Checklists and deadlines


In the part of the world where I live, time moves slowly. People are laid-back. If you drive down a country road and you pass another vehicle, you lift your fingers from the steering wheel in a minimalistic wave. It doesn’t matter whether you know the other driver or not, it’s just what we do in Kansas. People talk slowly, too, though we don’t have the Texas drawl.

Other parts of the world — colleges in particular — do not operate on the same set of “I’ll drop that paper off in a couple days next time I head to town” assumptions. Deadlines matter.

One of the best things you can do is make a checklist to keep those deadlines in mind. I recommend starting this process during your child’s junior year in high school. Begin with the assumption that your son or daughter will take the ACT and SAT exams more than once. The tests are expensive, but you can get waivers based on your income. Read about the process elsewhere on this blog.

This is how my daughter’s checklist looked, and these are the tasks we completed in order for her to apply to all those schools.

ACT test

SAT test

SAT subject tests

AP individual class exams

Letters of reference from at least two teachers or professors

The Common Application

Individual essays for various schools, as required

Individual “supplements” for various schools, as required

Completed tax documents for the preceding year, including W-2 and pay stub forms

FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)

PROFILE (Private college application for financial aid)

Think of the college application process as exactly that — a P R O C E S S. In capital letters. With lots of space (time) between each step. Don’t let the number of tasks discourage you. Just get a sense of how much there is to do, then step back and work at one task at a time.

As the photograph shows, my daughter’s college-application checklist chart got torn and battered over the several months we used it. I haven’t thrown it away, though. Of all the papers I’ve scribbled and published over the years, this might be the one in which I take the most pride. It’s a record of how our family stayed the course and maintained a spirit of optimism as we navigated utterly unfamiliar territory.

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