Fall College Search and Application Checklist: Senior Year

Posted by IPFW Admissions Team on 8/8/17 4:30 PM

Everyone says the junior year of high school is the most important year in the college hunt, but your senior year comes with an equal amount of pressure—if not more—because you get to do all that while balancing a full load of high school classes, activities, and athletics.

Your work really begins in the fall. The most common regular-decision college application deadline is January 1 (schools with rolling admissions may have later—or no—deadlines), so there’s plenty to do but not much time to do it.

20170808.jpgTo help you stay on track and organized, our expert admissions team mapped the senior year steps between you and your completed (and submitted) applications. We even provided some tips on how to get through each step as painlessly as possible while maximizing your chances of getting into your top-choice schools.

Good luck!

Create a final list of potential schools

Most experts recommend a good mix of schools, including at least one state school and one or two schools where your chances for acceptance are a sure thing. Here are three types of colleges to include in your application mix.

Add application deadlines to your list

Don’t trust yourself to keep the deadlines straight in your head. Write them down (on paper or with an app) to prevent last-minute scrambling. Include financial aid deadlines as well as application deadlines.

Retake the SATs or ACTs (or not)

If you think your pre-test ritual (or lack thereof) hurt your score the last time around, read our article on what to do the night before the big test.

The next SAT is offered August 28, with a late registration deadline of August 15. If you miss that, you can aim for the October 7 testing date, with a registration deadline of September 8.

The next ACT is September 9, but registration deadlines have already passed. Your next chance after that is October 28, with a registration deadline on September 22.

If you’re happy with your SAT or ACT score from your last attempt, there’s no need to retake it. If you’d like a second chance, most schools “superscore” your results, meaning they only look at your best section scores, regardless of how many times you took the test.

Send your SAT and/or ACT results to your colleges (if you didn’t do that already)

When you registered for the SAT or ACT, you could pick up to four colleges to receive your scores free and automatically. If you want to add schools after the fact, you’ll have to pay.

For the SATs, you can do this online with your College Board account. For the ACTs, you can use your ACT Web account.

Start working on your application essays

If you have the option of writing a college application essay, most experts say to take it. Schools want to get to know the real person behind the grades and the résumé. The essay is your chance to show them.

It goes without saying, good writing counts. Be concise and accurate. Don’t waste your reader’s time with flowery language and long digressions. Be sure to have a parent or teacher check over your writing for mistakes.

One quick tip: Don’t brag about your activities (they’re already on your résumé) or your life-changing mission trip (not as unique as you think). As one college admissions pro points out, they really want to know how your mind works. Give them what they want.

(Applying through the Common Application? Take a look at the 2017 essay prompts and start thinking through your responses.[]{#_4mgmeex8yorc .anchor}

Request your letters of recommendation

Take some pity on your favorite teachers and ask for your letters of recommendation as early as possible. Consider meeting with your teachers in person to help jog their memories about your time in their classrooms.

Besides teachers, consider asking these people for a recommendation:

  • Coaches

  • Guidance counselors

  • Club and activity advisors

  • Supervisors from work

Asking for recommendations can feel intimidating. Make it easier on yourself with our bulletproof template.

Have your high school transcripts sent to your colleges.

Do this as early in the school year as you can, before your high school gets backed up with requests.


Find a good block of free time, a workspace with few distractions, and get started on those applications. The more time you allow yourself, the fewer mistakes you’ll make. Here some common mistakes to look out for.

Also, remember to pace yourself. All college applications are done online now. And just like with a video game, you’re allowed to save your progress and pick it up later when you need a break.

Even more convenient, over 700 American colleges accept the Common Application, including many of the country’s most prestigious schools. The advantage of the Common Application is that you won’t have to repeat your efforts, saving time and possibly increasing the number of schools you can apply to.

Read this to find out if your colleges accept the Common Application. Then find the answers to all your Common App-related questions here.

Complete the FAFSA

No, the FAFSA isn’t another standardized test. It’s the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and if you need help paying for college, you must complete it. You use the FAFSA to report your family’s income, assets, and ability to pay for your education. Schools then use it to calculate your financial aid package.

You can do the FAFSA online, but if you have never worked with financial information, it can get a bit technical. Here’s a first-timer’s guide, including a list of all the documents you’ll need to gather. If your parents are available, ask them to help.

A tiny FAFSA mistake won’t jeopardize your financial aid package, but schools may ask you for more information. To prevent delays down the road, try to avoid these common FAFSA mistakes.

Keep in mind: FAFSA deadlines vary by state and school. That’s why we had you write down the financial aid deadlines for every school you’re applying to. If you skipped this step, check with your schools now.

Apply for outside scholarships

While you’re waiting for your acceptance letters (hopefully) to roll in, you can score even more money to pay for college by applying for outside scholarships. Many companies, community organizations, and advocacy groups offer scholarships, from a few dollars to pay expenses all the way up to a full ride.

There are literally thousands of scholarships to sort through, but if you live in Indiana, consider starting with these three. You’ll also want to check out scholarships for specific majors, such as these scholarships for art students and these scholarships for mechanical engineering students.

What Now?

Your applications are in. You completed your FAFSA. Can you take some well-earned time for yourself and coast through the end of your senior year? We wish we could say yes, but there is still plenty to do on the road to college. Learn about your next steps in our free guide, “The Ultimate College Decision Timeline.”

Topics: Choosing a College, Scholarships, Application Timeline, For High School Seniors





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