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Timeline: Applying to college

What are all the steps in applying to college?

This article outlines the activities you'll need to complete—and when—during your college application process. Certain activities are one-time or short-term endeavors. Other activities are ongoing commitments.


College application processTiming
Determine the application deadlines for each of your target schools: early decision and early action applications are typically due in November of your senior year, while most regular admissions applications are due between January 1st and March 1st.Summer 11th
Gather all application materials: make sure you or your guidance counselor have necessary materials for college admissions including forms, test scores, essays, recommendations, and transcripts. If you are worried about the cost of the application, ask your guidance counselor or college of interest for a fee waiver!Fall 12th
Submit early decision application, if desired: early decision applications, usually due in November, require a binding commitment in exchange for early acceptance.Fall 12th
Submit early action applications: for early action schools, you receive a decision early but can wait for the regular decision deposit deadline to make your final choice.Fall 12th
Ensure official SAT and ACT score reports are sent to early action/decision schools: along with your early application (forms, letters of recommendation, essays, etc.), go to College Board (SAT) and ACT Student (ACT) websites to send colleges your official test score reports.Fall 12th
Receive response on early applications: most applications submitted through early programs will receive a decision by December. If you submit your financial aid forms on time, you should receive an estimated financial aid package as well.Winter 12th
Submit regular decision applications: most colleges have regular decision due dates between January 1st and March 1st of each year.Winter 12th
Ensure official SAT and ACT score reports are sent to regular decision schools: along with your early application (forms, letters of recommendation, essays, etc.), go to College Board (SAT) and ACT Student (ACT) websites to send colleges your official test score reports.Winter 12th
Receive decision on regular applications: regular decision applicants typically receive an accept/reject/wait-list response in March or April.Spring 12th
Admissions essaysTiming
Begin drafting college application essays: senior year is very busy, so the summer after junior year is a great time to begin college application essays.Summer 11th
Revise college application essays: once senior year begins, ask an experienced adult (e.g., your guidance counselor, your teacher) to proofread your application essays and give you feedback. Then, make any revisions and prepare final drafts before college applications are due.Fall 12th
Letters of recommendationTiming
Identify potential teachers to provide recommendation letters: summer after junior year, begin identifying potential recommenders. These should be teachers from your core classes (math, science, history, english, languages) who know you best.Summer 11th
Prepare materials for your teachers' letters of recommendation: prepare a few bullet points for your teachers to help them write your recommendation. Many teachers get more requests than they can comfortably manage, and you can help them write a recommendation that represents you best by explaining to them why you chose them as recommenders. Remind them of things they saw you do in their class that you think best demonstrate who you are as a student (e.g. individual work, group projects, participation, effort), and share with them how you believe you excelled in their classes. Also consider sharing with them if and how what you learned in their classes may have changed you: for example, did the class inspire you to pursue your interests in a different way?Summer 11th
Ask for letters of recommendation: at least a month prior to the deadline, provide teachers your bullet point list, letter of recommendation forms, and stamped envelopes addressed to the necessary colleges.Fall 12th
Admissions interviewTiming
Prepare for your interview: research the colleges where you plan to apply, identify those that may offer optional interviews, and begin practicing for the interviews with an available teacher or friend.Summer 11th, fall and winter 12th
Go into the interview confident: don't stress out. You've done your research, and besides, most admissions officers claim the optional interview carries less weight than other parts of the application!Fall and winter 12th

Want to join the conversation?

  • female robot amelia style avatar for user Allie
    I'm curious on how you write a successful college essay. What types of things should you focus on?
    (20 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Mariamawit Asnake
    I just moved to the US about 3 moths ago for the senior year of high school, which I didn't really plan. And I am having a very hard time getting used to the system and the process of everything, especially, applying for college/university. I do have good grades and I'm planning to take the SAT on November, but, as I have noticed, that is not the only thing expected from a student here; I have never participated in any extracurricular activities, nor have I been involved in any volunteer works because I was too busy dealing with a very harsh life. Anyways, my question is, will this affect my college application in anyways? If yes, is there anything I could do to tip the scale?
    (11 votes)
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    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Samantha
      Ok... If you apply early, to a college it should not affect your chances. However the closer to the deadline, specifically early enrollment, it gets the pickier they get from lack of open positions. That is why someone who applys in say, october, has a better chance, if they have good grades, than someone who applys in... say march.

