It’s the season of college applications. For many students, this can be an exciting yet stressful time. It can be challenging to navigate the college application process. There are many different aspects of the college application process from financial aid to college essays to determining which schools you even want to apply to.

To help you achieve your higher education goals, we compiled a list of tips for high school students getting started with their college application process.

1. Check-in With Your Counselor

As you start the application process, check in with your academic school counselor. Your counselor can help you determine what schools would be a good fit, assist you with filling out application paperwork, and direct you to student aid and scholarship programs.

If you have kept your counselor up to date throughout high school, they may become your greatest asset as they keep track of any accomplishments you may have and have access to your academic record. Your counselor is also a great person to write letters of recommendation.

2. Stay Organized & Track Your Deadlines

You definitely don’t want to miss an application deadline! As you are creating a list of colleges you plan to apply for, make a note of each application deadline. A great way to stay organized is creating a spreadsheet using Excel or Google Sheets to list the schools you want to apply for and the application deadlines. You can also include the URL link to the application form, log in information for application portals, and note if you need any supplement materials such as letters of recommendation.

3. Complete The FAFSA Application

Every student should complete the FAFSA application, even if you don’t think you qualify. Financial aid is determined by your Expected Family Contribution and the Cost of Attendance at your college. While not everyone will receive financial aid, students may be eligible for federal loan programs and financial aid programs at their college through FAFSA.

You will need to have several important documents to complete the application, including your social security number (SSN), federal income tax returns, W-2 forms, and other records of income for yourself and parents. The FAFSA application for the 2024-2025 academic year will open December 2024.

4. Extracurriculars

Most applications will ask about extracurricular activities you have participated in. This is when you want to add in all the clubs, sports, and volunteering you have been involved in. You might be able to include hobbies that are significant to you, such as coding or playing an instrument. It can be helpful to have a list ready that outlines all your extracurricular activities with brief descriptions of your responsibilities and accomplishments.

5. Be Authentic In Your College Essay

College essays will typically prompt students to share about themselves and provide deeper insights into who they are. When writing your essays, think of stories you can share where you were able to learn and grow. You can draw from experiences in your extracurricular activities, academic history, or personal challenges. But remember that college admission officers are not just looking for you to describe your experiences. Your essays should include self-reflection and focus on how the experiences that have influenced you.