Here’s a list of application tasks that college-bound high school students should pencil into their calendars for the spring semester of their junior year and the fall semester of their senior year:
The SAT and ACT: The spring of your junior year is an excellent time to take the SAT or the ACT. You’ll get your scores in plenty of time to use them in your college selection. If your scores match those of students who were recently admitted to your target schools, you can rest easy and turn your attention to other application tasks. If your scores fall below that mark, you’ve left yourself plenty of time to take the test a second time.
SAT Subject Tests: A number of selective schools either require or encourage applicants to submit scores from 2 or 3 SAT Subject Tests (formerly known as SAT IIs) in addition to their SAT or ACT score. Look into the requirements for your target schools now, so you’ll know what tests you need to take, and then visit the College Board website to find out what dates you can take the tests on. SAT Subject Tests are given on most, but not all, of the same test dates that the SAT Reasoning Test is given on. Not all Subject Tests are available on all test dates.
Each SAT Subject Test is one hour long. Although you can take multiple tests on a single day, you might find it less stressful to take just one or two tests at a time. If you can, it’s a good idea to take at least some of your Subject Tests this spring. The material you’re being tested on should be fresh in your mind from your classes, and you’ll leave your summer and fall weekends free to work on other parts of your applications. (Don’t forget, though, that you may also have to take AP or IB exams in May. Don’t schedule yourself for too many major exams at one time.)
Class Selection: It’s not too early to start thinking about what classes you’ll take in your senior year. Your first-semester classes are especially important because they will be listed on your transcripts and mid-year reports. Of course, admissions committees like to see high grades – but they also like to see proof that a student is curious and has sought out challenging courses. That doesn’t mean that you have to load up on every AP or IB class that’s available to you. On the contrary, there’s a good argument to be made for deciding how much time you want to put into AP and IB coursework and then taking only as many classes as you feel comfortable with. For more information on the role of AP and IB courses in college admissions, see our College Admissions Blog entry on why “It Takes More Than AP Credit to Make Your App Stand Out.”
School Selection & Visits: You’ve probably been researching schools for some time now, at least informally. Now is the time to get serious. You will likely want to come up with a list of 8 to 12 schools that you would be happy to enroll at, including ‘stretch’ and ‘safety’ schools.
If you can, use this spring or summer to visit your top-priority schools. There’s nothing like a campus visit to give you a better idea of what it might be like to actually attend a particular school. Let the admissions office know you’re coming, especially if you’re visiting a smaller school. Having a record of your visit could help you when admissions decisions are made. Schools prefer to admit students who show strong interest in them, and a campus visit is one way of showing your interest in a school.
Essays: All selective schools require applicants to submit one or more college admissions essays as part of the application package. Look at the requirements for your target schools. Start thinking about topics for your essays and jotting down your ideas months before your application deadlines. Essays can be the most time-consuming part of preparing a college application – but good ones can pay off by setting you apart from the many other applicants with grades and test scores similar to yours, and by convincing an admissions committee that you are someone they want as a student at their school.
Application Deadlines: Start thinking now about what schools you want to apply to, when. Most Early Action and Early Decision deadlines fall on November 1. Regular admissions deadlines often fall on or around January 1. Although public universities with rolling admissions continue accepting applications into the spring months, it’s advisable to submit your applications well before that. With today’s large and well-qualified applicant pools, many state schools fill all of the available spaces in their freshman classes long before their final deadlines. This past year, several of the more selective state universities (including Penn State) advised high school students to submit their applications by the school’s priority deadline (which is November 30 in Penn State’s case).
Check our College Admissions Timeline throughout the year to keep on track with your college planning and applications.