The road to college is long – and sometimes confusing. To help keep you on track, here's a
timeline of what college applicants should be doing, and when.
If you're a high school senior who was waitlisted in the
Early Action or Early Decision round at any of your
target schools, be sure your school sends your mid-year
report to those schools. Those first-semester grades are
sometimes just the thing the
admissions committee needs to see to convince it to
send an acceptance letter!
If you're a high school junior with
your eye on next fall's college admissions, this
spring is an ideal time to take the SAT Reasoning Test or the
ACT. That way you'll have your score in hand
by the time you begin your college selection, and
that will give you a better idea of how competitive
an applicant you'll be at your targeted schools.
You'll also leave yourself plenty of time to re-take
the test in the fall if you're not happy with your
first score. Visit our
SAT and ACT Test
Preparation page for information about these tests.
Most high school students now have
the option of taking either the SAT or the ACT.
Based upon your unique profile, you may be better
off taking one test over the other. Don't
just arbitrarily choose to take the test that your
peers take. This is your future at stake. We've
worked with applicants who were admitted to
higher-tier schools precisely because they proactively
determined which test better suited their learning
If you're a sophomore, think
about taking the PSAT either this spring or next
fall. The PSAT is not required for college
admissions, and your score will not be reported to colleges or
influence your admissions outcomes (unless, of
course, you do well enough on the PSAT to win
consideration for a National Merit Scholarship, in
which case you'll have another star to add to your
application!) However, the PSAT is a way for you to
gain experience with standardized tests before you
tackle the SAT. Take the PSAT when you feel ready to
get the most out of the experience.
"To simply say, 'I want to go to X University because of the great academics,' doesn't tell the admissions committee much.
But if you mention something specific – a certain class or professor, or a notable alum – your reasons for wanting to attend the school will be more specific, and therefore more memorable."
– Senior Admissions
Consultant Dr. Cleo Leung
Winter is the time for juniors to
continue exploring their school choices and begin
compiling a list of 'stretch,' 'good fit,' and 'safety'
schools. Seniors should have already finalized their
Aim for a list of 8 to 12 schools
that you would be happy attending. Include a mix of
reach schools, 'good matches,' and safety schools.
But remember – apply only to as many schools as you
will be able to submit
well-prepared applications for. You'll
get better results by applying to 6 schools with
applications that reflect 100 per cent of your best
effort than you will by applying to 12 schools with
applications that each reflect 50 per cent of your
visit campuses over
the coming months, try to avoid periods like mid-terms,
finals, and holiday breaks. You'll get a better idea
of campus life if you time your visit for a more
typical period. Remember, too, that campus life may
be more lively when the weather is warmer, or when
more students are on campus.
If there's a college or university you're especially interested in, find out whether
a student ambassador or other school representative might be visiting
your area soon.
Continue to select classes that will challenge and stimulate
you, but not overwhelm you.
College admissions committees
look for applicants who stretched themselves in high
school. You'll be a stronger college applicant if
you take challenging classes. This will be even more
important to your admissions outcomes if your high
school is one of the many that no longer name
valedictorians or report class standing.
"Community service should clearly come from the heart
and not appear to have been motivated just by a desire to
'add another bullet point to the resume.'"
– Senior Admissions Consultant
Nancy Peterson. Nancy has over 15 years of college admissions committee experience and is
the former Associate Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Southern Methodist University.
extracurricular activities that appeal to your
interests – but don't overdo it. Admissions
committees can sniff out applicants who only became
involved in the community in order to enhance their
college candidacies. Selective colleges will be more
impressed with evidence of a substantive
commitment to one or two activities than by a
long list of superficial memberships.
Extracurricular activities can be a great way to
show there's more to you than simply good grades and test
scores. With the proper strategizing, your
after-school activities could produce the 'wow'
factors you need to be successful at the very
competitive schools where the vast majority of
applicants clear the high academic qualifications
If you want to play sports in college,
continuing participating in appropriate NCAA-approved sports
this winter and spring.
