Adult student typing on a computer

The College Application Process: A Complete Checklist

Revised: December 18, 2023

Deciding to pursue a college education is a crucial step toward achieving your personal and professional goals. However, beginning the college application process can seem overwhelming. Where do you begin? When should you start planning? Don't worry! This comprehensive guide can simplify the process and help you get started.

The Complete College Application Process Checklist

Not only do you need to apply for each college that you are interested in, but the application requirements vary for each school. However, by following these steps for applying to college, you can simplify the college application process when applying to multiple schools.

  • Research potential colleges – To start your college admissions journey, research the colleges and programs that interest you. Concentrate on applying to colleges that provide degree programs and certificates that align with your future goals.
  •  Review application requirements – Once you have identified the colleges you are most likely to attend, you should review the application requirements for each school. You might find that writing a list or building a spreadsheet can keep you organized.
  • Create a list of comprehensive deadlines – After you have finalized the list of schools to which you intend to apply, you want to develop a comprehensive schedule that will keep you on track throughout the college admissions process. According to Coursera, these are important deadlines to keep in mind:
    • Early decision or early action deadlines – An applicant wanting early decision acceptance will likely have to submit their materials by early November to receive a decision by mid-December.
    • Regular decision deadlines – An applicant not seeking an early decision may submit their materials by January or February, with most decisions made by April.
    • Financial aid deadlines – An applicant interested in financial aid in the form of grants, scholarships, or loans should fill out a FAFSA application by June 30 of the school year for which they require aid.
    • Scholarship deadlines – Scholarships offered by other organizations will have various deadlines throughout the year, so as applicants research scholarships, they should add their deadlines to their admissions calendar.
  • Put in your requests early – You may find that some applications require additional materials — such as high school transcripts, previous college transcripts, letters of recommendation, SAT scores, or ACT scores. The best way to ensure timely receipt of test scores, transcripts, and recommendation letters is by acting early – these offices often process many requests at once.
  • Craft a compelling personal statement or essay – A college essay is a standard part of any application, with topics varying widely from one school to another. You can write a compelling essay by beginning with a strong, anecdotal opening, prioritizing grammar and writing skills, writing succinctly and efficiently, and allowing your personality to shine through.
  • Submit applications on time – Submit your application by the required deadline, and follow up with the colleges to which you applied to verify that you are not missing any materials.

Why Should I Plan?

Preparing a college application process checklist and strategy can help increase your chances of success. Before submitting applications, you should contact an admissions or transfer counselor to learn more about the opportunities at your college of choice. The counselor can often provide you with tips and advice for creating an application plan, and they also can tell you about opportunities for prior learning assessments. At Champlain College Online, we offer credit for prior learning, which can help reduce the time needed to complete your degree or certificate program.

 Applying for Financial Aid: FAFSA

In addition to securing admission to your preferred college, don’t forget to focus on financial aid. There are many different types of financial aid available to help alleviate the burden of paying for college tuition. The most common types of financial aid include:

  • Loans – Federal loans are available for students and parents seeking financial aid. Loans must be paid back with interest within a certain period.
  • Grants – Grants are a form of federal financial assistance that does not require repayment. Common grants include Pell Grants, Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants, TEACH Grants, and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants.
  • Scholarships – Scholarships are available from various organizations, including private corporations, governmental bodies, and nonprofits. In general, scholarships are awarded to students based on merit or financial need and do not require repayment.
  • Work-Study Programs – Students can earn money towards tuition by working part-time through a work-study program. The program package is based on financial need and funding available through the college.

Most students require financial assistance for school – you might be eligible for loans, grants, work-study programs, and scholarships. Complete the FAFSA form to determine what financial aid you might be entitled to during your academic career. Students should fill out the FAFSA form each year they are enrolled in a degree or certificate program. The form is due on June 30th of each academic year.

What Happens After Submitting the Applications?

While waiting to hear back after submitting your applications, there are a few things you can do. It can be both an exciting and stressful moment.  Continue to check on deadlines for other materials, such as scholarship applications, and verify that you have submitted all materials needed for admission.

In the event you are put on the waitlist, U.S. News and World Report recommends that you:

  • Accept your spot on the waitlist.
  • Contact the school admission office to express your interest in attending.
  • Prioritize academics and other learning experiences to improve your outlook.

If rejected from a college, you should:

  • Continue applying to other schools.
  • Reach out for feedback about why you were denied enrollment.
  • Consider transfer options for the future.

How Can You Improve Your Chances of Admission After Applying?

Although your academic transcript is an essential factor in the admissions process, you can increase your chances of being accepted by submitting a comprehensive application. In your application, emphasize your participation in extracurricular activities and your dedication to community service. You can include additional application materials showcasing your skills in unique areas or hobbies that interest you.

At Champlain College Online, we pride ourselves on our free, 15-minute application. Plus, you are not required to submit an essay or resume.

Discover the Possibilities for Your Future at Champlain

By getting organized early, creating a list of deadlines, and utilizing the Common App, you may find that the college application process is not only easy but also enjoyable. These applications open the door to a whole new world of possibilities, all of which can help lead you on the path toward success.

Now is the best time to begin to explore your options at Champlain. Our degree and certificate programs can provide you with a gateway into your chosen field and allow you to pursue your passions. Apply to CCO today.

About the Author

Champlain College Online

Download Online Experience Guide

Learn what you can expect from your experience at Champlain College Online.

Sunset over Lake Champlain from Champlain College campus in Burlington, Vermont

Online Experience Guide Download

Learn more about what you can expect from your online experience at Champlain.

I acknowledge that, by clicking the "submit" button, I am giving my express written consent to Champlain College and its representatives to contact me about educational opportunities via email, text, or phone, at the phone number above, including my mobile phone, using an automatic dialer, or pre-recorded message. Message and data rates may apply. I understand that my consent is not a requirement for enrollment, and I may withdraw my consent at any time.