Applying to college is a rite of passage for most high school students. Sometime around a student’s sophomore year, they may begin to wonder when they should begin this process. Much of when to start applying for college depends on the student’s personal goals, which makes the answer somewhat subjective. However, many schools have clear guidelines on when they would like students to apply.
Timeline for Applying to Colleges
The following timeline will give you a good idea of when the right time is to apply to your chosen college or university. If you find that you have already missed some of these given times, don’t worry. There are other options. Keep reading to find out where and how you can catch up.
Middle School: If you plan to apply to an exclusive college or university, you must begin planning now. Explore that school’s requirements and ensure you have a plan in place to meet academic and extra-curricular goals in high school.
Entering High School Freshman: If possible, meet with your high school guidance counselor. Explain your future goals and ask for advice on how to meet them. Your guidance counselor should offer the best advice on what classes to take, which clubs to join and any other boxes that need to be checked.
High School Sophomore: Take the PSAT, PreSAT and begin studying for the ACT and SAT.
High School Junior: Take the ACT and/or the SAT. Narrow down choices for college applications.
Entering Senior: Study the websites for the schools where you wish to apply. Find their application deadlines and start working on applications. Visit some campuses, if possible.
High School Senior: Apply for early admission in the fall or per the university’s guidelines. Apply for regular admission for any backup schools. Apply for scholarships and re-take the ACT/SAT if needed.
Get Started Now
If you know you are going to college, there is no time that is too soon to start thinking about when to start applying for college. It’s never too early to start researching college and your application. Where you attain your degree can have a huge impact on future career and earnings. Even as early as their freshman year of high school, students who research their future alma mater have a better chance of being accepted to their first choice schools by understanding what their first choice school looks for in their freshman class.
Ivy League and similarly exclusive schools might require four years of a single foreign language, four years of increasingly difficult math classes, a variety of extra-curricular activities and volunteer activities. Students with the goal to go to an exclusive school should be making the appropriate plans as early as middle school. However, that doesn’t mean that applying at an extremely early time is necessary. You can follow the standard guidelines for applying in the fall of your senior year with the knowledge that you are prepared.
What if this rough guideline has passed? Do you have to give up Harvard dreams if you don’t start thinking about college until you are a sophomore or junior?
Maybe. If you still have time to gain all of the high school credits you need for entrance and you have kept your grades up, you could still be accepted to your dream school. Find out everything you will need for your application and talk to your school guidance counselor as soon as you can.
What if I’m not interested in Ivy League?
Only a small percentage of students are interested in and even fewer are accepted to an Ivy League school. The truth is, you can get an education that is just as good (and in some instances, better) at a small, private college or a state university. It is still a good idea to make plans for your future as early as possible to make the application and acceptance process as smooth as possible.
Know Your Options
Most experts recommend applying to between five and eight colleges. This allows students to apply to some “reach” colleges and some where they are sure to be accepted. Early admission can negate this piece of advice but it’s always better to have options. Have a list of colleges that range from challenging to easy to get accepted into.
A good reminder is that it does cost money and take significant time to apply to schools. Make sure your time and money are both well spent. Don’t apply to schools you have no interest in, but do apply to schools where you can realistically be accepted and/or receive financial awards.
How Do I Know My Likelihood of Getting Accepted?
Most schools list their acceptance rate somewhere on their website. They also list the requirements for acceptance. If the school of your choice has a high acceptance rate and if you meet or exceed the requirements, your odds of being accepted are very good.
What Does it Mean When Someone Refers to a “Safety” School?
A safety school is one that you feel offers guaranteed acceptance. Many state schools have fewer requirements than private colleges, which might put them on your safety list. At the same time, their are private colleges that have few or no requirements for entry as long as you can afford the tuition. Junior colleges, technical schools and online universities are good bets for safeties as well.
Completing College Entrance Exams
There are two basic exams required for applying to college: The ACT and the SAT. Students should not consider applying to colleges before they have these results. The good news for those hoping to apply early is that there is no age or grade requirement for taking these tests. The bad news is that much of the information needed for taking the ACTs and SATs is obtained after the end of a student’s sophomore year.
At the latest, students should take these tests during their junior year of high school. It is not a bad idea to take the test early to get a firm idea of what topics need the most help. There is no limit to the number of times you can take the ACT or SAT. Many students take them multiple times in order to get the highest score possible.
