When Should I Apply to College?
The college application process can feel overwhelming at times. In addition to finalizing a list of schools to apply to, you’ll also have to worry about writing essays and collecting supplemental materials. On top of that, varying deadlines can also leave you wondering, “When should I apply for college?” Let’s talk about how to prioritize your college application responsibilities for a stress-free senior year.
Types of college deadlines
College deadlines vary widely based on the type of application you submit. Let’s go over the four main types of application and how to approach them.
Ideally, students applying early decision (ED) will want to do all of their research beforehand. Unlike with other types of applications, ED is a binding agreement. This means that if you’re accepted to the school, you’re promising to attend. Additionally, if you’ve received any other acceptances or submitted any other applications, you must contact the schools to withdraw them.
Most early decision deadlines fall around early November or December. That way, students can hear back by mid-December or January. Some schools also have an Early Decision II deadline in early January. While ED II is still binding, it allows students more time before the deadline to prepare their applications and hear back from other schools.
Early action (EA) is similar to ED, except that it’s not binding. In other words, if you get accepted to a school that you applied to EA, you don’t necessarily have to attend. If you want, you can just put the acceptance letter in a drawer and wait to decide until May 1.
EA deadlines typically fall somewhere between November and January. However, if you miss the early deadline, you can usually just apply to the regular deadline. The only difference is that you won’t hear back until later. For that reason, you’ll want to start your EA applications around the same time or a little bit later than ED.
While other types of applications send out decisions to all applicants around the same time, rolling applications allow students to hear back shortly after applying on a “rolling basis.” Rolling admissions schools are constantly accepting applicants throughout the year. Therefore, the process may get more selective as the next class fills up. For this reason, many recommend putting your rolling applications at the top of your priority list in order to get an early bird advantage.
Regular decision (RD) applications have the latest deadlines out of all other types. While they can span a range, RD deadlines usually fall around January or February. Students typically hear back around March or April, giving them about a month to make their final decisions.
Although RD applications should fall at the bottom of your priority list, don’t be fooled into putting them off for too long. Between homework and finals, you probably won’t have as much time in the second semester as you think.
Making a college application timeline
When applying to college, you’ll want to consider the key components of your applications. Then, you can plan out when to tackle each part instead of saving it all for the last minute.
ACT and SAT scores are a significant part of college admissions decisions. Most students start testing in the winter or spring of junior year. However, it can take a few tries to get the score that you want, and some students may take a test in the summer leading up to senior year. If that’s you, don’t stress. Just remember that ACT and SAT scores can take between 2-8 weeks to come back. Therefore, you’ll want to aim to be completely finished with testing by August of senior year.
Letter of recommendation
Many college applications request a letter of recommendation. In this document, a teacher or counselor will express to the admissions committee why you’re a great applicant and will fit in well at the institution.
Since teachers often receive a lot of requests for recommendations, you’ll want to ask them well in advance. Many students will even give their teachers a heads up at the end of junior year. Then, you can give them all of the details about a month before their earliest deadline.
For many students, one of the most daunting components of the college application is the essay portion. Although most writing components range from 250-650 words, you’ll want to give yourself enough time to revise and edit before submitting. If you have a college counselor, they can also offer useful feedback.
To make sure you’ll have enough time to perfect your essays, you can start brainstorming during the summer before senior year. In fact, the Common App, which is used by over 700 institutions, has already released its essay prompts for 2021-2022.
College application deadlines can be hard to keep up with, especially if you’re applying to EA, ED or rolling admissions. However, if you stay on top of the main pieces and prioritize earlier deadlines, it can be manageable. Good luck on your applications!