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  • Writer's pictureKate Pedigo, M.Ed., NCC

College Application Season Timeline: Completing College Applications

Growing2College can help you understand the factors to consider in the college application timeline

Juniors, it's almost time for college application season! The appropriate college application completion timeline for each student is influenced by several factors, including:

  • Summer plans

  • Amount of free time in fall of senior year (course difficulty and extracurricular commitments)

  • Whether applying Early Action/Early Decision is a good fit, or whether waiting to send strong first semester senior grades is a better plan.

Here are some factors to consider when planning your college application timeline:

When are application deadlines?

Schools may have one, two or several application deadlines. Students should make note of the available deadline(s) for each school and choose the option that is best for them.

  • Rolling Admission- Often, students can apply to colleges beginning Aug 1st before Senior year, and sometimes sooner. Typically, Rolling Admission schools accept college applications up until spring of Senior year, and sometimes even the summer after.

  • Early Action/Restrictive Early Action/Early Decision 1- Typically, these deadlines are between Oct 15th and Nov 15th, with Nov 1st being the most common.

  • Regular Decision/Early Decision 2- Most often, deadlines range from Dec 1st to Feb 15th.

How/where do I apply to colleges?

Some schools offer an online college application on their websites. Many schools participate in the Common App, where students can apply to multiple schools on one online platform. Some colleges also participate in other college application platforms like Coalition for College Application and the Common Black College Application.

When should I start working on college applications?

The short answer is that the best time to get started on college applications is the summer before senior year. Regardless of the college application type(s) students choose, they can usually work on applications as they have time, save as they go, and send in applications as they are completed.

A large number of students use the Common App to apply to colleges. Students can create a Common App account at any time, and can start completing the items in the Common App tab. Early in summer before senior year might be a good time to begin work on the Common App tab.

Important note: Do NOT load colleges into the Common App until after Aug 1st before senior year. The college-specific questions and supplemental essays refresh each year on Aug 1st, so any work done in the My Colleges tab before Aug 1st might be erased.

When should I start working on my college essays?

Each year, the Common App posts the next season's main personal statement essay prompts in February. At that point, it's a good idea to read the prompts and start thinking about a potential essay topic. For other platform types, students may have different prompts, but hopefully one can be chosen that is appropriate across platforms if needed.

Many students like to start work on that personal statement essay after school lets out for the summer after Junior year. Having a completed main essay before school starts again in the fall is ideal.

Supplemental essays are a different story. The college-specific supplemental essays are typically available for most schools on Aug 1st when the Common App refreshes. Some schools will post their essay prompts for the next season on their websites before Aug 1st, and a few schools make supplemental essays available later, around Sept 1st.

Students can begin work on supplemental essays as soon as they are available. It's helpful to have at least some of them completed before Senior year begins. It might be wise to focus on EA/ED supplemental essays first, and tackle RD/ED2 essays later, since the deadlines are later. Note that Rolling Admission schools rarely have supplemental essays.

What else do I need to do to complete my college applications?

There are additional college-specific steps students may need to take during the college application process. It is important to keep track of each college's requirements and complete them well in advance of college application deadlines:

  • Recommendation letters- Colleges prefer teacher recommendations from Junior year teachers in core classes. Some colleges don't require any recommendation letters as part of the college application process, but some may require one or two. Requesting these recommendations in the spring of Junior year is ideal, so that teachers have time to observe and take notes in preparation. Some colleges also provide the option to send recommendation letters from other community members. Generally it's fine to ask for these recommendations early in Senior year, once a student knows each college's preferences.

  • Official test scores- Many colleges allow students to self-report ACT/SAT test scores in the college application and only require an official score once a student is accepted and chooses to attend that school. Some schools require official scores sent from ACT or College Board during the college application process, however, so students should be sure to note each college's preference and send official scores when required.

  • Official transcripts-Typically, high schools send official transcripts, but students sometimes need to or would like to send transcripts themselves. Checking with the school counselor for advice is helpful.

  • SSAR/SRAR- Some schools require completion of the SSAR/SRAR as part of the college application process. It's a separate portal where students enter high school courses and grades. Typically, directions for completing the SSAR/SSAR are sent through a student's college portal or via email shortly after the college application has been sent. The SSAR/SRAR is a bit tedious, but necessary for a small number of colleges. Students who are required to complete the SSAR/SRAR should be mindful of the deadlines for completion.

At Growing2College, we are happy to guide students through the completion of the Common App platform and provide essay coaching for the main personal statement essay and supplemental essays. Request a free 20-min consultation to learn more about how we can be helpful.

Kate Pedigo, M.Ed. NCC is an Independent Educational Consultant and founder of Growing2College. Join us on social media for college planning updates, tips, and resources: Facebook   Instagram   LinkedIn    

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