Stay on Track With This College Application Checklist

College Application Checklist

Stay on Track With This College Application Checklist

Published March 26, 2024

College Application Checklist

Students and families need to stay on track to find the right college at the right price, so we’re providing this comprehensive college application checklist. Use this resource to give yourself enough time to build a list of potential colleges and then complete your applications without unnecessary stress.

Your College Application Checklist

Our Road2College members frequently tell us they wish they had started the college process sooner. Use this college application checklist to stay ahead of the curve.

Build Your College List

We recommend starting to research colleges as early as the student’s freshman or sophomore year. This gives the student and parents enough time to research and consider multiple colleges. You can compare the data, talk to people, do campus tours, and determine where you might fit both academically and financially. This will enable you to build your college list.

Try our R2C Insights tool for free to compare colleges, find merit scholarships and build your college list. We also offer 1-1 coaching for building your list.

Mark Your Calendar with Dates and Deadlines

Once you’ve finalized your college list, mark your calendar with these dates based on your college plans:

* Application deadlines: Regular Decision, Early Decision (ED), Early Action (EA), and Rolling Admissions (if applicable)
* Financial aid deadlines: Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), CSS Profile, and merit scholarships
* Standardized testing dates: to take or retake the SAT or ACT (if necessary)
* College admissions test: for universities with their own entrance exams

Review the College Application Packets Before Beginning

By fall of senior year, students will start applying to colleges. The elements of college applications will be similar whether you’re applying to schools that accept the Common Application, their own applications, or others such as  

We recommend that parents and students both read the applications to discuss what’s required and how to approach them effectively.

Here’s what will likely be required:

* An application form
* Standardized test scores (ACT, SAT)
* Common App essay
* College-specific supplemental essay or essays
* Transcripts
* Recommendation letters
* Extracurricular activities information
* Fees (or a fee waiver form)
* A school profile (if your child’s high school provides one)

>> NEED HELP? Road2College offers 1-1 Common App review and essay coaching

Decide on an Application Type and Strategy

The next step is creating a strategy for your child’s applications and financial aid documents. It’s especially important to help your child decide as soon as possible about the type (deadline and requirements) of college admissions they prefer:

* Early Decision
* Early Action
* Rolling Admissions
* Regular Admissions

For example, if your child applies Early Decision, they’ll need to put a very strong application packet together early in their senior year. Remember that if your child applies ED anywhere, they are committing to attend that school if they get in.

Also, they aren’t allowed to apply to any other schools.

Early Action admissions don’t usually have the same restrictions as ED, but the deadline is often significantly sooner than the regular decision date. As with ED, EA packets should be as strong as possible, so only encourage your child to apply EA if they have high test scores, good grades, and plenty of extracurriculars to include.

Colleges with rolling admissions accept students on a first-come, first-served basis, and the open spots may fill up before the window closes. It’s best to get application packets in as close to the beginning of the window as possible.

Get Financial Paperwork Together

Next, it’s time to get your financial aid documentation together. You’ll need to be involved in this. It’s vital to fill out and submit the FAFSA even if you aren’t sure your financial circumstances will qualify your child for aid.

Many colleges require students to submit this form to be considered for scholarships and other types of merit aid. Before you start work on the FAFSA, gather this information:

* Identification numbers (Social Security, driver’s license)
* Tax returns
* Details of untaxed income, such as child support and Social Security benefits
* Financial asset details: bank balances, cash, investments, and business assets

Some schools also require a CSS Profile to be completed. It requires similar information to FAFSA, but you may need to provide more details about your household income. Make sure to have W-2s, tax returns, and bank statements ready.

Submit or Self-Report Test Scores

Your child should send their ACT and SAT scores to prospective colleges that require them. If the school(s) your child is applying to allows self-reporting of test scores and grades, they can wait to see where they get accepted, then pay the fee(s) to officially submit the scores to the intended school(s). This will help your family avoid paying submission fees for the official scores until you know it’s necessary.

Write the Application Essays

The two main types of application essays are the Common App essay and college-specific essays, often called supplemental essays. Strong, memorable essays can help a student stand out from the crowd. Here are some tips:

* The essay should feature your unique voice, opinion, and perspective.
* The tone should be natural but not too casual.
* It’s important to proofread the document for grammatical errors, typos, and misused words.

>> NEED HELP? Road2College offers 1-1 essay coaching

Double-Check Everything

The last step is to double-check all the application materials.

* The essay, activities list, and resume (for the Common Application)
* Personal information –  is it complete and correct?
* The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) waiver – has it been signed?
* A professional-sounding email address
* Additional required paperwork for colleges that don’t use the Common Application

Students should follow up with each school about a month after they submit their packet to make sure it was received. Verify that each college has test scores, transcripts, financial aid forms, and recommendation letters.


Use R2C Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.  

Other Articles You Might Like:

Colleges Say They Want Passion, but What Does That Mean?

Showing Demonstrated Interest in a College Helps Prevent Being Labeled a “Stealth Applicant”

Parenting Dilemma: To Assist or Not to Assist in College Applications. Hear What Parents Have to Say




In this article:

Upcoming Events

Similar Articles for You

Dear Roadie, My Son Struggles in AP Courses. Is The Stress Worth It for College?


Dear Roadie, My Son Struggles in AP Courses. Is The Stress Worth It for College?

Dear Roadie, My son wants to load up on AP classes his senior year because he thinks it will impress...

6 Types of Insurance for College Students and How to Save on Them

College Life

6 Types of Insurance for College Students and How to Save on Them

Navigating insurance options is essential for college students to protect their health, belongings, and finances. However, many people aren’t aware...

How to Write a College Essay That Works


How to Write a College Essay That Works

Millions of high school students apply for college each year, and many have to write at least one college application...

Become a Member

At Road2College you’ll find everything you need to make the admissions and paying for college process less stressful and more transparent.


Explore R2C Insights™ — your source for finding affordable colleges and merit scholarships.


Get coaching on admissions and college financing.


Join Road2College where parents and experts work together to inform and inspire college-bound families.