College Admissions Timeline – What You Need to Know

The college admissions timeline really hinges on when you enter the college journey. Are you starting in 9th or 10th grade? Beginning of 11th grade? End of 11th grade? Summer before senior year? Fall of senior year? Let’s break down what you should be doing when.

Let’s just start off by saying that hopefully you are not reading this now in the fall of senior year, which is really, really, really late in the game. Not that it’s not possible to get it all done, it is, but it just becomes more of a reactive process than a proactive process.

Regardless of when you start, you still have to go through all of the steps. It is just a matter of how much time you have to go through those steps. As this is one of the biggest decisions you’re going to make in your life, and a huge financial decision as well, we can’t stress enough the importance of being proactive.

Creating a List of Colleges to Which You Want to Apply

You want to be sure that you select the right set of colleges for you. There’s not just one perfect college for any student out there. We recommend taking the time to pick your SAFE schools. By that we mean schools that match you Socially, Academically, Financially, and Emotionally. And the best way to do that is to start early. We believe you should ideally start the school selection process in the middle of 10th grade or even a little earlier. By this time, you have a year and a half of high school under your belt and you have an idea of what kind of student you are and where your interests lie. By no means are we saying that you definitely know what you want to major in and what you want to do with your life. After all, life is a windy road and 80% of college students change their major at least once in college.

When we start the school selection process with our students in the middle of 10th grade, we gather information using our college search questionnaire which has 40-50 touch points. Once that is complete, we have a discussion with them and we then create a list of schools that may be a good fit for them. This is not a final list, but rather a starting point.

Drafting the Student Resume

We strongly encourage you to draft a student resume. Why? Well every college application you complete, be it within the Common App, Coalition Application, or the applications of individual colleges, is going to ask you to fill out your activities, when you did each activity, and how much time you spent on average, hours per week and weeks per year doing those activities. The earlier you start creating your resume the better so that you don’t forget anything. We recommend starting it at least in the middle of 10th grade and adding to it throughout the rest of high school.

Determining Financial Ability

As mentioned above, when selecting schools, you should be considering if a school is a financial fit for you. So it’s important to consider your finances as early as possible, and our recommended timeline is again the middle of 10th grade. You don’t want to apply to colleges that you cannot afford to go to. We ask a list of financial questions of our students to help them determine if they will qualify for financial aid and if so, how much, along with their expected family contribution (Soon to be renamed to Student Aid Index). It is so important to think about financial boundaries, what the student and the family are willing to put into the college education before you start applying to schools.

College Visits

Down the road, you are going to need to visit the schools on your list, or a selected number of schools on your list. A visit will help you determine what you like and don’t like about a school (see our Campus Visit Checklist). The goal is to have your list complete by the summer before senior year. That doesn’t mean you can’t add schools after that time but this will provide you a solid foundation to begin working on your applications. If you start your college search in the middle of 10th grade, you have a good solid year and a half to identify colleges you may want to apply to and eventually attend.

SAT/ACT

Even though we have lived in somewhat of a test optional world since the pandemic, we don’t know how long that will last. Some schools have already said they’re going to require test scores and that may start to increase. We believe students should take the SAT/ACT because it’s always better to submit than not to submit if you’re within the middle of a school’s applicant pool range (Referred to as their Mid 50%). We advise our students to take both the SAT and the ACT in the late fall of their junior year. This helps determine which test is a better fit for them and provides the time to focus on that specific test, getting any necessary private tutoring, and retaking the test in the spring.

Letters of Recommendation

You want to give your teachers enough time to write your letters of recommendation. Some teachers have limits on how many letters they will write each year, so it’s important to get a jump on this. Ask your teachers if they will be willing to write letters for you April/May of junior year, and no later than the start of senior year.

The Applications

The summer before senior year where you should start working on the applications and essays. Don’t put it off as senior year gets busy very quickly. The more you can get done over the summer months, the better off you will be.

We hope this college admissions timeline helps you.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.