The Application Process: A Timeline
If you are considering applying to community college, some schools simply require that you enroll before classes start. Other schools may require you to enroll at least two or three weeks before the term starts; in order to ensure you are registered on time, make sure you have read the specifications of your specific school. The rest of this article will deal with applications for four-year schools.
Throughout highs school:
You can start taking SAT Subject Tests in 9th grade, and it is best to do so when the material is still fresh in your mind. Many students find it beneficial to take an SAT Subject Test in May or June, around the time of the final exam for that class, so that they can study for both exams at the same time. The SAT Language Tests are thought of as the most difficult, and you should not attempt them until after several years of study. You may continue taking SAT Subject Tests into your senior year, but remember to take into account when you will be sending off your applications—if you take a Subject Test in November of your senior year, it may be too late to include the score in an Early Decision application, but fine for a Regular Decision.
As a junior, your first priority should be to earn good grades in the more challenging classes that are appropriate for you. This hard work will be the backbone of your applications.
You may take the optional PSAT/NMSQT, the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Around 3% of juniors who take the PSAT will win a National Merit Scholarship based on their high scores, and an even smaller percentage become eligible for monetary scholarships from the National Merit Corporation. While it is extremely difficult to win the scholarship, taking the test can be worthwhile for some students as a form of preparation for the SAT. The format and content of the PSAT are, in essence, the same as the SAT, so taking the PSAT will help you identify what areas you should concentrate on in your upcoming test prep. Additionally, taking the PSAT might make you realize that the ACT is the better test for you.
Prep for the SAT or ACT.
Prep for any AP tests that you will be taking in the spring.
Don’t forget to research and apply for summer extracurricular opportunities, or jobs in your interest area.
Take SAT or ACT for the first time, take AP Tests, research schools and start developing your college list. Some students may take the SAT or ACT more than once during this period, for example, once in April and once in June. The more you take the test, the more you will improve.
Request recommendation letters from two or three people who are familiar with your strengths and abilities. These will most likely be teachers from your junior year but could include a counselor or the advisor of an extracurricular. Recommendation letters can include anecdotes and examples that give your application a more well-rounded picture of your character. You should request the letter at least a month before your earliest application is due, and since many teachers will write them over the summer, it is best to be thinking about this by the end of your junior year.
Attend college fairs, a great way to learn about schools and ask questions to representatives face-to-face. This allows you to sign up for email lists, demonstrate interest, and form a personal connection with an admissions officer. You should research the fair ahead of time, prepare questions to ask and make a list of the booths you definitely want to visit.
Take the SAT or ACT for a second or third time.
Decide if you’ll apply Early Action or Early Decision. Remember, EA is a nonbinding decision—even if you are accepted, you are not legally required to attend that school—while ED is binding.
Finalize your college list. By this point, you should know where you are applying and be very familiar with each application’s deadline.
Starting writing your personal statement and supplemental essays. Make sure you leave plenty of time to write multiple drafts and get feedback and editing from someone else.
Submit your EA or ED app by the end of the month if applicable
Submit your FAFSA as early as possible
November and December:
Finish your personal statement and supplemental essays
This is your last chance to take SAT or ACT and send official test scores to colleges.
Finalize and submit all your Regular Decision and Early Decision II applications by the end of the month. As a reminder, EDII is a binding decision that will allow you to hear back sooner than an RD application, but still leaves you more time than an EDI application.
Arts and Theater students: As required by the schools you apply to, you might need to send in audition tapes, audition in personal, finalize your portfolio, or send in other samples of your work.
Always make sure you check the deadline dates for your specific schools, as they might vary.
Continue to get good grades, apply for scholarships, send thank you notes to anyone who helped you with college applications.
You will start to hear back from colleges, and the time will come to make your decision. Send in deposit by May 1. You made it! This is the end of a difficult journey, but the beginning of a very exciting chapter of your life.