All the Steps for Hosting a Successful College Application Day

After I posted a picture of my College Application Day “exit ticket,” I got numerous comments and direct messages about tips for holding such an event!

We’ve done this event for a handful of years now and figured a lot out along the way of what works for us and what doesn’t… so, before you implement, know that your event will get better and better each year you do it.

I tried to break down my planning into big steps, but BE ADVISED… it’s a big undertaking:

1- Reserve a place to hold your event like your school library. Reserve Chromebooks or computers or a lab if your school uses a process like that.

2- If your library has a Promethean board or somewhere to project your computer, create slides with helpful information to put on a PowerPoint upfront to cycle through. Here are a few of the slides I used:

In PowerPoint, I had these slides set with a transition (Transitions > Fade added to each slide) between each one. I also set 30 seconds per slide before rotation to the next one, and I applied this to all slides.
Under “Slideshow” then “Set Up Slide Show,” I set it to loop continuously.
If there isn’t a computer hook-up, use a dry erase board. You will get a lot of the same questions, so it’s nice to have somewhere to direct students to look, take notes, or take a picture of.
3- You may have noticed the fee waiver codes above. Our state has an initiative where they give out some waiver application codes for a while. If yours doesn’t, you could always do some groundwork and see if you could get this up and running. If not, create a list of schools that are ALWAYS free. This is SO helpful in giving students a place to START.
4- Print out copies of all seniors’ transcripts. As they’re applying, it is very helpful for them to have their GPA, class rank, etc. right at their fingertips… and it never hurts for them to have yet another copy of their transcript.
5- Use a sign-up like “Sign Up Genius” to create time slots. We do 45-minute time slots and advertise the heck out of the signup link. Once you have a cut-off date, I recommend the free Sign Up Genius trial that locks any more sign-ups. Once you have your students signed up, you can download a spreadsheet with all of your information.
6- I use these time slots and names and put them in a Google sheet and share live with all teachers. I had a different tab for each time slot. That way, if students were added later, it was live for teachers to check.
7- I also took this original spreadsheet and used the Mail Merge Wizard in Word to mail merge student passes on bright paper (you know I love my Astrobrights) and put them in teacher boxes. (This step is not totally necessary with the email reminder students get and the Google sheet the teachers already have, but I figure it’s one more way students won’t forget when they’re supposed to come.) They looked something like this:
8- Reach out to local area college admissions representatives to attend your college application day. Most are eager to send reps. (This takes some time to await replies, so start this early.)
9- See if you have a budget to feed the representatives. We have a local deli that makes boxed lunches for a great deal and even delivers. We buy lunch for ourselves and reps that day and get a case of waters to go with it. Place this order ahead of time.
10- On the day of, set up your Chromebooks around the room and have some sort of check-in table. Sign students in on your live Google sheet (so teachers can check it if they have questions about where a student is), give them a copy of their transcript and instruct them to find a seat.
11- If your school is big, you may want to consider printing some signage to direct college reps from where they check in to where they need to go. Send an email reminder to reps the day before (or a few days before) the event. Have a check-in and instruction sheet for them when they arrive.

12- Plan for your whole team (if you have more than just yourself) to be all hands on deck for this event all day. The more, the merrier!

13- Decorate with all of those extra pennants you’ve been piling up. Set up tables with all of that free college stuff you haven’t known what to do with. When students finished their application(s), we encouraged them to browse and take pamphlets and college swag with them before they left. We cleaned out so much of our stuff, and it got in the hands of students– just where it should go!

14- This year, we added a speaker and had music going all day. This actually brought a lot of fun to the event. It kept the energy in the room and gave us a boost when we were tired of being on our feet all day! Here is a sample playlist you can use to put on shuffle with some clean music.

15- Print out some props for a photo booth! You could order a backdrop from a company like Vista Print (I ordered a 4’x6′, indoor, vinyl banner), or you could just set it up in front of a solid-colored wall. I hung mine with command strip hooks like these. I printed out these props, cut them out, and glued popsicle sticks to the back of them. Simple!

16- Have students check out using something that you can later use on a bulletin board. Last year, I did pennants, and this year I did footballs:

17- The following day, handwrite thank you notes to your college reps… especially if they’re good! You want them to come back!

18- Post pictures on your school’s social media. Celebrate students! Make a new bulletin board!

For some other conversations around the school:

Even without big, flash things like I had a vision for… the event served its purpose. About 200 students applied for college. As I’m working on my ASCA U Specialist training for College Admissions Specialist, I see the value in events like this to change a student’s mindset and encourage them to a place where they have a college-going identity to inspire college access (check out the book “Ready, Willing, and Able.”)

If you’re still not sold on running a College Application Day at your school, check out this blog post on “3 Ways to Use College Application Day to Increase Student Confidence Around College Applications.”

Want a free resource to make your College Application Day bigger and better? Download this free College Application Day Spotify playlist to bring the fun to your event! When you download, you’ll join my Clique… my email list where you’ll receive other freebies, tips, and updates from my Counselor Clique!

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