College Application Checklist: The Final Countdown

Going to college is the most important decision you, as a young adult, will make in your life. No pressure, though.

Sorry, I mean:

No, pressure, though!

On top of this, getting into the college of your dreams, well, let’s just say it ain’t no cake walk.

In the US, there’s a whole myriad of requirements you need to meet in order to have your application even considered, let alone make the cut and gain admission.

Before you take your sweaty palms and palpitating heart and hit that big ol’ SUBMIT button you need to make sure that every piece of your college application is in order.

Which is why we've prepared a College Application Checklist.

Wise people often say “you never get a second chance to make a first impression”, and, boy, is this true for your college application!

If you're ready to get your college application sent off to the top schools in the country - or even if you just have a favourite school you want to get into, you're going to need to get a few key things in order if you want to stand a chance of getting in.

So, let's take a look at the complete and final checklist you need to follow before you submit your college application.

The Application

If you want to get into any college, let alone your dream college, you need to make sure you know the details of your application. You must know:

  • The early application deadline.
  • The regular application deadline.
  • Whether you need to submit a folio.
  • Whether there'll be an interview.
  • How many letters of recommendation you need.
  • The number of extracurricular activities.
  • What your essay topic is, if there is one at all.
  • While this blog will help you with the key aspects of your application, each school often has nuanced differences and requirements to their -process and expectations.

These details can differ between colleges and campuses.

However, the common application helps streamline this process.

Ideally, you need to ensure you're covering all bases and researching the requirements for each college you apply to.

The best thing you can do to give yourself every opportunity is make sure you're doing your research!

High School Transcripts

A major aspect of your college application is your performance during high school.

Unfortunately, if you're already at the stage of submitting your application there's not much you can do to improve this, but you do need to make sure it's included - regardless of how well you did during high school.

The minute you decide the colleges you're interested in attending, get your complete high school transcript ordered, and get your mid-grade transcript together as well (the mid-grade transcript is your senior grades to date).

Then, make as many copies as you need so that you can send them off to all the schools you're applying for.


Colleges can look at your performance right back until the tender age of 13, and the most important aspect they look for is a steady gradient of improvement.


If you're not satisfied or impressed with how well you've performed on your college application, there are plenty of ways you can compensate and beef up your application in other areas.

Colleges are beginning to favour the passionate and ethical candidate more than an academically-gifted applicant, so your extracurriculars and college essay are a great place to make up for dropped grades during those murky and awkward formative years in high school.

It's cool, we've all been there.

ACT, SAT - College Application Tests

Now comes one of the most difficult parts of your college application: the college application tests.

You are required to sit at least one test, either the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or the American College Testing (ACT).

Though colleges favour neither.

These tests are a requirement for your application and achieving a solid score on these tests can greatly increase your chances of gaining admission into your dream college.


You don't need to achieve a perfect score!

You have a few opportunities to sit these tests throughout the year as an international student, they are:

2017 SAT months: May, June, October, November and December.

2017 ACT months: April, June, September, October and December.

Given you'll most likely have end of year high school exams to compete with, we recommend sitting the test earlier in the year or towards mid-year.

Having to add the extra pressures of a college application test will make life much harder for you.

Whichever month you choose to sit your preferred test, make sure you check the registration deadlines. Often they'll be a month or so before the official test date.

Although colleges don't prefer one test to the other, there are some distinct differences between the two, which you can check out in our other Crimson Blog The SAT or the ACT? Which Test Do You Need To Sit.

Choose the test that suits you best. You can learn which you prefer by sitting practice tests.

Tip: Make sure that, on the day of the test, you have the scores sent to the schools that you're applying to -- this will save you the trouble of having to resend them in the future.

Letters of Recommendation

After you've checked off your test scores, it's important to get some solid letters of recommendation from trusted advisers.

These letters can come from teachers, guidance counsellors, bosses or any other mentors who can attest to your personal and scholastic growth over the years.

We suggest that you gather at least three letters of recommendation, and that you start early with your requests.

Just as you are busy, so too are they.


Your mum, dad or grandma don't count!


As previously mentioned, colleges are beginning to favour the well-rounded, holistic candidates over the academically gifted candidates, and this is where letters of recommendation can be so important. Make sure your letters are painting a clear picture of who you are as a person, not just as a successful student.

Oh, and also, don't forget to send thank-you notes or e-mails to the people who took the time out of their day to recommend you for the school of your dreams.


A few colleges have very specific requirements about your personal essay, so make sure you've done your research into your dream school.

Schools that don't have a prompt will most likely have a "personal statement" essay of sorts that will allow you to show the colleges who you are, what you'd like to do and what you plan to do to get there.

Your essay is a great opportunity for you to clearly express the benefits you will bring to campus and why you'd fit into the campus life. This isn't something to be taken lightly, so as soon as you write your essay, have at least two to three different people look it over to make sure it's up to par.

This is where the likes of an English teacher or an English tutor can be of special assistance.


Talking about how good your grades are, is not a great idea.

Discussing a generic topic or something that can be expressed in other aspects of your application will lead your essay to blend into the masses of application essays!

Tip: Before you start writing your essay, read our blog about how to make your essay stand out!


Finally, but certainly no less important, it's imperative that you have all of the financials of getting into your school of choice in order.

This means that, not only do you have to make sure that you pay all of the application fees (usually a small sum of $50 or so) but you have a plan for admission fees, tuition fees and cost of living.

Especially as an international student, these fees can add up, quickly!

It's important you either apply for help or have a strategy in place to pay them off.

The most important aspect for financial support is to make sure all of your financial aid forms (FAFSA) are filled out and completed.

If you're looking to obtain a need-based scholarship (as opposed to one based on merit) this is a HUGE must!

More information:

Visit our blog about scholarships to discover if there are any easy scholarships for you to apply for.

Secondly, you can visit our blog about how to afford studying in the US for a much more in depth look at the cost of studying in the US and how you can make it affordable for you and your family.

Final Thoughts

Going to college is one of the most exciting and rewarding times of your life as a young adult.

However, you need to make sure you're working hard to give yourself the opportunity to get there.

While getting into college, of course, can be difficult--not only do your grades have to be up to snuff, but you have to have sufficient student participation credentials and after-school activities to demonstrate that you are well-rounded.

By following this simple checklist, you can make sure you're ticking all the boxes and that you're on the right path towards gaining admission to get into the college of your dreams.

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