application submission deadline. The deadline itself varies between institutions. 

Regular admission deadlines typically fall in early January and admission offers are sent out in late March or early April. Your student has until May 1 to either accept or decline the admission offers. Colleges that offer regular admission usually incorporate an early college admission option (detailed below).

Rolling Admission

Colleges release admission decisions regularly — sometimes daily — instead of sending them all out on one target date with rolling admission. 

An admission committee reviews your child’s application as soon as all required information is in, rather than setting an application deadline and reviewing applications in a group. Colleges that use a rolling admission policy usually notify applicants of admission decisions quickly.

Rolling admissions decisions are non-binding, which means that your child will not be required to attend that school. Your child will not need to decide whether to enroll until May 1, or National Candidate Reply Day. 

Open Admission 

Open admission means a college accepts any high school graduate, regardless of academic performance, until all spaces in the incoming class are filled. Community colleges often admit students through open admission.

Early Action (EA)

Early action gives your child the option to submit an application before the regular deadline. These plans are not binding, which means that your child is not required to attend that particular college. Some colleges have an early action option called EA II — a later application deadline. 

Early Decision (ED)

Early decision means your child submits an application to his or her first-choice college before the regular deadline. Early decision plans are binding. This means your child must enroll in the college if admitted and accept the financial aid award offered — immediately. Some colleges have an early decision option called ED II — a later application deadline than a school’s regular ED plan. 

Single-Choice Early Action or Restrictive Early Action

Single-choice early action, also known as restrictive early action or restricted early action, is another non-binding option. Your child is not required to attend if accepted. However, your your child may not apply to any other school during the early action period. It’s a combo of both early action and early decision. In other words, it’s less restrictive than early decision but more restrictive than early action. 

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Step 4: Make a list of college deadlines.

Wouldn’t it be nice if all college application deadlines fell on the same date every year?  

Yes. 

Get my spreadsheet, the College Money Tips Visit Spreadsheet, by signing up here. It’s totally free! 

The spreadsheet includes everything you want to keep track of — including application deadlines. Save it as your own and fill it out however you’d like to use it. It’s a great way to get you college search in gear.

And, for heaven’s sake, you can keep track of all those application deadlines!

Step 5: Understand the various types of college applications.

In addition to admission types, you also contend with different application types.

It’s okay, though. Each college makes it very clear on its website which type of application it uses. (Make sure to mark it down the College Money Tips Visit Spreadsheet!)

Common Application

You can apply to nearly 900 colleges and universities using the Common Application (aka Common App), including public and private colleges and universities. In all 50 U.S. states and 20 countries!

Application steps:  

  1. Gather materials, such as transcripts and test scores.
  2. Create an account.
  3. Add colleges your student plans to apply to.
  4. Get recommendations or other official forms from counselors, teachers and others.
  5. Plan the essay and write it.
  6. Submit your application.

Coalition Application

The Coalition aimed to improve the college application process. MyCoalition, is designed to engage students, particularly under-represented students, in the college application process You use a digital storage locker, interactive Collaboration Space and the application is accepted at all member schools.

Application steps: 

  1. Start application. 
  2. Choose your applicant type.
  3. Follow all the links to the various application parts to complete the college’s application. These steps vary depending on the college.

Universal Application

Some schools use the Universal Application — but many schools also accept the Common and Coalition Applications. Figure out which schools on your child’s list coincide with a specific application type and concentrate on that one.

Application steps

  1. Click “Start New.”
  2. First years complete the First Year Admissions Application. Transfer Applicants complete the Transfer Admissions Application. 
  3. Fill out the Personal Statement or essay portion if necessary.
  4. Fill out supplemental forms. 
  5. Complete recommendation and report forms required by the colleges. Each college may require different Part 3 forms and some may not require any at all. 
  6. First-year applicants can request the Instructor Recommendation, School Report, Midyear Report, and the Final Report as well as the Early Decision Agreement or First Marking Period Report when applicable.

Colleges’ Own Application 

Many colleges don’t bother with the Common Application, Coalition Application or Universal Application. You must fill out their own application! Some colleges accept a shared application like the Common Application or their own application. 

For example, the institution where I worked (a private college) requires its own application. We didn’t accept the Common, Coalition or Universal Application. 

If you compared them all, you might see similarities and differences between all application types.

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Step 6: Time block.

Help your student set aside specific amounts of time to fill out the application. Let’s say your student must complete the application by November 1 for Early Decision. 

Sit down with your child and time block out specific evenings and weekends (working around soccer and piano lessons!) to work on the essay and other application sections. It might look like this: 

  1. College X application: September 15
  2. Common Application recommendation requests: September 18
  3. Common Application essay: September 21 to 30
  4. And so on!

Encourage your high school to tackle small sections at a time. It’ll keep your child from getting overwhelmed. 

Small steps! It’s all it takes. 

Step 7: Get help — but schedule ahead!

Your child’s English teacher might be a whiz at crafting essays. Have him reach out to her for help with plenty of time to spare before the deadline. His teacher might be helping 60 other kids with their essays, too! 

That brings up another point: Make sure your child asks for recommendation letters in plenty of time. Weeks, if not months, in advance! You want to make sure your child’s recommendation doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.

Get Organized

The reality: You don’t know how long it’ll take your child to complete the application. It might take days, it might take weeks! 

But you and your student want to get this part of the college search just perfect. Take plenty of time to get it right. Your child won’t regret crafting the perfect essay, waiting on a stunning recommendation letter and more. 

Just build in plenty of time to do it!

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