If you're a junior, start thinking ahead to how you can position
yourself as a college applicant for next fall. What makes you
different from other applicants? How does quality that make you an especially
suitable candidate to attend your target school? These are ideas that can serve
as the story themes and 'wow' factors that will make your application stand out
from the crowd!
college admissions committees will be taking a hard, critical look at
your profile. You must do the same thing first. Only by understanding your candidacy from their perspective can
your weaknesses, highlight your strengths, frame your fit, and employ the 'wow'
factors that will differentiate yourself from the
many other highly qualified applicants in your demographic.
Your weaknesses. Sometimes it is best not to bring
attention to a weakness. Other times, it must be acknowledged and explained. Weaknesses can be
mitigated in the personal statement, addendum, or letters of reference.
Your strengths. You need to become a self-promoter
without coming across as arrogant. You also need to prioritize your strengths as
you will not likely be able to highlight all of them in adequate detail within
Your story themes and 'wow' factors. What are the
most important points you need to make about your background, values, beliefs,
and experiences? Have you adequately
prioritized these points? If you attempt to convey too many different points,
you risk coming across as unfocused. You also risk not covering any of your points in adequate
detail to successfully distinguish your candidacy. Ask yourself what makes you unique in a
way that is going to make any admissions officer just really want to recruit you
to their school?
Your fit. Why are you a match made in heaven for the
specific school being targeted? Why will you be a better fit and contribute
more to the program and community than the other applicants? Does your
application convincingly argue that, if admitted, you will gladly attend the
If you are a freshman or sophomore, now is a good
take a critical inventory of your college candidacy. Will you clear the academic
qualification hurdles at the schools you are targeting? Would you benefit from
taking a summer enrichment program? Should you find some additional extracurricular
activities to improve your candidacy? (Remember, though, that you want to avoid
giving the admissions
committees the impression that you only got involved in these activities for
reasons of expediency.)
If you're a senior who applied to any schools under
Early Action or Early Decision programs, you
should have received notification of your admissions
outcomes in December. Make sure you understand what
steps you need to take to acknowledge and/or accept
any admissions offers.
If you're applying to any schools
with later or rolling deadlines, keep working on those applications. Keep a
list or calendar with reminders about which schools you
applied to, when, with notes about what you still
need to do to complete any pending applications.
Save a copy of each application you submit.
Plan to complete and submit your
several days before the actual deadline. You'll be
doing yourself a big favor by avoiding the technical
problems that invariably crop up on deadline day due
to high traffic at application websites. Trust us –
you don't want to spend New Year's Eve at your
computer, trying to upload the final rewrite of your
essays to an agonizingly slow server.
If you're using the
Common Application, make sure you understand
whether your target schools also require
school-specific supplemental forms to the Common
App. Check that you're submitting those forms
through the right channels and by the appropriate
Use the final weeks before
submitting your applications to review and revise your
Don't just check for spelling and grammatical errors
– check the substance of your essays, too. Ask
yourself how well your essay topics convey your optimal story
themes. Look at
your essays the way the
admissions committees will – holistically, and as
part of your overall application, rather
than as stand-alone application components. Your
essay topics should highlight your
strengths, mitigate any weaknesses you need to
explain, and ensure that your candidacy doesn't look
like everyone else's. Our consultants can help you
content and carefully scrutinize each essay for
opportunities to advance your case to admissions
Waitlisted and Deferred
If you're a Fall 2016 applicant who's been waitlisted or
make sure your high school sends your midyear grade report
to the college or university in question.
Exercise careful judgment about
submitting any additional supplemental application
material. Many students make the mistake of sending
supplements that are amount to 'more of the same.' They
send additional recommendation letters that make the
same points the earlier ones did, or updated activities
lists that are longer versions of what was submitted
before. To be effective, your supplements need to answer
whatever question it is that your application left open
in the admissions committee's mind. Our consultants can
help you understand what those questions might be and
how you can put them to rest.
Our College Admissions Timeline
page will be updated on March 1.
Do you have questions about any of
the items you see here? Please call us at 1.800.809.0800
(+1 703.242.5885 outside the US and Canada)
us if you do. Our consultants can help you with school
selection, application strategies, application and
interview preparation, and all other aspects of the
college admissions process.
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