Ah, Fall! The season of pumpkin spice lattes, Halloween decorations, and…college applications. Now that October has arrived, college and university application deadlines are now looming large in the minds of many high schoolers and their families. While you prepare to take the plunge into the college admissions process, here are six tips to keep in mind that will make for a smoother college application month.

1. Not yet a senior?

Even if you’re an underclassman, you can still use college application month to get a head start on planning for life post-graduation. Keep an eye out for college fairs, informational sessions, and tours in your area, and don’t be afraid to attend! These can be a great way to learn more about schools you’re interested in and get exposed to new ones you might not have even known existed. By building your list of prospective colleges early on and learning about the admissions process ahead of time, you’ll be better prepared (and less stressed!) when October rolls around in your senior year.

2. Apply for the FAFSA

When figuring out how to approach paying for college, many families are understandably overwhelmed. A good place to start is applying for the FAFSA®, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which opens applications on October 1st. The U.S. Department of Education offers a straightforward guide for first-time applicants. To maximize your chances of receiving aid, it’s a good idea to complete it early, well before the financial aid deadlines of the schools you’re planning on applying to. Regardless of family income, every student should apply— the process is free and can open doors to federal scholarships, loans, and work-study opportunities. Check out these 6 financial aid tips from high school counselors for more tips on funding your college education.

3. Finalize your college list

By your senior year of high school, you’ve probably got a long list of colleges and universities that have piqued your interest. Submitting college applications can be time-consuming and very costly depending on the school, so it’s important to narrow down your list to your serious prospects. The College Board recommends the average student apply to between 5 and 8 schools, with an even spread of safety schools (those with flexible admission standards and/or affordable tuition), probable schools (those that you feel are a good fit academically and environmentally), and reach schools (those with higher competition and stricter admission standards). You may choose to apply to more or fewer schools depending on your situation, but either way, it’s essential to… 

4. Research the admissions requirements of your chosen schools

Once you’ve narrowed down your college list, your first stop should be the Freshman Admissions or Undergraduate Admissions page of each school’s website. This is typically an excellent resource for learning the school’s admission requirements, application timeline, scholarships and financial aid, and more. Reaching out to an admissions counselor or touring the school is a great way to answer any specific questions.

As you research each school, be sure to keep any info you gather organized in a document or spreadsheet. Not only can these documents help you keep track of where you are in the admission process for each school, but recording key information like cost of attendance, student body size, available majors, and more can help make decision-making easier if you have to choose between two or more acceptance offers. 

5. Consider any additional program requirements

If you’re planning to apply to an Honors college, limited admission major (such as many BFA programs), accelerated degree track, or another special program, there may be additional steps or applications to complete to be eligible. The program’s website will be your best resource for finding this information, though you shouldn’t be afraid to reach out to a program coordinator or an admissions counselor for further details.

Additionally, student-athletes planning to play competitively in college should have already made free profiles through the NCAA eligibility center website, which offers its own resources and checklists to help students stay on top of their unique requirements.

6. Use your resources

Your high school counselors have likely guided hundreds of other seniors through the college application process and can recommend resources to help you plan for your future. Additionally, your prospective schools’ admissions departments are there specifically to answer future students’ questions about applications, student life, financial aid, and more. Connecting with the individuals who’ve built their careers around helping high school students transition into college will set you up for success.

Have your college applications submitted but feel overwhelmed about applying for scholarships? Good news—there’s an app for that! Scholar’s App is a scholarship management service that connects students to verified scholarships and tracks the entire financial aid process. Easily create a profile, search for scholarships, and even submit applications online. Click here to sign up—it’s free!

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