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.
Seniors – At this point in the
application cycle, there's little left for you to do but
sit tight and wait for your admissions decisions. At
admissions committees meet in March to
make their final admit/deny/waitlist decisions, and then
send notifications to applicants starting April 1. Good
Juniors – You'll be spending a good
part of the rest of this year on your college selection
and applications. Check the items below to see what you
should be focusing on this spring.
Sophomores – You still have some time
left before you need to start serious work on your
college plans. Only a few of the items on the following
list refer specifically to you. However, it's not a bad
idea to look over the entire list to get an idea of what
you'll need to be prepared for next year.
Spring is an ideal time for high
school juniors to take the SAT Reasoning Test or the
ACT. Having your scores in hand this spring will give you an 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 set of scores. Visit our
SAT and ACT
Preparation pages for more information about these tests.
Don't forget: The next (US) SAT
test dates you can still register for are May 7 and
June 4. The regular registration deadlines for those
tests are April 8 and May 11. The next ACT
test dates is April 9 and the regular registration
deadline is March 4. (Late registration continues
through March 18.) Another ACT will be given on
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 settle for
taking whichever test your
peers take. Your choice of test can make a
difference in your college admissions outcomes. We've
worked with applicants who were admitted to
higher-tier schools than they might have been because they
took the trouble to identify the standardized test
that better suited their learning style.
Spring can also be a good time to
SAT Subject Tests (also referred to as
SAT IIs) out of the way. Many selective colleges and
universities require scores from 2 or 3 Subject
Tests as part of their application. Check the
requirements of the schools you're thinking of
applying to, and then check the College Board
webpage for this year's test dates. Think about how many
Subject Tests you want to schedule for the same day, and
whether a test date would overlap or conflict with
AP exams or finals.
If you're a sophomore, think
about taking the PSAT sometime before your
junior year, for practice. The PSAT will not be required for college
admissions, and your score will not be reported to colleges or
influence your admissions outcomes. But a practice
PSAT can help you do better on the PSAT in your
junior year, which could mean winning consideration for a National Merit Scholarship –
which would certainly be a plus on your
"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. Cleo worked with
tthe admissions committee at
Spring is the time for juniors to
continue exploring their school choices and to continue
compiling their lists of 'stretch,' 'good fit,' and 'safety'
Think about what type of college or
university you would be happiest at – a big
urban campus, or a small outdoorsy one? A large,
well-endowed school with state-of-the-art labs and
classrooms, or a school with more modest
infrastructure but more interaction between faculty
and students? To learn more about the types of
schools you have to choose from, see our webpage on
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.
Plan to 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
If you visit college campuses
this spring, try to avoid periods like mid-terms,
finals, and holidays. You'll get a better idea of
campus life if you time your visit for a more
typical period. Ask to see dining halls, dorm rooms,
and recreational facilities in addition to
classrooms and public areas. Ask how representative
the facilities you're seeing are of the entire
campus. Remember, you may be seeing the only
residence hall that's been renovated in the past 10
If there's a college or university
you're especially interested in, think about
scheduling an interview. Many of the largest
and most selective schools no longer offer
interviews, but it can make a difference at the
smaller colleges and universities. Prepare yourself
ahead of time by researching the school and coming
up with a list of questions about what it's like to
be a student there.
Continue to select classes that will challenge and stimulate
you without overwhelming you.
look for applicants who stretched themselves in high
school. Having challenging courses on your
transcripts will be even more
important to your admissions outcomes if your high
school is one of the many that no longer provide
Take AP and IB classes
if you have the opportunity to and are genuinely
interested in the course being offered. Think about how
much schoolwork you can handle at one time, or want
to. Don't forget that the extra time you must devote
to AP or IB classes means you'll have less time for
other things that matter to you. You should also be realistic about how much
impact having one more AP class on your transcripts will have on your
admissions chances. For details, see our webpage on
Takes More Than AP Credit to Make Your App Stand Out."
"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 has over 15 years of college admissions committee
experience and is the former Associate Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Southern Methodist University.
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
Continue enjoying 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.
Start thinking about what you're
going to do over the coming summer. Do you want to
devote more time to a favorite activity, or take a
summer academic program, or get job to save up
some money for college? Or just take a break between
your junior and senior years? There's no single
'right' or 'best' way to spend your summer when it
comes to your college applications, so long as you
can explain the choice you made.
If you want to play sports in college,
continuing participating in appropriate NCAA-approved sports
this winter and spring.
Start thinking ahead to how you can position yourself as a
college applicant for Fall 2017 admissions. What makes you different from other
applicants? How might that quality that make you an especially attractive
candidate for 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!
Less than a year from now,
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
program? Does it express your genuine desire to attend the school in question,
or does it include the kind of insincere, clichéd
statements that doom many borderline applications?
If you're a senior, there's still
time to apply to a few schools for admission this
fall – but just barely. Some schools with
rolling admissions policies will continue
accepting applications until April 1, or even later. Don't
wait for those final deadlines to apply. Because of
the ever-higher number of applications that most
colleges and universities receive these days, many
schools fill their available class seats before the
application cycle formally ends. If you still have
applications to submit, do so immediately.
Juniors might want to start thinking
about which teachers, coaches, or supervisors they
will ask for recommendation letters from this
fall. Think about which points you will need your
recommenders to address to support the rest of your
application. If your GPA or test scores are weak,
you might want to approach a teacher who can attest
to the quality of your academic work; if you don't
have many extracurriculars, you may want a letter
from someone who can attest to your interpersonal
skills and your non-academic interests.
If you're a fall applicant who's been waitlisted at
a school you hope to attend, make sure you let that
school know of your continuing interest. However, you
must use careful judgment in submitting additional
application material. Many applicants make the mistake of sending
application supplements that amount to 'more of the same.' To be effective, your supplements need to answer
the questions 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.
Waitlisted applicants also need to be realistic about
their chances of receiving an admissions offer. The
number of waitlist acceptances at a given school can
vary enormously from year to year, depending on
acceptance rate and applicant yield. In recent years,
however, the trend at most schools has been to admit
fewer waitlisted candidates. For more information, see
our webpage on
Our College Admissions Timeline
page will be updated on May 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
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.
Back to College Features Index