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In a perfect world, most college applicants would already be busy filling out college applications like there’s no tomorrow. They would be going through a perfect timeline with a completely well though out plan, checking off each thing on their “to do” list with every step taken. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. In fact, it seems that so many things in life just gets in the way that things don’t always go according to plan. And that’s completely okay.

Not everyone has the privilege of having life fall right to the T, so fear not! Know that the timeline for college admissions is really just dependent on the type of person you are.

The Ideal Timeline

Ideally, summer is supposed to be the perfect time to start creating a final list of colleges to apply for, with August being the time to start drafting both your college and Common App essays. September is meant for asking teachers and counselors for recommendations as well as actually filling out applications. October is for working through and finalizing which schools you want to apply ED/SCEA/EA/REA, including writing any supplementary essays or materials needed. By the time November rolls around, “1/3rd of the schools that you will need to submit supplements for” should be completed. And by December, any remaining applications should be filled out on time, along with the process of scholarship searches beginning.

Basically, summer and fall as a rising senior is–in a nutshell–really tough. Even with such detailed timelines like the one here and here.

The Real Shortened Checklist

1. First thing’s first, you’ve got to make a list of colleges. If you’re like me and feeling completely overwhelmed with just the sheer number of things to look into for a college checklist, check out this article here with more information about how to organize a spreadsheet for your colleges. Doing this allows you to be as detailed or less detailed as you want because you can modify it to exactly what you’re looking for.

2. Organize which colleges you want to focus on the most. While you should definitely treat each college as equals, there may be one that requires more time to look at just because of the sheer number of supplementary information it requires. Create a checklist of each college and the materials they require for admission. Trust me, this will save you from many late night meltdowns once the deadlines start crawling.

3. Create a Common App account or whichever program your college(s) use for applications. Fill out the basic information and at least start brainstorming ideas of what you want to write about.

4. If you’re in a rush (like I was), sometimes it’s best to write an essay so diverse that it can be altered for whatever topic you need. If you’re really under a time crunch, write stories you can use for multiple purposes.

5. If you haven’t already, drop by your teachers and counselors and ask them not only for advice over your essays but also for letters of recommendation. LOR can be a crucial decision when it comes to admissions so be sure you notify your recommenders ASAP. For more information about how to ask, check out these awesome articles here and here.

6. Start looking into available financial aid packages and scholarships. Some schools have a deadline for scholarships applications that can be due exactly when the application for the school is due. Be sure to make note of those dates so you can rake in that money!

7. If you’re looking to attend a private college or university, fill out the CSS Profile (financial aid) ASAP. The profile is not only long and tedious, but it also requires a ridiculous amount of dedication to accuracy. For more information, check out this article her and here.

8. By November, you should at least be done with some of your applications. As soon as you feel that you’re ready, click that ‘Submit’ option and let your mind be from the stresses of at least one college. October/November is also the submission deadline for many colleges who accept ED/EA applicants so be wary of that!

9. December/January is the absolute latest you should ever wait to submit anything. If you’re just beginning to write you essays now, one of the worst (but also best) pieces of advice I’d give is to work an entire weekend through just filling out your applications, including the CSS Profile. Then, work another in its entirety just by writing essays. By then, it may be too late for anyone to review your essays but getting at least one or two people (preferably someone with college admissions experience or a counselor) to even glance over it is better than nothing.

At the end of the day, there’s no denying that the college admissions process is tough. Working to a T with a timeline seems so far from reality that it’s almost laughable. However, if college is something that you’re interested in, putting in at least two weeks of hard work dedicated to this will pay off.

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the author

Born on the other side of the globe but raised in the Lone Star State, Ameera Khan is currently a rising freshman at the University of Texas-Pan American, where she is majoring in Premed-Biology under a BS/MD program. She is a self proclaimed fanatic of soccer, tea, beautiful paperback books, adventure, deep life conversations, and rice pudding. She also has an indefinite love for running, culture, and politics (although she is terrible at the former). Ameera has been writing for The Prospect since June 2013, where she wrote for the Admit/Deny column until the end of her senior year. She is currently a college writer and editor for The Prospect.

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