When Should High School Students Start Applying to Colleges?

applying-to-collegeThough you should start the college search as a junior or even earlier, senior year is the most important time in the admissions process when you start applying to college. Getting started in the college application process can be extremely daunting and nerve-wracking. From narrowing down your college options to crafting a creative essay and lining up stellar recommendations, it may seem impossible to accomplish while also maintaining good grades and staying active in extra-curricular activities. But, it’s actually easier when you break the process down into smaller steps. Below we have created a step-by-step timeline to help high school students make the college application process as manageable and stress-free as possible.

Summer Before Senior Year

Summer is the perfect time before the chaos of September rolls around for you to start the preliminary phases of college admissions. Schedule tour visits for any college campuses that you have not yet visited and make notes that can be used to eventually narrow down your choices. Start considering which of your teachers would write a strong letter of recommendation. Take time to look over the Common Application and begin brainstorming some topics that you could use for your personal essay or personal statement. Once you narrow down your choices, explore their websites to learn admissions requirements and request an application. Make sure that your senior class schedule will meet all of the required courses you’ll need for enrollment.

Resource: How Many Colleges Should I Apply to?

October through January

During these four months, you’ll complete the bulk of the college application process. It’s best to meet with your school’s guidance counselor for assistance in creating a chart of important deadlines to stay on track. An incomplete application will ruin your chances for acceptance, so make certain your college essay is in tip-top shape, request your high school transcript, and send your ACT or SAT scores accordingly. If you’re applying for early decision, you’ll likely need to complete your entire application by November. Otherwise, you’ll have until the end of December or beginning of January to submit for regular admissions. In order to receive the highest possible amount of financial aid, you should also submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as early as January 1st.

February through April

Now that all the paperwork has been filed, continue keeping your grades high to avoid contracting senioritis and having any colleges revoke their admission offers. Acceptance letters may begin arriving in February, but don’t panic because many decisions aren’t mailed until April. Keep track of all acceptance letters, rejection letters, and waitlists that you receive. If you received acceptance from any colleges you don’t wish to attend, notify them promptly as a courtesy to your other fellow applicants. Compare financial aid packages, campus features, and academics to help make the decision on where you will enroll. Most schools have a deposit deadline of May 1st, so guarantee you make the right choice on time or apply for an extension.

Making it through the college application process will be considerably less overwhelming if you keep close track of important deadlines and break things down into simpler parts. Manage the stress of applying to college by forming a relationship with your guidance counselor, getting started early, and taking time to relax. Remember it’ll all end after a few fast-moving months!

See also: Is There a Limit to How Many Schools I should Apply To?