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Get ready, get set—if you are a high school senior, it’s time to apply to college.

Even if deadlines for your school of choice are a few months away, you should begin your application sooner than later so that you can be ready to hit “send” when the time is right. If the school has rolling admissions—that is, decisions are made continuously throughout the year—you could find out within a few weeks whether you’ve been admitted and begin making choices about living arrangements and other important decisions.

Start here:

Choose at least three and up to six or more colleges to apply to.
You may have a favorite, but don’t limit yourself. Make a list of several schools you’ll almost definitely be accepted by, a couple of schools you have a good chance of being accepted by, and a couple of schools that might be a reach, but you’re hoping to be accepted by. This way, you’ll have options when you makeyour decision.

Take the SAT or ACT. Many colleges and universities are now test-optional, but taking the SAT and the ACT can give you a better understanding of what schools you could apply to, and in some cases help your application if your GPA isn’t great. If you are a 21st Century Scholar, taking the ACT or SAT is mandatory in order to maintain your eligibility for the scholarship.

Get organized. It’s hard to keep all the information about financial aid, programs, courses and housing about each school in your head. So, don’t. Instead, create a folder for each school you plan to apply to. In the folder, you can store admissions information and application materials to easily reference and compare.

Know the application requirements. Some schools require more than transcripts and test scores. You may need to write a personal essay or include some other writing or portfolio sample.

Need a recommendation? Some colleges and scholarship applications ask that you submit letters of recommendation from adults close to you who have been involved in your schoolwork or extracurriculars, like teachers, school counselors, adult club sponsors, or coaches who will be willing to share their observations about your abilities or work ethic.

Always give the person who is asked to write a letter of recommendation plenty of time—at least two weeks is a reasonable time frame. If you are facing a deadline, make sure to communicate the key dates. And remember, always be courteous and express your thanks.

Apply early. Keep a calendar with application deadlines clearly marked. Some schools have strict deadlines for their applications, while others will accept applications year-round. Make sure you know the deadlines for each school you’re applying to, and check to see if there are deadlines you have to apply by in order to qualify for financial aid.

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