The college process is a multi-month exercise of taking in and managing a lot of information. And all that information that matters in getting the money you need and making a solid college choice, not to mention saving time – which is at a premium senior year.
Staying on top of deadlines and paying attention to detail are essential, and having an organization system specific to your college journey is best tackled before classes start, or within the first two weeks of school. You need a planner, too but that’s a post of its own!
I’m a fan of a hybrid system: an old-school binder AND electronic docs well organized into folders. Why not just make it all electronic? You definitely can, but hear me out on the binder thing.
Here’s what works best in electronic folders:
Drafts of your application essay(s) and personal statement(s). You don’t have to write here if your composition process works best on paper, but when you get the draft close to completion, it is worthwhile to transfer it into electronic form. This will smoothly accommodate last inputs and edits and, you’ll have it all ready to cut/paste when the deadline nears.
Bonus One. Typing your essay is anothe rofrm of editing and revising.
Bonus Two. You’ve got a changeable piece of writing you can use again for similar prompts in scholarship apps.
Brag sheet. You can create yours electronically or manually – whatever works. For ease of customizing it for your recommenders, and sharing via email or Google, electronic doc is the way to go.
These things are efficiently managed in paper format:
Usernames and passwords for each college. Also notate challenge question answers etc. (This could be captured in a spreadsheet also)
Your school transcript. You’ll be referring to this quite a bit when you’re filling out applications. Paper is less distracting than toggling back and forth between sites and increases accuracy as you manually input numbers and info from one source into another.
FAFSA information. Usernames and passwords. Misplacing user credentials for the FAFSA can end in major frustration so make sure you’ve got it all together. Also, note the email address and phone number you entered. Best practice – write all of this down as you are doing the FAFSA!
Print copies of FAFSA generated reports (like the SAR) because they provide info about your federal aid and are an early baseline of the $ you have available to you. Some students print out a copy of their completed FAFSA.
Entrance and placement exams info. Yes, this is generally handled electronically. Still, having paper copies of score reports makes them easier to digest and to share with coaches or counselors. Ditto on storing your user credentials.
Depends on your style:
Your college list will be fluid over time. Pencil-Eraser or Cut-Past metholds both work.
Scholarship lists. Do consider electronic spreadsheets so you can save links for quick access when you’re ready to apply.
Letter of recommendation tracking.
Also in the binder:
Materials and letters you receive from colleges or acquire while on a visit. Organize according to college. Later, you’ll add acceptance letters, financial aid offers.
Written instructions provided by your high school counselor. Most schools have procedures/policies for transcript requests and letters of recommendation. All in one place will be a time saver.
Hope you find these organizational suggestions useful. If you have a system that works for you, by all means, continue on. Just make sure you’re taking control!