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College Timeline: Selecting and Applying to Schools

After you’ve made the decision to go to college after high school, there are quite a few steps still left to take over the course of a couple of months. Being organized and understanding when you should be in which stage of the process can help to make the steps seem a little less intimidating and keep you on schedule. The first step is selecting the schools you might want to attend and getting your applications ready to go.

Selecting Your Potential Colleges

By the time you have started your senior year in high school, you should have begun to consider what schools you may want to apply to. How you start the process is up to you, and ideas can come from a number of different places. Maybe you have always had your heart set on an Ivy. Maybe your parents, siblings, relatives, or friends have attended colleges you enjoyed visiting. Perhaps you leave near a college or two you are interested in. Thinking about these schools is a great place to start, along with researching schools with any other components that may be appealing to you.

Once you have a list of “Maybes” in mind, it’s time to dig deeper with your research. Meet with college representatives as they visit your high school, plan a long weekend road trip to visit with your parents, take virtual tours online, and talk to people you know who have attended those colleges. By the holiday break of your senior year, your list of colleges should be firmed up and you might have a clear top choice in mind.

Sending Applications Out

Holiday break in December is usually a good marker of when you should be thinking about doing things and when you should be doing things. After you return to school from the mid-year break, an appointment with your guidance counselor should be one of the first things on your To Do list. This is the time to start being active and assembling all the pieces of your application.

One of the most important things to remember is that you will greatly benefit from the assistance of someone who cares about you and wants you to succeed, so be gracious when teachers, parents, siblings, and friends offer to help. Maintaining organization is key, so be sure to know where all your materials are and where they should be going at all times.

Your guidance counselor will help you get started, and luckily, most schools allow applications to be completed online. This gives you less paperwork to keep track of, but keep a list of each school and all the steps you need to complete, as they may vary from college to college. Check off each step of the way, from basic information on the application form to recommendation letters to transcripts to any other components you may need.

You can find the deadline for application on the application for each college you apply to. Though they will vary, you can expect that most deadlines will be on or around March 1st of your senior year. Some colleges also have “rolling admissions,” which means they accept applications all year round or up until a much later date and send student decisions as they are reached without a carved-in-stone timeline. If any dates are unclear to you, a call to the admissions office or visit to the website will tell you. Remember, there is no harm in getting your applications in early (except possibly an elongated wait time, if you’re eager to hear), but missing the boat could get you locked out of the application review process for at least a semester.

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