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College Application Timeline

Navigating the U.S. college application process is a significant milestone in your academic journey. However, it’s not just about crafting the perfect essay or securing stellar recommendation letters; timing is everything. The U.S. college application timeline is a well-choreographed dance, with each step having its own specific deadline. Understanding this timeline is crucial for a stress-free and successful application experience. So, let’s dive into the key milestones that will shape your journey towards higher education in the United States.

The year before college applications (Grade 11/Year 12)

  • May
    • Take AP exams if applicable
    • Plan summer activities to enhance your extracurricular profile. Consider interning or volunteering in your community.
  • August and September
    • Understand and discuss your finances for college education. This will help you narrow down your college list.
    • Create a account to assist with research.
    • Start working on a college comparison list, including each university’s requirements.
    • Visit some colleges both in-person and virtually.
  • September, October and November
    • Follow admissions offices on social media so you don’t miss any important announcements.
    • Research scholarship options that you could qualify for.
    • Start filling out important dates in a calendar.
  • December
    • Take the first round of SAT or ACT. This way you will have time to retake the test if you don’t get the scores you were hoping for.
    • Understand financial aid in the US. Look up some tutorials about the ISFAA and CSS Profile (this form may be required for institutional funding) and the FAFSA (for dual citizens of the US).
  • January, February and March
    • Make sure to actively continue research and participate in virtual events.
  • March, April, May, June and July
    • Review personal finances and adjust lists and search as necessary.
    • Finalize your college list and relevant dates. Understand your admission plans – early decision, early action or regular decision.
    • Think about essays and supplements. Keep track of required essay prompts for your schools and begin brainstorming and writing.
    • Let your school administration and teachers know about your plans to apply. Be prepared to help them understand letters of recommendation and any school forms required by universities.

The Application Year (Grade 12/Year 13)

  • August and September
    • Keep track of application portals and financial aid portals (FAFSA for dual citizens of the US, CSS, and ISFAA) and when they open! Make sure you get yours started!
    • Write your college-specific supplemental essays
    • Continue to research scholarships, adding requirements and deadlines to your list.
    • Schedule a meeting with your school team (teacher, administrator, counselor) to review your college list to get his or her feedback and review your application deadlines, and ask any questions you may have.
    • Set up virtual or in person interviews with colleges.
    • Check in with your recommendation writers and ask for a letter of recommendation from your school counselor.
    • Apply to scholarships throughout the school year.
    • Start preparing financial aid paperwork and develop a deadlines list.
  • September, October and November
    • Check school/national exams and calendar them along with application dates to stay organized.
    • Continue participation in college presentations and college fairs (in person and virtual).
    • Complete your application for financial aid using the ISFAA, FAFSA or CSS/PROFILE.
    • Have a trusted adult (preferably trained in the process) look over your application. This review cycle can take many weeks, especially writing revisions.
    • Complete and send out all Early Action and Early Decision applications no later than late October. (These deadlines are typically around November 1.)
    • Many portfolio-based arts programs have December 1st deadlines. And some universities require submission by December 1st to be considered for scholarship opportunities.
    • Check whether your schools allow self-reported standardized scores and send your test scores.
    • Remind your school team to upload/send letters and transcripts to colleges.
  • December
    • Regular Decision (RD) deadlines are typically around January 1. Complete and send out all RD applications no later than mid-December.

Note: This is also recommended if you have deadlines in February/ March or later as long as the application is complete and well-done.

  • January, February and March
    • You will start hearing back decisions about your ED applications in January and the RD results in March/April.
    • If deferred, send an email to your admissions representative. Reaffirm your interest in the school and offer any updates (activities, achievements, awards, etc).
  • March and April
    • Evaluate financial aid packages to figure out what is affordable for your family.
    • Students need to enroll and submit a deposit by May 1. A deposit is made to save your spot at college, and the amount is usually credited to your school account. Be sure to check whether the deposit includes a tuition payment.
  • May
    • Take AP/IB exams, as required by school. Your school may have other exams throughout the year.
    • Notify your school team and your grown-ups (teacher, administrator, counselor, parent/guardian) of your college decisions and Financial Aid options.
    • Thank your letter of recommendation writers and any grown-ups/peers for supporting you through your application process.
    • If you’ve been waitlisted, this is a good time to send a)your “I’d like to stay on the waitlist” form and b) the email to your designated admissions rep which states your interest in the school and offers updates (activities, achievements, awards, etc).
    • Sign-up for campus housing if you plan to live on campus.
  • June, July and August
    • Check for waitlist notifications.
    • Complete your visa application and book your interview appointment.
    • Make travel arrangements (You can enter the US 30 days before your program starts).
    • Reach out to International Students services about setting up a bank account.

Important application deadlines 

August 1 Common App Opens
November 15 ED applications due
January 2 RD applications due
February 15 ED results announced
April 1 RD results announced
May 1 Decisions deadline to accept