I got the idea to make a college binder from my friend Lauren. We were working on apps at a local Starbucks when she whipped out a binder filled with essays and resumes and all things application-related. I marveled at what I could only describe as the College Application Holy Grail, and subsequently decided to make a Holy Grail of my own.

My own personal binder had 17 sections. The first was where I kept a list of all of my colleges, categorized by  safety, match and reach, as well as by application deadlines. After that was a printed-out version of my résumé, my Common App essay, and a chart outlining the standardized test scores I sent to each college. The remaining 16 sections, one for each college I applied to, contained a copy of each supplement printed out from online, in addition to any essay I had to write. On the front of each section there was a picture of the college’s logo and the average accepted SAT score and GPA, according to the US News & World Report and according to Naviance, an college application program my high school used.

Creating a “college binder” worked extremely well for me for a few reasons:

  1. I always had a hard copy of every essay or supplement, just in case I needed a teacher or guidance counselor to look something over.
  2. In case anything ever happened to my computer, I wouldn’t lose all of my work.
  3. Having this binder made me feel a little more calm and on-top-of-my-game.

However, everyone is different, and a college binder like mine might not appeal to everyone. On the other hand, there are some tips I believe that everyone should follow while applying to college:

1. ALWAYS print copies of your essays.

As aforementioned, your computer may crash at any time, leaving you wondering what horrible thing you might have done to deserve that kind of karma. This will prevent you from losing months and months of your hard work and dedication. If you plan on not using a college binder, you should keep your essays in Manila envelopes or online (Google Docs are great for this). At the very least organize them by college (seeing as many colleges will have you write two or more essays). I believe this also makes editing a lot easier; you will be able to catch mistakes you might not see on a computer screen, and you won’t have to deal with formatting issues when it comes to making notes.

2. Make a list of deadlines.

I cannot stress how important this is. For most people, keeping track of deadlines for five or six colleges, let alone 16, can be extremely difficult. With this list, you will be able to see what is due on what date for each and every college to which you are applying. This will help you map your time accordingly, so you are not writing a supplemental essay for a Regular Decision college when you still have two Early Action essays to write.

3. Keep business cards from admissions reps in a safe place.

Each new section in my binder had a picture of the college’s logo inside a plastic sleeve. I also put any business cards I got from that college in the sleeve; this way, I would never lose it. Again, a college binder is not for everyone. If you’re a manila envelope type of person (I applaud you, because I could never live that way), keep the cards with your essays! It’s very important to email reps to show your interest, and emailing one you have already met will help him or her to remember you.

4. Organize your computer files:

This is how I organized my computer during application season. Very OCD, but hey, whatever works!

This is how I organized my computer during application season. Very OCD, but hey, whatever works!

If you’re like me, you HATE clutter, especially when it comes to computer files. At first I had one folder on my desktop designated for all of my essays and supplements. As I added more and more colleges to my list, I realized that one folder wouldn’t be enough. I did a little renovating, if you will, of my college folder, to include subfolders for résumés, my Common App essay, and my supplements (which had subfolders in itself for each college). This method of organization allowed me to know precisely where in my black hole of Word documents each and every essay was.

So those are my 4 EXTREMELY SUPER-DUPER MUY IMPORTANTE tips to stay organized this application season. Find what works for you and utilize it from now until the day your last application is submitted. And remember: being organized is only the second out of many steps to being a good applicant (behind, you know, actually applying)! Good luck!

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  1. Davis Chhoa on August 23, 2013

    I LOVE the college applications binder idea! After I read this, I just had to go make one of my own. Great article!

  2. Elizabeth Aguilar on August 7, 2014

    Haha I’m glad I’m not the only one. Mine also has scholarship apps, financial aid information and the like. It really is helpful- though heavy.

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