Get Organized!

I’ve been wanting to write about organizational skills for some time, but I’ve been tutoring long enough to know that every child’s process is different. Some students look like a mess and yet they know where everything is when they need it and function well, somehow, in the chaos. I, too, am of that variety. However, I do benefit from notes, lists, and charts to keep me on track, using an endless wallpapering of Post-It® notes in my car, on my refrigerator, and on furniture throughout my house. So, I am writing at the beginning of a new school year to offer some assistance with the dreaded problem of disorganization in school and prepping for college.
Getting ready for and applying to colleges is a monumental task. Some students need to do it “on my own,” while others need constant prodding to move from one step to the next. But all of them can benefit from an organizational chart. I made one of these for my daughter and it quickly turned into a template for all my students to use. My chart is old fashioned: an 11 x 17 piece of paper with penciled lines drawn in with a ruler, very old school. However, most of my students take my dinosaur egg of a chart and use it to create a spreadsheet where they can easily house and change all the information they need. Technology or not, charting is a fantastic tool for organization.
Many different headings can be used for an organizational chart for college; choices will depend on what their major is, whether they will have to submit sports tapes or audio/video of their art or music. However, there are some basic headings that can be used to get started:
College Name/Federal School Code – this one seems simple, but sometimes becomes a big pain. Obviously, your chart should include a list of all the colleges you or your child is planning to apply to but including the Federal School Code for that college could save you time later. This code is also known as a Title IV code or a FAFSA code. Whatever they call it, be sure you are using the correct one because some schools have more than one code for different programs or campuses within their institution. If you’re using the Common Application, it does provide a search tool for the code, but your name must be precisely spelled and entered for the code to come up. That can be confusing because colleges and universities have different ways of listing their names. I’ve personally witnessed this scenario and it is frustrating for all involved. So, if that search doesn’t work or the school is not on the Common App, you can also call the college’s Financial Aid office to find out. I recommend having a good relationship with the good folks in that department; you may need their help later. (More on that in another blog!) If you are still having trouble or it’s 2 a.m. when you’re trying to do this, you can call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-FIN AID. There is also a helpful list of contact information at It will come in handy to have the codes on the chart later.
Deadlines – Early Action, Early Decision, Regular Decision, rolling admissions… there are several variations of deadlines from colleges. Early Action is a good fit for many, as it means the student will apply early and be reviewed early with no binding contract. Early Decision usually carries the same or similar deadline as Early Action, but also requires a commitment from the student: if applying Early Decision and the school accepts and admits the student, then they are obligated to attend that school. So Early Decision is not a tool for all the schools students are interested in, nor is it a way to simply “get an edge.” Early Decision is solely for those few students who know precisely where they want to go and why. Those students should also have visited the school more than once, had contact with their admissions or other department, and have done extensive research on their program of choice, not just a best friend who is attending. That said, Early Decision can offer a better chance at admission if the student is positive about his or her choice. Regular Decision is the final deadline for students who want to apply for the next fall. It can run from November to March and some are even rolling deadlines, which means they offer many opportunities for many months. It gives students the most time but also puts them in the “pile” so to speak with everyone else in no particular order.
Writing Requirements – Once students have entered their college lists into the Common Application, there is a wealth of information that can be obtained. One of the most important sections to look at is what the writing requirements are for each individual school they are applying to. Most require the Common App general essay, but many have additional writing requests. It’s a good idea to check those early so there’s time to think and write and edit and obsess over answers, whilst parents nag and cajole. Who would want to miss that? Seriously, though, add to the chart which schools want which writing assignments to give the student time to consider and research each.
These are just a few of many titles for an organizational chart for applying to colleges. This type of chart can be used for a great many other school-related tasks as well. Being organized is one of the best tools not only for successful schooling and applying to college, but organizational skills are imperative at college too. Students needs to develop a system that works for them and, though it’s hard to watch them work through it, getting organized themselves could change their entire future.
Good luck to all those applying and to all other fumbling their way through the maze that is academia. Designated time to focus and willingness to try different methods is key. So help your students and let them help themselves, too. Mostly, keep your sense of humor; you’re going to need it. And remember, CCWC is here if you need help. Happy “Colleging”!

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