      Early enrollment ends around november/ december. I applied to the colleges I want to go to on November4th, and the deadline id December2nd to apply. I would consider applying NOW to colleges. Look at your college to see what they REQUIRE, ex. letters of recommendation, college essay, interview, etc. go from there and ask your college specifically what you need to do. ONce you apply you will recieve a college advisor who will anwser any questions that you may have regarding what you need to do next on your college process.
      (8 votes)
  • leaf orange style avatar for user Jessica Lopez
    Can we plan all of this before 11th and 12th grade? Like do some stuff as early as 9th grade?
    (8 votes)
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    • female robot ada style avatar for user horsecrazy413
      hi I am a homeschooler also from LA and I am going to apply college when I'm in 9th grade. I'm not sure where you are from but here you can apply in 9th and do one semester which is bacicly taking hard highschool classes to prepare yourself for college. I am applying in 9th so I don't have to take the classes twice.
      (0 votes)
  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Shide
    Can you get letters of recommendations from a college instructor if you took a class in a community college or helped in a research in a university?
    (2 votes)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user Jon Frank
      To add to that, if you did research in a university, getting a letter from the professor with whom you did the research is ALSO an opportunity to show the admissions committee what you are interested in/passionate about. And that is extremely important in admissions. The schools are looking for dynamic students who are going to bring their unique experiences/interests/passions to campus and contribute to the community. So having that professor speak about the research you did adds an additional (helpful!) component to your overall applications. Even more so if that research connects to other activities you did/things you studied/things you were involved in during high school!
      (5 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user Sharika Sabha
    How to get scholarship being an International student? Can I get scholarship from government or from the university itself?
    (2 votes)
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  • leaf blue style avatar for user Kaleigh Bartlett
    I'm "homeschooled" and by that i mean that I'm extremely behind on school work. There was never a structure and I failed to hold myself accountable for it. I am suppose to be in mid 11th grade but have failed to pass 6th. This is a huge struggle for me and I'm really just looking for the best and most efficient way to catch up. I would love to learn what I need to know to begin college courses. What test should I be working and aiming towards? How do i manage my situation?
    (4 votes)
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    • hopper cool style avatar for user Tyler
      Alright, so, I'm not sure how much you can speed up the process to get to finish High School at what would be your "on time" graduation schedule, however, I was also "homeschooled" in a way. What I did is I went to Connections Academy. It's an online school where you have actual teachers for your classes. You should be able to enroll from anywhere within the states. It's a huge help because your lessons are actually due at a specific time, so you can't fall behind or your grades will plummet. I had a situation similar to yours in that I didn't pass the 6th grade. At that point, I was pulled out of public school and put into another one, but that still didn't help. My mom then put me in Connections Academy and got me into the 8th grade. So, she essentially got me back on schedule when she put me in Connections Academy. I have no idea how she did it and I wouldn't recommend it for more than two grades. I still come across stuff that I should have learned in 6th and 7th grade and am confused by it. As for the rest of catching up, take summer classes. Two or three at a time will feel like a normal school year. This will help immensely! I took summer classes too, and, because of that, I graduated High School a year early. So, essentially, because of Connections Academy, and summer classes, I skipped about three years of school. It's what I'd recommend for the fastest way to getting back on track.
      (0 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user Essence Sylvester
    Around how much does it cost to apply to colleges
    (3 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user brooklynskye2006
    I am homeschooled so how would I go about getting letters of recommendation?
    (2 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      OK, you are homeschooled. Apart from your parents, do you know any adults who could write for you? Consider, if you are part of a religious organization, having a minister, a priest, a rabbi, an imam or a swami write for you. Are you part of any community-based sports team? Consider having a coach write for you. Are you part of a scouting organization? Have an adult leader write for you. Have you been employed outside of the home, even as a babysitter? Have someone for whom you have worked write for you.
      (3 votes)
  • piceratops sapling style avatar for user Martina
    What will be the outcome if im applying multimedia art in college? does the process add or change?
    (4 votes)
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  • male robot johnny style avatar for user Salin Pathak
    hi, i want to know whether the essays and recommendations should printed or hand written.
    (2 votes)
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    • spunky sam blue style avatar for user CZ
      You definitely want to type them. Except for a few exceptions where they may want to see your penmanship (which I cannot think of a reason why they would want to do that), all colleges want typed essays.
      (2 votes)