College Application Deadlines: Your Complete Application Timeline


For many students and their parents, the college application process is a source of tremendous anxiety. Fear not. If you familiarize yourself with this process and devote enough time to it, I’m confident that you’ll be able to make it through unscathed and end up at a quality college.

In this article, we’ll go over the college application deadlines you need to know. More importantly,

we’ll give you a complete college application timeline, detailing what you should be doing at each point in your high school career

to ensure that you can submit exceptional college applications.

Overview of the College Application Process

If you want to successfully complete the college application process, meet every

college application deadline

, and make yourself as competitive for college admission as possible,

you will be directly or indirectly working on your college application well before your applications are due


In fact, if you have any intention of applying to


colleges, this process can really begin as early as your

freshman year


The major components of your application that will be evaluated are

your transcript, your standardized test scores, your recommendations, your personal essay, and your extracurricular activities


In this article

, I’ll walk you through an ideal college planning timeline to ensure that you’re able to have every aspect of your final application be as strong as possible

. Keep in mind this college application timeline is a recommendation: you may find it makes sense to tackle these steps a little ahead of our suggestions. The thing to keep in mind is that you want to plan ahead. Waiting until the last minute can negatively impact your ability to get into your dream school.

Freshman and Sophomore Years

While you don’t have to seriously think about what colleges you want to apply to before your junior year,

your first two years of high school will influence the quality of your college application

. Even though there are a few colleges including

University of California schools

that won’t consider your freshman grades, your sophomore grades will definitely factor into your high school


and help determine whether you’re accepted to the college of your choice.

Pay attention to

what classes you take


Selective colleges want to see that you’ve excelled in rigorous classes throughout your high school years

. Some high schools are hesitant to allow students to take honors or

AP classes

in their junior years if they haven’t taken advanced classes in their first two years of high school.

Furthermore, colleges are concerned with how many years you’ve taken core subjects (math, English, science, history, and foreign language). If you don’t take a foreign language or history class in your freshman or sophomore year, you’ll be a less competitive applicant.

Also, make sure you’re involved in

extracurricular activities


Colleges like to see that you’ve committed yourself to your extracurriculars

. The student who has excelled in the same extracurricular activity throughout high school is a more impressive applicant than the student who first starts doing an extracurricular in his junior year.

Start studying for the SAT/ACT

. Generally, you should start studying for the SAT/ACT in your sophomore year or the summer before your junior year.

We recommend that you take the SAT/ACT for the first time in the fall of your junior year.

Start studying early to


yourself thoroughly.




Fall of Junior Year

The biggest college application deadline you have to meet in your junior year is taking your standardized tests.

Universities use test scores as a way to determine whether a student is prepared to succeed at their school. The more competitive the university, the higher your test scores will need to be.

In the fall of your junior year, you should take the SAT or ACT for the first time. Also, s


researching colleges


You don’t need to finalize your list of schools at this point, but

if you identify colleges you’re interested in, you’ll have a better sense of what you need to do to make yourself competitive for admission

. Additionally, y

ou’ll be able to determine your target score for the





Then, you can decide

if you need to retake your SAT/ACT

, and you can figure out

how to improve your score

, if need be.

Spring of Junior Year

In the spring of your junior year, you should

make a preliminary list of colleges you want to apply to



college finders


college search websites

, and

ranking lists

to help you.

Having this list will give you ample time to complete all your application requirements and ensure that you can reach your target scores on your standardized tests.

Divide your list into




, and



If necessary,

retake your SAT or ACT


Ideally, you’ll achieve your target score this time around. Again, make sure you’re



Finally, you should

ask teachers if they’re willing to write

recommendation letters

for you


If you ask them early, your teachers will have more time to think about them, and you may get better recommendations. Keep in mind that many teachers will be bombarded by students asking for recommendations during your senior year, so be sure to ask early!

Summer Before Senior Year

In the summer before your senior year, try to

finalize your list of colleges

. This isn’t a hard college application deadline, but doing so will make your life a lot easier in the fall! Additionally, m

ake sure you’re familiar with the


requirements for each school. That way you’ll be ready to start your applications as soon as possible.

