Start Applying to College

You may be wondering when should you apply to colleges. Applying to college is a rite of passage for most high school students. Some students wait until senior year to begin this process. It is best to start planning as early as your sophomore year. Much of when to start applying to college depends on your personal goals. But, many schools have clear guidelines on when they would like students to apply. So if you’re asking, “When do I start applying for college,” read on to find out.

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When Can You Start Applying for College: Timeline

Many students ask, “ When can you start applying to colleges?” The following timeline will give you a good idea of the best time to apply to your chosen colleges and universities. If you find that you have already missed some of these given times, don’t worry. There are other options. 

You can still start the college application process as late as your junior year. In some cases, you can start even as late as your senior year.

  • Middle School: If you plan to apply to an exclusive college or university, you must begin planning now. It is time to start. Explore that school’s requirements. Make a plan to meet academic and extra-curricular goals in high school.
  • Entering High School Freshman: Meet with your high school’s guidance counselor. Explain your future goals. Ask for advice on how to meet them. Your guidance counselor can help you consider what classes to take, which clubs to join, and different options to increase your chances.
  • High School Sophomore: Take the PSAT, PreSAT and begin studying for the ACT and SAT. This will help ensure good test scores.
  • High School Junior: Take the ACT and/or the SAT during junior year. Narrow down choices for college applications. Speak with your school counselor about all your options.
  • Entering Senior: Study the websites for the schools where you wish to apply upon entering senior year. Find their college application deadlines and plan some college visits.
  • High School Senior: Apply for early admission in the fall of your senior year. Apply for regular admission for backup schools. Start drafting a personal essay. Check into financial aid options (including federal student aid), apply for scholarships, and re-take the ACT/SAT. This can ensure better scores from standardized tests if needed.

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When Should I Start Applying for College? Get Started Now.

Ask yourself, “When can i start applying to colleges?” The answer is that it’s never too soon to start thinking about when to start applying for college. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in freshman, sophomore, or junior year. You can start your search and your college applications early.

Where you earn your degree can have a huge impact on your future successful career and earnings. Freshman high school students can start the process at any time.

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When Do You Start Applying for Colleges if You’re Planning To Attend an Ivy League School?

Ivy League and exclusive schools might have more challenging criteria. They may want to see extra-curricular or volunteer activities. They may also prefer students who have taken challenging math and foreign language classes.

Some students plan to attend an exclusive school after senior year. In this case, they should be making the appropriate plans as early as middle school.

If not, you can follow the standard guidelines for applying in the fall of your junior year. You can even still apply in your senior year if you need to.

What if You Wait Until Sophomore or Junior Year? Do You Have To Give Up Your Harvard Dreams?

Maybe. You could still be accepted if you earn enough high school credits and keep your grades up.

Find out everything you will need for your application. Plus, talk to your school guidance counselor as soon as you can. Waiting until senior year in this case is definitely a bad idea.

When Should You Start Applying to Colleges if You’re Not Interested in Ivy League?

Not everyone is interested in an Ivy League school. You can go to a small, private college or state university and still get a great education.

When Should You Start Applying to Colleges

When Should You Apply for College? Know Your Options

Most experts recommend applying to numerous colleges. Some recommend five to eight. This allows students to apply to some “reach” colleges plus somewhere they are sure to be accepted. Early admission can negate this piece of advice but it’s always better to have options.

It costs money and takes time to apply to schools. So don’t apply to schools you have no interest in. Instead, apply to college where you are most likely to be accepted. Also, look at prospective schools where you will likely get financial rewards.

To learn more about financial aid, check out How Can I Find Financial Aid for Online College?

How Do I Know My Likelihood of Getting Accepted?

Most schools list their acceptance rate and admission requirements somewhere on their website. If your top choice schools have high acceptance rates and you meet the requirements, you have a good chance of receiving acceptance letters from those schools.

When Do You Start Applying for Colleges or “Safety” Schools?

A safety school is one that you feel offers guaranteed acceptance. Many state schools have fewer requirements than private colleges. So they might be great for your safety school list. There are some private colleges with few requirements if you can afford the tuition. (Be sure not to overlook financial aid packages, too.) Junior colleges, technical schools, and online universities are good bets for safety schools.

Completing College Entrance Exams

There are two basic exams required for applying to college: The ACT and the SAT. Students should wait for the results before applying to many colleges at once.

There are no age or grade limitations for taking these tests. The information needed for taking the tests is available. But only after the end of a student’s sophomore year.

At the latest, students should take these tests during their junior year of high school or senior year of high school. There is no limit to the number of times you can take the ACT or SAT. Many students take them several to get the highest score possible.

Related Resource: What is the Difference Between the SAT and the ACT?

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. College admissions open one year before the fall semester. So students coming into their senior year of high school should start working on their college applications over the summer. 

At the latest, they can work on them into the fall of their senior year. College applications require more than a couple of college essays. Be prepared for college applications. Your research should start well in advance of filling out an application. And be sure to include all your application materials when sending in your paperwork.

See Also: What is the Average GPA for Students Accepted into College?

Should I Take the Sat or the Act?

You can certainly take both. Some colleges only accept the ACT. Others only accept the SAT. Many accept both. And more schools than ever don’t require standardized tests at all. Some only require a high school transcript.

Related Resource: What is an Open Door Institution?

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 and test scores. Instead, some schools favor academic records, recommendation letters, college essays, and extracurricular activities. That said, you may be more competitive for acceptance and financial awards if you show high standardized test scores.

When Should You Start Applying for Colleges?

When Should I Start Applying for Colleges? Apply After Visiting

If you are planning on studying at a physical campus, don’t rely solely on school literature. When choosing to apply to college, stay informed.

