The Ultimate College Prep Timeline

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The Ultimate College Prep Timeline

The college admissions process isn’t exactly simple. We know it can be time-consuming, stressful, and involve a lot of late nights. However, we’ve outlined a four year admissions timeline to help students understand what they need to do and when they need to do it.




Take college prep classes when possible. When you select your classes for the coming year, try to choose the kind of classes that will put you on the right path for college.

Participate in extracurriculars. This is a great time to explore new activities and step out of your comfort zone. Join a sports team or find a volunteer program in an area you’re particularly passionate about.



Start learning about colleges. You don’t have to do any hard research yet, but start thinking about the types of programs in which you might be interested. If you have a chance to visit a school, definitely try to do so even if you have a hard time picturing yourself applying to that particular college. 



Build your credentials. Try to spend your summer wisely. Take the opportunity to participate in a volunteer organization, take a summer course in something that interests you, or learn a new skill.





Begin learning about the college admissions process. Start researching and working out a rough timeline for yourself.  

Set concrete goals for yourself. Assess your high school performance so far, and start thinking about what schools you’re going to shoot for. There are almost certainly weak spots in your application (e.g., a low GPA or few extracurriculars).



Get advice from your counselor. Visit your school’s guidance counselor to discuss whether you’re on track for college applications. They might have recommendations or advice from past students.

Make sure you’re on track to graduate with the classes you need. Though you certainly won’t have a full list of schools to which you want to apply, explore the websites of a few of your current favorite schools to see what they require and what they “prefer.” For example a school might require 3 years of a foreign language or 4 years of math.



Do a college tour to get a feel for what’s out there. You don’t have to go all over the country; it’s nice to visit a local school too. It might help you get a better idea of what you want in a school, as well as what you don’t want.

Bolster your extracurriculars. This is the time to kick your extracurriculars into high gear. Join (or start) a club, increase your volunteer hours, or find a part-time job.

Decide when you want to take the SAT and/or ACT. The timing of your SAT depends on whether you’re taking the new or old SAT. The last testing date for the old SAT is January 2016, so most of the Class of 2016 will not need to take the new SAT. The Class of 2017 can submit either one, and should plan accordingly. The Class of 2018 will be taking the new SAT.

Look into scholarships. There are more available than you might think. There are plenty of websites that will help you narrow down your options, and you can consult your guidance counselor as well.





Take formal practice SAT and ACT tests. The official SAT practice test is the PSAT, while the equivalent for the ACT is the PLAN. 

Learn about college. Attend any events (like college info fairs) in your area.

Knuckle down academically. This year is hugely important for college applications, so make sure you put your energy into getting good grades.

Continue adding (and eliminating) schools from your list. Make sure you consult multiple sources. As you visit schools, pay attention to what you liked and disliked. With each school you visit, you’ll get a better understanding of the best fit for you.



Choose your senior year classes. Though colleges won’t have a chance to see your AP scores senior year, just being in an AP class is an application boost.

Build relationships with teachers. Since you’re asking for recommendations fairly early in senior year, it’s often easier to ask teachers that know you from junior year. Make sure to build those relationships as much as you can. 

Talk to your guidance counselor. Check in with your guidance counselor to make sure you’re on track for classes.

Prioritize visits to any schools and info sessions. Visit the school’s website to see if they have any info sessions or other events in your area.


Round out your extracurriculars. If there are any major gaps in your extracurriculars (for example, a lack of leadership work), now is an excellent time to fill in those gaps.

Visit potential schools. If you can’t visit in-person, make sure you do as much research online as possible and sign up for more information via the school’s website.

Finalize your school list. You might add more as acceptances come in or early in senior year, but your list should be close to complete by fall of your senior year.

Start your application essays. Don’t forget to leave time for the short answers as well, they tend to take more time than students expect.

Work on your Early Decision or Early Action applications. Though most ED and EA applications are due in early Fall, we recommend finalizing them before school starts. The deadline tends to sneak up on students because it comes so quickly after the start of the school year.





Send in your test scores. Make sure you look through the requirements for each of your chosen schools.

Don’t let your grades fall. Contrary to popular belief, senior grades do count, especially if you’re applying Regular Decision.

Work on your applications. You’ll need to spend time and energy on making sure each application essay (and short answer) is specific to that school. Admission reps know a find-and-replace when they see one.

Submit your Early Decision or Early Action applications. Remember that while Early Decision means that you’re committing to attend this school if accepted (though you can still apply to other schools). Early Action is non-binding and allows you to apply to other schools in early or regular admission. 

Request your letters of recommendation. If you’ve played your cards right, you should have several teachers to choose from. Make sure you give them at least a month’s notice, if not more.

Request transcripts. This is almost always done by contacting your school or guidance counselor.



Submit regular decision applications. Though many schools use the Common App for applications, you’ll need to keep a careful eye on deadlines for each school. Of course, we recommend that you don’t wait until 11:59 the night they’re due.

Follow up with schools that deferred or waitlisted you. Remember that getting deferred or waitlisted isn’t  the same as getting rejected. You can call the school to ask if there’s anything else that might help their decision.

Await response from schools. This is the most nerve-wracking part, and we wish all of our users the best of luck! 

Do any last minute campus visits. If you were accepted to a school you haven’t yet visited, we highly recommend visiting before accepting. Either way, you’ll want to have as many options once all of your admissions letters are in.

Commit to a school. Now it’s your turn to be the decider.

Notify your chosen school of your intent to attend. Nearly all schools require that you notify them of your intention to attend by May 1st.

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