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College Admissions Timeline

The road to college is long – and sometimes confusing. To help keep you on track, here's a timeline of what college and service academy applicants should be doing, and when.

September – October

Don't Forget: November 1 is the Early Decision/Early Action application deadline at many selective colleges and universities.

Our consultants can explain the differences among early admission policies and help you understand how EA, ED, and SCEA applications might affect your admission chances and financial aid outcomes. Click here to learn more about our services.

Standardized Tests:

October and November provide your next-to-last chance to take the SAT I, SAT II, and/or the ACT in time for scores to be considered for next fall's matriculation.

  • Register now for the SAT Reasoning Test or the ACT if you haven't already taken a test or if you're unhappy with your previous score. Visit our SAT and ACT Test Preparation page for more information.

  • It is now feasible for most high school students to take either the SAT or the ACT. Based upon your unique profile, you may be better off taking one test over the other – so 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 style. 

  • Register for the SAT IIs if you need to take subject tests.

School Selection:

Fall is the time for juniors to start thinking seriously about school selection. Seniors should have already finalized their school choices.

  • 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 can 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 best effort.

  • If you visit campuses in the fall, try to avoid hectic periods like mid-terms and finals. You'll get a better idea of campus life if you time your visit for a quieter period.

  • 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 over the holidays.

Academics:

  • Select coursework that will challenge and stimulate you, but not overwhelm you. 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.

Extracurricular Activities:

"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.'"

– Admissions Consultant Jessica Vertman. Jessica served on the admissions committee at Yale University.

  • Enjoy 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 hurdles.

  • If you want to play sports in college, sign up for appropriate NCAA-approved sports teams this fall.

Strategic Positioning:

  • If you're applying to college this year, you should begin formulating your story themes and identifying your 'wow' factors right away. Good ideas and deep introspections cannot be rushed!

  • The 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 you best mitigate 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 mitigated. 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 applications.

  • 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 program?

  • If you are a freshman, sophomore, or junior, now is a good time to 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).

Service Academy Applications:

Apply for admission to a service academy between April of your junior year in high school and not later than January of your senior year. (Rolling admissions process)

You must also request a service academy nomination from your respective Congressman and both Senators in early spring of your junior year or as soon thereafter. The Vice Presidential nomination deadline is November 1st of the year prior to graduation. Since many offices begin their processing in the summer and early fall, the earlier you apply the better.

College Applications:

  • Decide now whether you want to apply to any schools under their Early Action or Early Decision programs. Make sure you understand the conditions and deadlines that each school sets. That includes understanding whether EA/ED acceptances are binding, and what, if any, ramifications breaking such a commitment would have.

  • Maintain a set of folders with the information you need for your applications. This includes activity lists as well as notes about extracurricular activities, paid employment and volunteer service, and summer study. It's also a good place to keep a list of which schools you applied to, when, with reminders about what you still need to do to complete your applications.

  • If you're applying to a school that accepts the Common Application, consider whether a Common Application submission could present you in a better light than the school-specific application would. Also make sure you understand whether you're also expected to submit school-specific supplemental forms to the Common App.

  • Start working on your college admission essays now. Begin selecting essay topics that convey your optimal story themes. View these essays the way the admissions committees will – holistically, and as part of your overall application, rather than in a vacuum. Your topics should highlight your strengths, mitigate any weaknesses you need to draw attention to, and ensure that your candidacy doesn't look like everyone else's. Don't worry about grammar in the first drafts or you'll risk losing your focus. Good ideas and deep introspections cannot be rushed, so don't wait any longer to get to work! Our consultants can help you select your content and carefully scrutinize each essay for opportunities to advance your case to admissions committees.

  • Think about who you want to write your letters of recommendation. Smart applicants will make sure their recommendations highlight their key strengths, mitigate any weaknesses they need to address, and substantiate their stories as necessary. Write up the points that you want your recommenders to discuss. Make sure your recommenders understand where they need to send their letters to, and by what date.

Our College Admissions Timeline page will be updated on November 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) or email 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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