Plan trips before your senior year to visit most colleges you’re interested in. Campus visits help you avoid applying to schools sight unseen. Get to know the city where the college is located. Many students live on campus at first. Then, they move to off-campus housing after their first or second year.

Choose schools in areas where you feel comfortable and safe. But don’t choose a school just for its location. A university in Hawaii might sound ideal. But you could arrive only to find that the school isn’t what you had in mind.

What if I Can’t Visit in Person?

It may not always be possible to visit campuses in person before application deadlines. If you cannot visit in person, do a virtual college search. Look for online tours and 360-degree views of dorm rooms.

Research College Application Deadlines

Each school has its own college application deadlines. College applications are often due right before the winter holidays. Acceptance usually comes around April. So, be sure to check on the application deadlines early to avoid disappointment.

Early college admissions and rolling admissions often have early acceptance.  Rolling admissions means students have a large window to submit their applications. Go to the college’s website for specific college deadlines for early and rolling admissions.

Most students do not hear back until April no matter how early they submit a general admission application. So don’t be discouraged if you do not get accepted immediately. This is another reason to apply to many schools. You won’t know if you don’t get into your first-choice school until 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 have missed the application deadline, call your own enrollment counselor. Explain your situation. The worst they can say is no.

Can I Reapply if I’m Rejected?

Yes, but not until the following year. You can always take a gap year or attend a different university. Later, you can apply to your favored school again. Just make sure you use that gap year wisely.

Related Resource: What is a Gap Year?

Get Accepted Sooner

If your heart is set on a specific college, consider applying for early admission. Many colleges offer early admission in certain situations. For example, some college students may be willing to forgo other offers. In this case, they may get early admission by completing the application process early.

It’s easy to get distracted by other applications. But try to focus on the college application process for your first choice school.  If you need help with the application process, be sure to ask for help from your school’s guidance counselor or another trusted source. Also, early admission usually has a higher acceptance rate than regular enrollment. For most students with a dream school, early admission is a must. And pay close attention to college application deadlines.

Essentially, you should get started on the college application process as soon as possible. Your friends might be still applying to schools and trying to get personal statements and recommendation letters together. But you will enjoy your senior year knowing exactly what’s going on.

When Do You Start Applying for College Early Application Programs

Which students can benefit from early action (EA) and early decision (ED) programs? Those who have thoroughly considered their college alternatives. They should have a definite preference for one or more institutions.

What’s the Difference Between Early Action and Early Decision?

Early action and early decision are two types of early applications. But It can be easy to confuse the terms “early action” and “early decision.” So here’s what each of them means when trying to get into a college:

What Is Early Action?

According to NACAC, Early Action (EA) is a non-binding agreement. It does not require a commitment on behalf of the student until the normal reply date of May.  Most students know in advance which schools are at the top of their preferred lists. The purpose of early action is to get a decision in advance of when the college typically responds.

You should be aware that some colleges have “restricted action”. This means you’ll be restricted from applying ED (early decision) or EA (early action) at any other college, so you might only get one chance. Thus, you will want to choose the college at the top of your list in this instance. 

With EA colleges, Students Will:

Send in their college application earlyGet an admission decision as early as January or February
Consider an offer of acceptance without commitment
Still apply to other colleges via the normal admission process

With early action, you’ll need to give your decision no later than the national response date. This is generally May 1 of any given year.

Why Would a Student Choose Early Action?

With early action, students can apply to college early through the application process without making a commitment. This gives them the opportunity to compare the costs of several schools. It also helps when researching financial aid at each school. Financial aid options are vital for many students.

What is Early Decision?

Like early action, early decision colleges allow students to apply early. The primary difference is whether it is binding or not. At an Early Decision (ED) school, your college application is binding. It represents an agreement between you and the college.

Early decision is used less than early application. That’s because you can only apply to one early-decision school at a time. If you are pretty firm on your choice, okay. Otherwise, it’s risky. If you are accepted via early decision, you must attend that specific school. 

With ED, Students Will:

Apply to their first-choice college as early as November
Receive a decision in December
Can apply to one college using early decision
Can still apply to other colleges under their respective regular admission processes
Withdraw all their other college applications if accepted early decision
Send a non-refundable deposit before May 1

Who Should Apply Early Decision?

Pay special attention to early decision deadlines. Students who want to apply early decision should:

  • Have a consistent academic record.
  • Have researched their college choices extensively and are confident of their choices
  • Be an excellent match to the college or colleges they are applying to. This means a geographical, social, and academic match. 
  • Meet or exceed the admissions process requirements. This may include GPA, class rank, and SAT standardized test scores.

How to Decide

You may be unsure whether to apply ED or EA. If so, you can fill out the NACAC Early Decision Self-Evaluation Questionnaire.  This is an excellent tool for deciding if you want to go with the early college application process or not. They also have a helpful downloadable ED/EA calendar.

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 the college admissions counselors, your own enrollment counselor, or email professors in your preferred field. You may be able to gain inside information about the college admissions process.

Also, you should get your credits completed as fast as possible. This can help a lot with early acceptance and receiving those acceptance letters early.

Finally, take advantage of summer school and online programs. They may help you fulfill your requirements before you apply.

When Should I Start Applying for College? Closing Thoughts

If you’re asking yourself, “When should I start applying to colleges,” remember that when applying for colleges, getting started early is key. Give yourself plenty of time to research. Craft excellent college applications and get positive references. Rushing the college application process will just result in stress and frustration. Don’t wait until the last minute. Now is the perfect time to set deadlines for yourself to maximize your application timeline for your chosen colleges and universities. So get started on that application process: write that college essay, collect those letters of recommendation, and prepare your personal statement. You’ll be on your way in no time.

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