Ideal College Application Timeline

Given the unprecedented competition for college admission, your child’s junior and senior years can be pretty intense.

Besides working to maximize GPAs, eleventh and twelfth graders need to prep for AP exams as well the SAT and/or the ACT, they need to continue to pursue high-impact extracurricular activities, secure admission-optimizing recommendation letters, and write their Common App essay and/or the Coalition App essay and/or the University of California application essays  and/or the University of Texas application essays.

In addition, college applicants need to write all the supplemental application essays colleges now require. Although most colleges only require three or four supplemental essay responses, when planning your schedule for eleventh and twelfth grade, bear in mind that some colleges require up to six supplemental essay responses. A few even require more.

Applying to college is a daunting process and can easily become overwhelming. To maximize your chances, start working on your college applications in January of your junior year

Given this crushing workload, it’s best if college-bound students start the application process in January of junior year. If they don’t, they may find themselves trying to play catch up, and that will lead to weak essays and a lot of unnecessary stress.

While we recently posted a timeline for juniors and seniors,  given diminishing admission rates (Princeton’s general acceptance rate stands at 6.0%, Harvard’s is generally 5.4%, Stanford’s hovers around 4.8%, Brown’s usually comes in around 7.4%; you get the picture…) and the increasing volume of applicants seen each year, we want to provide you with an updated timeline that shows your student how to maximize admissions chances.

Here’s what we recommend:

 January – April of Junior Year

• You and your child should meet with your school’s college counselor to discuss your child’s college list. 

• Your child should research college websites to ensure that she/he is on track to meet all academic and testing requirements for colleges of interest.

• Your child should begin to prepare for AP exams which are offered in May.• Plan and register for the SAT, ACT, and SAT Subject Test dates

• Develop ideas for your extracurricular capstone project over the summer

Recommended reading: Extracurricular Lists: Why Being Well-Rounded No Longer Works 

• Plan college visits

After Katie was admitted to U Mich, the admissions officer called Katie’s college counselor and told him that “Katie’s essay was one of the best she had ever read.” We are eternally grateful to Susan for her help!

Carla and Tom, parents of U Mich freshman, Class of 2024

May of Junior Year

• Take AP exams

• Study for SAT, ACT and SAT Subject Tests

• Request recommendation letters

• Finalize extracurricular capstone project details

• Finalize college visit details

• Recommended reading: How to Make the Most Out of College Visits 

June – August Between Junior and Senior Years

• Take final SAT, ACT and SAT Subject Tests

• Generate ideas for your Common App essay, Coalitions App essay, UC essays, and UTexas essays and start writing them. If possible, complete them before the hard work of senior year begins in September. If needed, reach out for help.

Recommended reading: Two Key Qualities College Admissions Officers Want to See in Your College Application Essay 

Recommended reading: Creative College Application Essay Prompts 

Recommended reading: Common Application Essay Secrets 

Recommended reading: Ivy League Acceptance Rates and How You Can Still Get In  

Recommended reading: How to Write Ivy League Application Essays  

• Start writing the supplemental essays and try to complete at least the “Why us?” supplemental essays by September of senior year.

Recommended reading: How to Write Outstanding Supplemental College Application Essays: A Strategic Approach

Recommended reading: Three Tips for Writing Successful College Application Supplemental Essays 

• Open all application accounts (e.g., Common App, Coalition App, UC application, UT application) and complete demographic information sections

• Open BS/MD application accounts and complete demographic information sections

• Complete your Common App Activities section and modify it for other applications

• Complete Common App Additional Information section (Optional)

• Complete extracurricular capstone project

• Complete college visits

September of Senior Year

• If you have not finished your Common App Essay, Coalition App essay, UC application essays, UT application essays, try to do so by the end of the month

• Finalize college list

Recommended reading: How to Create the Perfect College List

Recommended reading: How to Get into the Ivy League 

• Request that all standardized test scores (in other words, ACT, AP, and SAT scores) be sent to the colleges on your list

• Decide whether you’d like to apply to colleges via early action or early decision

Recommended reading: Early Action/Early Decision Admission Rates Drop at All Ivies 

• Complete supplemental essays for early action or early decision schools

Recommended reading: How to Write Outstanding Supplemental College Application Essays: A Strategic Approach 

Recommended reading: Three Tips for Writing Successful College Application Supplemental  Essays  

• Check in with recommendation letter writers about the status of their letters. If you are applying ED or EA, let them know that you need their letters by a specific day.

October of Senior Year

• Modify your Common App Essay and appropriate supplemental essays to fit UC prompts

• Complete UC application essays

Recommended reading: Admitted to the University of California: Breakdown of Incoming Students  

• Finalize and submit applications to early action or early decision schools

November of Senior Year

• Finalize and submit UC and UT applications

• Complete supplemental essays for regular decision schools

December of  Senior Year

• Finalize and submit applications to regular decision schools

• Consider early action or early decision school acceptances. Note well: While early decision acceptances are considered binding, if the college does not meet enough of your financial need, you can request that the admissions committee release you from your obligation to attend. 

January – March of Senior Year 

• Rehearse for and complete admissions interviews. Note well: Interviews for early action or early decision schools will take place sooner

Recommended reading: How to Ace a College Interview: 10 Easy Steps  

• Search and apply for college scholarships

March – April of Senior Year

Consider regular decision acceptances. To help make your decision, attend “second look” and admitted students’ weekends

• If you want to have a college that waitlisted you reconsider you, submit waitlist letters to schools that placed you on their waitlist

• Recommended reading: How to Get Off the Waitlist and Into Your Dream College 

• Make your final decision about where to attend and submit your deposit by May 1

May of Senior Year

• Notify your recommenders about the outcomes of your applications and thank them for their support

Final thoughts:

Unfortunately, applying to college is an arduous process that takes more time and energy than most families imagine before they start. But if you follow this timeline, you’ll avoid a lot of sleepless nights, and optimize your child’s admissions chances.

Want help getting through the college application process? Call me! I’m always ready to help you.

Dr. Osborn works with students from all over the world to help them reach their independent, college, and graduate school goals. Through a personal, one-on-one approach, Dr. Osborn creates an individualized plan for each student based on the student’s strengths, passions, and career aspirations. Her holistic approach helps students perform well in school and secure admission to top colleges.  

About The Author

Susan Osborn, Ph.D., has spent 30 years in higher education, in admissions at Vassar College, in the English department and Writing Program at Rutgers University, in the lab at The New Jersey Center for Research on Writing, and as a private tutor. Dr. Osborn is also an award-winning writer and scholar and she brings both her education smarts and her writing smarts to every student relationship.