College Decision Timeline for High School Students
FRESHMAN & SOPHOMORE YEARS
- Begin looking at colleges when you’re a freshman. It’s helpful to have an early understanding of the qualities and characteristics that are important to you. Attend college fairs in your area. Check your high school guidance office for announcements and also NACACNET.ORG and NEACAC.ORG for fall and spring college fairs near you.
- For help selecting a college that’s right for you, start by checking out these two websites: COLLEGENAVIGATOR.GOV and BIGFUTURE.COLLEGEBOARD.ORG.
- Take the PSAT (“preliminary SAT”) during your sophomore year.
- To explore free test prep for the SAT, visit COLLEGEREADINESS.COLLEGEBOARD.ORG. To prepare for the ACT, visit ACTSTUDENT.ORG/TESTPREP.
- Take the SAT and/or ACT tests in the spring.
- Begin to think about possible teachers and mentors who you could ask for letters of recommendation.
- Schedule college visits during the summer before senior year. A road trip to meet with admissions staff and tour a campus will broaden your perspective.
- Begin working on your college essay (which is part of most college applications). The more you have completed prior to senior year, the less stressful it will be to manage classes and your college-search process simultaneously. Aim to have a final draft completed before the start of senior year. Ask a few people to proofread it. The more eyes you have reviewing, the more input will be added and the more grammatical mistakes will be found!
- Compile a “brag sheet” or resume. While most colleges don’t require a resume, this document will help you complete your college admissions application.
- Take the SAT and/or ACT tests in the fall.
- Finalize your list of colleges (early in the year if possible).
- Secure at least two letters of recommendation.
- Finish your college essay.
- Investigate possible scholarships—check with your high school guidance office and your state’s financial aid office. Search websites such as FASTWEB.COM.
- Check the financial aid application deadlines for the colleges where you’re thinking of applying. Be sure to complete and submit the required applications on time or ahead of schedule. As soon as possible after October 1, file the federal government’s FAFSA. Visit FAFSA.ED.GOV for your free application.
- Check the admissions application deadlines for the colleges you’re interested in:
- Regular admissions deadlines vary but may be in January or February (check the deadline for each college).
- Rolling admission means you can apply up to the start of classes, but applying early is recommended.
- Some colleges have earlier application deadlines for students, who want the college to know it is their first choice, or a close second.
- Early Decision (binding, which means the student must commit early with a deposit) deadlines are usually in the month of November, and students are typically notified in December.
- Early Action (non-binding) also requires early application, but not an early deposit, and students are typically notified in January or February.
- Make sure you fully complete the admissions applications. Many colleges use the Common Application, which is filed online at COMMONAPP.ORG. Colleges usually require students to also complete a supplement, so be sure to check what’s required ahead of time.
- Ask your high school guidance office to send each college your high school transcript.
- Receive notification of admissions decisions and financial aid awards, usually by April unless you were late in applying.
- Your decision time is coming. Maybe visit your colleges again to help you decide. Make your final decision and pay a deposit to the college where you’d like to enroll—usually by May 1 (unless you’re applying later).
- Once you’ve chosen the college you wish to attend, make sure you send in all the required documents, and respond to the colleges whose offers you are declining.