My fellow counselors and I are out traveling, meeting students and visiting schools to recruit the class of 2027. While each school and student are unique, we do hear a lot of the same questions and give a lot of the same advice. I figured; Why not compile a list of the college admission hacks that I wish I knew when I was in high school? Granted, I was in high school a while ago. (Doesn’t feel that far away to me, but recently a student called The Strokes “oldies music” and I started thinking about my AARP membership.)

One of the biggest, game-changing practices is staying organized during the application process. There are many moving pieces, and you do not want the thing that holds you back to be a clerical error. Here are some ways to stay organized:

  1. Create an email account that is exclusively for college communication. Keep it simple– emilybcollege2023@whatever.com, and then only use that email for communicating with colleges. (If you have already given us another email, we can switch it out!) This way, all your information is in one place when you are in the mindset to do application work. You can go even further and make folders for each school you are frequently communicating with or getting emails from. So, when you have upcoming Open Houses to the University of Mary Washington and William and Mary, you aren’t frantically wading through emails with a “Mary” search.
  2. Related to point one, but I want to be clear: if your school provides you a school email address- that is not the one you should use for college communication, and it is definitely not the one you should use to make any kind of account with– such as an application portal. It is a lesson often learned too late that once you graduate from high school, your high school email shuts down and is no longer accessible to you. If all your college communications are in there, they are lost to the cyber-abyss. 
  3. Visit. The. Campus. Sometimes this is easier said than done if you are looking at a school that’s far from home, but this is a huge part of understanding what you are investing your time and energy into. Luckily for everyone, an award-winning* journalist (me) wrote a blog post (on this blog) about making the most of college campus visits. Conveniently linked here!
    *Award was for my performance in a middle school play, not journalism
  4. Make a spreadsheet of all the scholarships you think you could qualify for. Keep track of the awarding organization, the dollar amount and if it’s renewable, the qualifications or whether they require an essay/other materials and the deadline. 
  5. Write down your passwords somewhere secure. I don’t think I need to explain further. 
  6. Last one may not sound like organization, but having as much information as you are able to gather up front is going to serve you best in the long run: talk to your parents early and honestly about finances. I know it can be uncomfy for parents and kids alike to have a transparent conversation about money, don’t get me wrong. Still, asking questions early will help you have a much more realistic idea of what you can and can’t pursue or how many scholarships you need to be applying for. Here are some questions to consider:
  • How do you see us covering the cost of college? 
  • Do you have an expectation of contributing? Do you have an idea of what, realistically, you can contribute?
  • Do you have an expectation of me contributing? 
  • What are your expectations for me as a student if you are contributing financially?

This is also a great time to start learning about the FAFSA, which opens October 1. Some high school counseling offices will host events to provide information on completing the FAFSA and answering questions about it. This is a link to a government website with a helpful video and list for filling out the FAFSA.

Staying organized is a great way to make a great impression on your counselors and future professors, too. We absolutely notice when students are on top of it and are in the driver’s seat. 

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