If you still need to take the SAT or ACT to reach your target score, do some

intense studying over the summer


Also, start thinking about and preparing for your

college application essays


Come up with ideas


write first drafts


The more you do over the summer, the less you’ll have to worry about during the school year



Fall of Senior Year

Most likely, the fall of your senior year will be rather busy. In the fall, you have to make sure your college applications are ready, so there are lots of college application deadlines you need to be aware of.

First, f


ask for recommendations

early in the semester

. Don’t wait until one week before your application deadlines to ask. Teachers who are too busy or inundated with recommendation requests may decline to write your letters or will be unable to write you a good recommendation at the last minute.

Next, polish your

college essays

. College essays take much more time than you think.

Even though the essay isn’t that long, writing a great college essay can be time-consuming

. Again, there’s no hard deadline for getting these done, but we recommend you finish your essays one to two months before your application is due. That way you have time to revise, revise, revise!

To make sure you’re knocking your essays out of the park, write multiple drafts, and if possible, allow your teachers and counselors to review your essays and offer advice. For years, I spent many hours helping procrastinating students revise college essays the night before their applications were due. I’m having painful flashbacks. Let’s proceed to the actual, hard-and-fast college application deadlines you need to know about.


early decision


early action

applications are due by November 15. If you apply early, the Oct. or Nov. SAT/ACT will most likely be your last chance to take the test. Early applicants are usually notified by early December regarding admissions decisions.

For most colleges, regular decision application deadlines are January 1st

, but some popular colleges have earlier deadlines.

For example, the deadline for

University of California

applications is the end of November. Be aware of the deadlines for all the schools on your list.

Make sure that you have submitted all necessary applications, forms, and score reports.

Make a checklist for each school of what you need to submit

. Luckily, y

our life may be easier because more colleges are using the

Common Application

or the

Coalition Application


If you still need to take the SAT/ACT, do some quality studying and

take the test in time so you can get your scores to the colleges


For most schools, the December tests will be your last opportunity, but a few colleges will allow you to submit scores from January or February.

If you need financial aid,

begin working on the financial aid process

. Each college has its own financial aid requirements. Check the school’s website and financial aid office for requirements and deadlines for financial aid. If you want to be eligible for financial aid, make sure you complete the


. Become knowledgeable about

financial aid

and explore all your options to pay for college.


Spring of Senior Year

You’ll hear about your regular decision applications

by late March or early April

. Hopefully, you’ll be accepted by multiple colleges.

Continue researching the colleges that accept you to

choose the college that will be best for you


If you applied for financial aid, the colleges that accepted you will give you their financial aid offers shortly after they accept you.

You can use the financial aid packages to determine

how much you’ll have to pay for each school

and factor that into your college decision.

Typically, you have to decide which school you’ll attend by May 1


Special Message to the Procrastinators

The college application timeline I’ve given you is ideal for maximizing

the quality of your application

and minimizing stress


Admittedly, many students don’t begin thinking about the college application process until the fall of their senior year. Some of these students are still able to successfully complete all of their applications and attend the college of their dreams.

However, I think every student benefits from sticking to the college application timeline I laid out.

I know students who were unable to submit applications on time because they waited too long to start writing their essays. I know students who severely limited their college options because they didn’t do enough college research. Also,

the majority of students I’ve worked with could have done better on their standardized tests

if they had given themselves more time to study


Furthermore, you’ll be busy with school and extracurricular activities during your senior year. If you don’t start contemplating the application process until the fall of your senior year, you’re likely to feel overwhelmed given all of your other responsibilities. If you devote more time to this process earlier, it will be easier and you’ll be more likely to accomplish your goals.


What’s Next?

Do you need more information to successfully stick to this college application timeline?

We’ve got tons of other guides and resources to help you plan.

If you’re struggling to find extracurricular activities, learn about

the 3 best extracurricular activities for your college application


Are you starting to work on your college essay?

Make sure you know

how to write a great college essay


Finally, to help you stay on track, review

the important college application deadlines you can’t miss


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