Beginner’s Guide to College Applications: Get Planning

By Ashley McCarrick

“This is so overwhelming!” We hear it every day. Yes, the college application process is a daunting one. If you do things the right way, though, the process will pay off with your attending the college of your dreams. Many college applications across the country open on August 1. So over the next month, we will break down the dreaded application process and get you to the “Submit” button in one piece.

Step 1: Decide where you want to apply

We recommend 2-3 “reach” schools, 3-5 “match schools” where you will be truly competitive, and 1-2 “safety” schools. Be honest with yourself during this step. Think of your current SAT ® and ACT ® test scores, extracurricular activities, and grades… not what you wish these were. You may still have time to work on your test scores, but it’s important to be realistic.

Step 2: Determine which college applications you need to complete

Are all of your colleges on the Common App or ApplyTexas or will you need to do individual applications?

Step 3: Make a list of all essays and short-answer topics you need to write

See the 2018-2019 Common App essay topics here and ApplyTexas prompts here. Having a complete list of essay topics is helpful when you are brainstorming ideas so you are sure you write essays for all of the prompts.

Step 4: Create an organizational system

Maybe it’s a spreadsheet, a notebook, a white board, or your phone. Figure out some way that works for you to keep yourself on track. Set deadline dates (and stick to them). Ideally, all applications will be complete by October 1, especially if you follow our plan this month.

Step 5: Enlist help

Keep mom and dad from nagging you by checking in with them regularly. Set up regular meeting dates to discuss your progress and any help you need. Before starting the process, it’s good to have them OK your list of colleges. You parents should be your allies during the college admissions process. Plus, you’ll need their credit card to pay application fees.

Step 6: START

This is the hardest part. Even if you just create a username and password for the Common App, it is a big step toward college, a career, and your future.

Coming Next: College Application Essay Tips
How to brainstorm, be yourself, and get it all on paper.

Ashley McCarrick is an Executive Director at KD College Prep. She has been serving KD students since 2007 and enjoys helping teenagers discover their dreams. In her free time, Ashley delights in spending time with her daughter, Lilley, and volunteering with various local organizations. You may contact her at


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