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Applying to colleges is a stressful time in most student’s lives. Navigating the application process is confusing, especially if you are a first-generation college student. Take the stress out of applications by using these four tips.


Start early and know your deadlines

The first tip is the most obvious, and most important one. Don’t wait until the last minute to start filling out your applications. Rushing through an application makes it more likely that you won’t be accepted to the school. Take your time to write a meaningful essay that represents who you are in the best way. Write down a list of all of the colleges you want to apply to and when their application deadline is. A written list will help keep you organized and ensure you don’t miss any deadlines.


Talk to your guidance counselor

Your school’s guidance counselor will have a lot of resources to help you in your application process. They can give you information on scholarships, college fairs and college planning sessions. They also have insider information on what colleges accept more students from your high school and what colleges are more selective. They may introduce you to a university that you hadn’t even previously considered. Your guidance counselor should also be able to steer you toward teachers that can write you a great letter of recommendation.


Keep copies of your applications

Before sending in your application materials, make sure you make a copy of everything to keep in your records. It’s possible that some things will get lost in the mail and you want to make sure you have a backup to send if that happens. If you apply online, save the email confirmation that your application was received. Also, keep any correspondence you receive from admissions officers or the university. If a problem does arise somewhere in the process, then you have the documentation to back yourself up.


Apply for scholarships early and often

Applying for scholarships is a necessary part of the application process. Scholarships help reduce the cost of attending college, so you have fewer student loans to pay back upon graduation. There are many scholarships out there that you can apply for. Some are specific to your high school or college. Some are specific to your major. Talk to your guidance counselor about what kind of scholarships your school offers and do some research on your university’s website to see if any apply to you. Also, use this free tool from the U.S. Department of Labor.