In the following article, Admissions Expert Kim Phan (Harvard ‘21) shares tips on how to keep track of your college applications. For more guidance on the college applications process in general, sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.

Photographer: Kelly Sikkema | Source: Unsplash

Congratulations—you’ve got your college list! Now, it’s time to buckle down and begin those applications. Where do I start? Should I begin requesting recommendations from my teachers? How many essays do I need to write? The checklists that each school provides for their applications can seem overwhelming at first. However, one way to keep calm and make progress is to get organized. Here are a few ways to keep track of your college applications and all of their components:

Create a college applications spreadsheet:

Using your application of choice (Excel, Google Sheets), create a spreadsheet to help you track your colleges, their application requirements, and how far along you are in the process of completing these requirements.

At the most basic level, your spreadsheet headers — the top row(s) — should include key information about each college and its application requirements. Start by creating a column for final application deadline(s), which may reflect the dates for Early Action submission, Regular Decision, or Rolling Admissions. You may also want to indicate which of those admissions rounds you are planning to enter, and make sure that you either bold the application deadline that applies to you or denote this specification in some other visible way. The last thing you want is to accidentally miss the final submission date!

Next, consider creating columns that represent each of the college’s application components, such as recommendation letter requirements, application supplement essays, test score submissions, interviews, and financial aid. Some other questions you might consider are whether or not the school tracks prospective students’ “demonstrated interest” through correspondence or campus visits and what the application fee is.

Finally, it’s great to have a column titled something along the lines of “Application Submitted” that you can check off when your application is in!

For each of the major components of a college application, consider the following questions:

Depending on how relevant each question is to you, you might want to consider creating sub-columns that allow you to be more granular in tracking the progress of your application.

Recommendation letters:

    • Is a recommendation letter from your guidance counselor required?
    • Are teacher recommendations required, and if so, how many? Can you submit more than the minimum number of recommendations, and is there a maximum? Is there an optimal number of recommendations that the institution suggests you submit?
    • Which teachers are you planning to ask for recommendations? Have you communicated with these teachers about this request yet? (Be sure to give your teachers at least 3-4 weeks of notice in advance of the submission deadlines. Some teachers may have their own policies. Regardless, it’s always better to be early.) Have your recommenders completed their letters, and have they submitted them?

Supplemental essays:

    • How many supplemental essays are required, and what are the general topics of their prompts? For instance, you may summarize a prompt that asks you to write a self-introductory letter to your future roommate as “Roommate Letter.”
    • Which draft are you on for these supplements? Are these essays ready for submission?

Test score submissions:

    • What, if any, test scores do your colleges require? SAT? Subject tests? Do you need to or do you plan to also submit AP scores? Have you completed submitting them?


    • Do you have to complete an interview? Will the interview be conducted by an admissions officer, an alum, or a student at the school?
    • Have you scheduled your interview, and if so, what date will it take place? Have you sent a thank you note to your interviewer after the interview?

Financial Aid:

    • Might the institution provide you with financial aid? If there is any chance of this (even with the slimmest possibility), make sure that you apply.
    • Is there a specific application that you must submit in order to be considered for financial aid? Have you submitted the forms and documents required?

Demonstrated Interest & Campus Visit:

    • Does this college track demonstrated interest through any type of information session, events, or campus visits?
    • If so, have you engaged within any of those displays of demonstrated interest?
    • Does submission of an admissions application to this institution require that you pay a fee? Might you apply for a waiver or aid in any way?

I encourage you to think about how much detail you need in order for you to feel confident and in-control of your application process. All of these questions prompt consideration on what you might want to include in your spreadsheet. If only a few feel relevant to you, then only include those. Keep it as simple as possible for you to feel secure, and do not overwhelm yourself with too many columns and/or details, as that may only cause confusion or anxiety.

Finally, you can add colors to column or row headings to your liking! Play around with the formatting to make it understandable and helpful to you.

Stay organized with folders:

Another method of keeping track of your applications is to organize different parts of each college application into folders. Take a look at the process below:

  1. Begin with creating one folder for all of your college applications.
  2. In that main folder, create one folder for each of the colleges to which you intend to apply.
  3. Now, within each of those college folders:
  4. Create a blank word document for each of the application components you need to complete: for instance, I might have a document titled “Extracurricular Short Responses” and another titled “Supplement Essay #2” in one college folder.
  5. Copy and paste each specific college essay question and/or question options into the word document. For instance, at the top of the document labeled ““Extracurricular Short Responses,” I may have copied down “Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences and how it has impacted you. (200 words maximum)

Finally, you can add colors to your folders (perhaps by the color of the school/mascot?) to make them appealing to you. This tiered folder and document design will help you know what and where all of your application components are.

The college applications process is different for everyone.

Each student has a different method of organizing their information and ensuring that all of their applications’ components are met by the submission deadline. Try out these recommendations, customize them to your liking, and choose what works best for you!

This informational essay was written by Kim Phan, Harvard University ‘21. If you want to get help with your college applications from Kim or other Admissions Experts, register with today.