If you submitted your early applications last week, CONGRATULATIONS! That's huge.
This week, we'll focus mainly on how to resolve any issues that come up after you've submitted an application. Oh, and we'll also focus on money, because wherever you get in, you'll want to find a way to pay for it!
1. Confirm that your early applications are complete. The only way to know that your application is complete is for you to have confirmation from the college. Just because the Common Application says "downloaded by the college," or your counselor has confirmed to you that something was sent, does NOT mean that the college has received that item and put it in your application file. Until you have confirmation from the college, you don't have confirmation, period. If you have not received confirmation within two weeks of (1) having submitted the application or (2) the deadline (whichever comes first), contact the admissions office to check the status of your application.
2. Resolve problems promptly. If your follow-up reveals that something is missing from your application file, then it is up to you to fix the problem. Clarify exactly what is missing. Identify the fastest way to get the missing item to the college and into your application file. Then take action and get it done. Be as proactive as necessary. (For example, volunteer to mail the recommendation yourself rather than wait for the recommender to find the stamp and mail it.) Let the college know that you are aware of the problem and working to resolve it.
3. Call rather than email. You can often get the whole problem resolved in one phone call, whereas email often requires a long chain of back-and-forth correspondence.
4. Always be polite and respectful. No matter how frustrating these snafus are, being angry with others will probably make it harder to solve your problem, not easier. Any rudeness towards the admissions staff will also be noted and could be held against you.
5. Nag your parents about taxes. This may be pushing a boulder up a hill, but see if you can persuade your parents to finish their tax returns early for this year. If they get that done sooner rather than later, it will be MUCH easier to finish the FAFSA (financial aid application form), and you'll be more likely to end up with an appropriate financial aid award. Getting those tax returns done early really can pay for itself, because often schools award financial aid on a first-come first-served basis, and when their budget for that year is gone, it's gone.
6. Think local. As you explore more scholarship opportunities, don't forget to check sources other than the internet. There might be some in your backyard. Ask at your school counselor's office, your church or synagogue or mosque, and your local civic organizations like the Rotary Club.