Completing the SATs is just the beginning of the journey to high school graduation. If you’re wondering when to apply for college, it’s never too early to start planning. College admissions open one year before fall semester so incoming high school seniors should start working on their applications over the summer and into the fall of their senior year. Applications require more than just a couple of essays. To truly prepare for college applications, research should start well in advance of filling out an application.
Should I take the SAT or the ACT?
There is no reason not to take both. However, your choice should be based on the school you plan to attend. Some only accept the ACT, some the SAT, some accept both and there increasingly more who don’t require standardized tests at all.
Do I Have to Take a Standardized Test?
Like many things, it depends on your chosen university. It has become a trend in recent years to skip the standardized test requirement in favor of academic records, letters of recommendation, application essays and extracurricular activities. That said, you may be more competitive for acceptance and financial awards if you show a high score on the ACT.
Apply After Visiting
If you are planning on studying at a college that has a physical campus, don’t rely solely on school literature when making your decision to apply to a college. While a school may look great on paper, a quick visit can determine whether you feel at ease in and around the school. College is a time to make future business relationships and friendships. It’s home for four years so picking a campus that feels comfortable and safe is important. Plan trips prior to your senior year to visit colleges you’re interested in applying. Try to avoid applying to schools sight unseen.
In addition to the campus, it is wise to get to know the city where the college is located. Many students choose to live in off-campus housing after their first or second year, if the school allows it. Choose schools that are in areas where you feel comfortable and safe. The opposite is also true Don’t choose a school specifically for its location. A university in Hawaii might sound ideal, but you could arrive only to find that the school itself isn’t what you had in mind.
What if I Can’t Visit in Person?
It may not always be possible to visit a campus in person before you apply. This is mostly true with schools that are not in the same state. If you cannot visit in person, look for online tours and 360 degree views of dorm rooms.
What Happens if I Don’t Like the School Once I Arrive?
College isn’t a prison sentence. You may arrive on campus to find that it doesn’t suit you. Though not ideal, it does happen. A smart idea is to give the school a chance to grow on you. The strange environment may be what you need to grow. However, if a year has passed and you are still unhappy, transfer to a different school in a new environment.
Research Application Deadlines
Each school has its own deadline. Applications are often due right before the winter holidays with acceptance coming around April. Early and rolling admissions are accepted earlier with similarly early acceptance. Go to the college’s website for specific due dates.
Regardless of how early you submit an application for general admission, most students do not hear back until April so don’t be discouraged if you do not get accepted immediately. This is another reason to apply to multiple schools. You won’t know if you don’t get into your chosen university until well after the deadline for applying to other schools has passed.
Can I Get an Extension on My Application Deadline?
Sometimes. Exclusive schools are unlikely to offer any type of extension, but some schools, especially smaller, liberal arts colleges, may have more flexibility. If you find that you have missed the application deadline and still want to apply, call the admissions office. Explain your situation and find out if you can get an extension. The worst they can say is no.
Can I Reapply if I’m Rejected?
Yes, but not until the following year. You are welcome to take a gap year or attend a different university so that you can apply to your favored school again. That said, most schools keep your previous application on file with the notes about why you were rejected. Just make sure you use that gap year wisely.
Get Accepted Sooner
If your heart is set on a specific college, consider applying for early admission. Many colleges offer a chance at early admission for students who are willing to forgo other offers to attend to their institution. Applying allows you to focus on the application for your first choice school without being distracted by other applications. Also, early admission usually has a higher acceptance rate over regular enrollment. For students with a dream school, early admission is a must.
Each university has different early admission deadlines and rules. The college website should outline the deadlines. However, you should get started on the application as soon as possible. While your friends are still applying to schools, you will get to enjoy your senior year safe in the knowledge of where you’re going in the fall.
Are There Ways to Improve My Chances at Early Acceptance?
A great tip for early application is to reach out to members of the campus. Talk with admissions counselors or email professors in your preferred field. You may be able to gain inside knowledge that you only wish you would have had before you applied. Likewise, getting your high school credits completed as quickly as possible will help with early acceptance. Take advantage of summer school and online programs that will help you fulfill your requirements before you apply.
As in most of life, getting started early is key. Give yourself plenty of time to research, craft excellent applications and get positive references. Rushing the application process will just result in shoddy work and rejection.
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