College Application Timeline
You’ll be applying to college soon! Use this handy timeline to stay on track throughout the college admissions process.
Your junior year of high school is a great time to get organized and get a head start in preparing to apply to colleges. By figuring out your test schedule, researching and visiting colleges, and putting together a plan for the following fall, you’ll be well prepared going into your senior year!
TAKE THE PSAT/NMSQT® (Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test)
If you’d like to get a feel for what it’s like to take the SAT®, consider taking the PSAT in October of your junior year. Taking the PSAT not only gives you a headstart in preparing for the real test, but it will also put you in the running for National Merit Scholarships and other recognition programs. You can only take the PSAT once, so if you decide to do it, make sure you know what to expect and spend time preparing. Learn more about the PSAT/NMSQT here.
DECIDE WHETHER TO TAKE ACT® or SAT
Most colleges accept SAT or ACT scores interchangeably, so it’s worth exploring the differences between the two tests. On the surface, they are pretty similar: they take roughly the same amount of time to complete, are offered frequently throughout the academic year, and neither test penalizes wrong answers. To discover which test best fits you, take our SAT vs. ACT quiz.
REGISTER TO TAKE ACT/SAT
Many students take the SAT/ACT tests for the first time during their junior year. That way, you’ll have time to retake it in the fall of your senior year if needed. Students generally see an increase in scores the second time they take the test, so it’s not a bad idea to plan on taking it more than once.
Most students find that at least three months of test prep allows them to feel ready to take their exam. Be sure to give yourself the amount of time you need to feel comfortable. Test prep is our specialty, and we’re here to help you get ready. Check out our huge library of ACT/SAT prep material and resources—a lot of it is free and available online.
TAKE THE ACT, SAT, OR BOTH
The day before your exam, prepare by getting yourself in a relaxed, positive, mellow frame of mind. Don’t cram or stress out! Gather the materials you need (like your ID and snacks) and go to sleep early. Your mind will be energized for test day. You can do it!
RESEARCH AND VISIT SCHOOLS
One way to make your senior year less stressful is to start researching and visiting colleges during your junior year. A great way to get a feel for schools is by going on college visits. You’ll have a chance to experience things you can’t get from a website, like the campus vibe, student body energy, and general ambiance. Visiting during the semester (as opposed to during the summer) might give you a better chance to talk with more students and faculty and understand the college’s environment.
REGISTER AND PREPARE FOR ACT/SAT
Since homework, sports, and other activities make fall busy, summer is often the most convenient time for test prep. We’re here to help you get ready!
REGISTER FOR SAT SUBJECT TESTS (AS NEEDED)
These standardized proficiency tests help colleges evaluate your subject knowledge, but not every college requires them. You might take an SAT Subject Test because a college requires it or because you excel in a particular subject and want to demonstrate that ability in order to stand out in the admission process. As you research the schools of your interest, consider if you need or want to take any SAT Subject Tests. You can also take these in the spring of your junior year.
DETERMINE WHERE YOU’LL APPLY AND CREATE A TIMELINE
Every college has its own timeline of due dates. By creating a timeline of deadlines, including the college application itself, financial aid forms, college interviews and letters of recommendation, applying for school will feel a bit more manageable. List each school you intend to apply to, and include decision deadlines, financial aid deadlines, and application fees. You might also want to note if the school requires a supplemental essay or utilizes their own application as opposed to the Common App. Many schools these days accept one centralized Common Application, also known as the “Common App.” It’s a single application for college admissions used by over 500 universities, so it’s likely you’ll be able to use this application for multiple schools to which you’re applying. Phew!
Many college application “to-dos” occur during the fall semester of your senior year. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, but we’re here to help. With a little patience, hard work, and planning, you’ll be ready to submit your applications with confidence.
ASK FOR LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION
Guidance counselors and high school teachers typically write your college recommendation letters. These letters help inform college admissions committees of your abilities, character, passions, and personality. Since teachers often have a lot of letters to write, it’s great to ask early, giving plenty of advance notice before your deadline! Be sure to also double check the requirements of your colleges; some have different specifications for number of letters and who the letter writers should be. Letters of recommendation can also be requested toward the end of your junior year.
TAKE ACT/SAT (AGAIN)
Now’s the time to try to boost your score. On test day, bring your admissions ticket, picture ID, a couple of #2 pencils with erasers, and a calculator with backup batteries. You’ll want a snack for your break, too. Good luck!
SUBMIT AN EARLY DECISION/EARLY ACTION APPLICATION
Some students have a strong idea of the college they know they want to attend. Early decision (ED) and early action (EA) plans can be beneficial for students who have a clear preference. Read about the pros and cons of ED and EA to help decide if this path is for you.
TAKE SUBJECT TESTS (AS NEEDED)
This is the last chance to take SAT Subject Tests. On test day, bring your admissions ticket, picture ID, and a couple of #2 pencils with erasers. If you're taking a Math Level 1 or Math Level 2 exam, bring a calculator, and if you’re registered for one of the listening tests, bring a CD Player with earphones. Good luck!
SUBMIT COLLEGE APPLICATIONS
Remember to give yourself plenty of time to work on your college essay. For each school, check for additional requirements, and be sure to proofread. Use your timeline to make sure you meet each school’s deadline.
REQUEST YOUR OFFICIAL TRANSCRIPTS BE SENT
As part of your application submission process, you’ll send colleges your high school transcript. Some colleges require transcripts be mailed directly by your school, and some ask that you get a copy of your transcript in a sealed envelope and send it with the rest of your application. No matter the process, you can ask your school counselor for help.
COMPLETE AND SUBMIT FAFSA FORMS
FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is how you can get access to federal loans and grants. Applications are online and open on January 1st. Apply early! You’ll need your parents’ help in order to include information about your family’s finances. Submitting a FAFSA doesn’t guarantee you’ll get financial aid, but not submitting one certainly guarantees that you won’t.
SUBMIT REMAINING APPLICATIONS
If you still have applications to submit, winter break is the perfect time to work on completing them. With deadlines quickly approaching, use this break to finalize and submit.
APPLY FOR SCHOLARSHIPS
Scholarships are a great way to reduce the cost of college tuition. Start your scholarship research early so you can maximize your opportunity to receive one.
SEND MID-YEAR GRADE REPORTS
As part of the Common Application, and as a requirement of many schools, you’ll need to ask your school counselor to send your MYR, or mid-year report as possible after first semester or trimester grades are available.
REVISIT OR RE-EXAMINE SCHOOLS WHERE YOU’VE BEEN ACCEPTED
As acceptance and rejection notices come in, remember: who we are is not defined by which college we attend. A rejection isn’t personal, and it helps get you a step closer to deciding where you WILL attend college. Congratulations on the schools where you are accepted! Now is the time to re-examine the qualities of those schools and determine where you will go to college. To help with your decision, many schools will hold an “accepted student weekend” where you can visit campus.
CONSIDER FINANCIAL AID PACKAGES
Before agreeing to a school’s offer, you have the option to request a review of your financial aid package. Read more about how to do that here.