8 Things High School Seniors Need to Do Now

It's time to get moving on those college applications.

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For high school seniors, it's crunch time. Deadlines for college applications are looming, so it's time to get focused. Here are 8 things you need to be doing now.

1. Meet college reps. This is the time of year when admission officers are racking up frequent flyer miles as they meet with prospective students throughout the country. Contact colleges on your list and inquire if their admission officers will be in your area. This is a wonderful chance to make a great impression.

2. Visit schools. Many students wait until they've received acceptances from schools before they visit. I have never understood that. How will you know if you'd like to attend the school if you haven't checked it out yourself?

If you can't visit schools on your list because of distance or money, here are 9 alternatives to a college visit.

3. Get organized. Use a calendar to keep track of the application deadlines for all the colleges on your list.

4. Retake the SAT or ACT. If you're not happy with your previous test scores, you've got time for one last try. There is still time to register for the ACT's Dec. 11 test date. You have to register by Oct. 8 for the SAT's Nov. 6 test date. The last SAT opportunity of the year is Dec. 4.

[Get test-taking tips.]

If you take the SAT more than once, here's some good news: most schools will cherry pick the best component scores.

Here's an example of what I mean: The first time you took the SAT, you received a 550 reading, 620 math, and 600 writing for a total of 1770 out of 2400. Second try: 540 reading, 660 math, 590 writing for a total of 1790. Most colleges will take your best score from each category, which will boost your score to 1810.

5. Get a financial aid pre-read. Don't wait until the spring to find out what kind of financial aid package a school might give you. During the early fall, financial aid officers have time to crunch some number for you. If a verdict is bleak, consider looking elsewhere.

6. Write your college essay. This is probably the most dreaded part of the college admission process. Let me state the obvious: Write the essay now rather than the night before you send in your college application.

[Read college essay tips from the experts.]

7. Ask for recommendations. Don't wait until the Thanksgiving break to request recommendations. By then, your counselor and teachers could be swamped with requests. Ask now and you could boost your chances of getting thoughtful, well-written recommendations.

If you're torn about who should write your recommendations, favor those who are good writers. My son, for instance, asked his principal to write his recommendation instead of his high school counselor because the principal was a former English teacher and a gifted writer.

8. Whittle down your list of schools and start applying. Get started applying to schools now. I can't imagine any reason why students would want to apply to more than eight colleges.

[View U.S. News's Guide to Admissions.]