It’s about that time of year again—college applications season! If you are a senior in high school, you might be a little overwhelmed right now. With so much to do and figure out in the next year, it can most definitely be stressful; I was just there! Trust me, I came out on the other side, and you will too. You will figure it out, and you will be so glad that you put in the time and energy into creating top-notch applications that showcase yourself. Below, you will find a very general calendar for college of what to do, when, regarding those college apps.
August 1st: Technically speaking, this is when the “official” Common App releases for the upcoming school year, so your calendar for college should start here. Although it is available to you to begin filling out as soon as the preceding May, each college will release deadlines and supplemental essays on August 1st. On this day, you should add the colleges you are planning to apply to on your list on the Common App (if you haven’t already) and take a look at each school. Ask yourself…what is the workload I am looking at for these applications? When are the deadlines for early action/decision or regular decision? How many recommendations does each school require? Within the first few days of August, to get your calendar for college all set, decide if you are applying early action or regular decision to each school; this step is crucial in determining the timeline for your college apps. By the time school starts, you should have a better idea for what your college apps season will look like.
October 1st: This is the first day that you can file your FASFA. (The FASFA is how you apply for financial aid.) Regardless of your financial position, make sure to have your parents file you a form so that colleges can award you grants and/or loans.
November 1st: This date is typically the early action/decision deadline. Keep in mind, if you are applying early action/decision to at least one college, you are going to need to accelerate your application process to meet this deadline. I recommend applying early action to as many schools as possible—because usually, you hear back sooner!
January 1st: The beginning of January is usually when the regular decision deadlines are. Although it’s slightly farther away than early action/decision, it will be here before you know it. Make sure to pace yourself throughout the first semester to be able to meet those regular decision deadlines, because those deadlines will likely be your last chance to apply to the schools you want and keep your calendar for college all set.
In my opinion, the key to having a successful college app season is pacing yourself and starting early. You have a lot to do to be able to hit submit on those applications, and because of that, college apps take time, energy, and a whole lot of effort–especially if you are shooting for competitive schools. Regardless if you are applying early action/decision, I recommend having your common app finished by October. That way, you can use November and December—and any time you have remaining—to edit, revise, write supplemental essays, answer college-specific questions, and put finishing touches on your applications. Trust me, it may seem like once you have the common app completed that you’re done, but you will likely have a lot to do for each specific application. Here is a month-to-month guideline on what you should be doing, when, to stay on track for your college applications.
May-July before Senior Year:
The best thing I did for myself was starting early and getting your calendar for college organized. The summer before you begin your final year of high school is like the calm before the storm, and now is the time to get ahead and start planning your calendar for college! Trust me, you don’t want the reason behind not producing your best application to be because you didn’t start soon enough. Here are 4 things you can do, over the summer, to mitigate some of the stress during the school year:
- One of the changes the Common App made in the last couple of year is that you can begin filling out your Common App over the summer, so take advantage of that opportunity! Fill out your basic information, family history, and education to save yourself some time; this is the easiest part of the application.
- Begin drafting, outlining, or brainstorming your Common App essay. The essay is one of the most important components of your applications, and forming the ideas that will drive your essay often take more time than you would think. The common app has already released the essay topics for the 2017-2018 applicants, so at the very least, begin brainstorming.
- Plan, plan, plan! Create a college spreadsheet of the colleges you want to apply to, when. If you don’t know where you want to apply, then create a list of potential colleges. It’s not set in stone until you actually apply. While the deadlines and supplemental essays might not become available until August 1st, you can begin filling out some of the basic information that you do know.
- Make a list of all your extracurricular activities, sports, service work, etc. in high school that you want to include in your applications. This list will come in handy later, trust me. You want to show your best self on these applications, and one way of doing so is to showcase all of the awesome things you have done in high school. Don’t be afraid that some of the activities on your list are “weird”—because unique is always good on college apps!
This is the time when your schoolwork and college apps begin to pick up. It might seem like your deadlines are light-years away, but in reality, they are just around the corner! If you haven’t already, now is the time to get serious and crank it out. Here are 6 things you should be doing during these months to stay on track:
- Begin the activities section of the common app; this will take you longer than you think!
- Have the first draft of your common app essay finalized and ready for review by mid-end September. Send it out to some people you know, who are willing to review your essay, as soon as you have your first draft complete. I recommend having someone you don’t know on a personal level reading it also—because chances are, the reviewers of your application won’t know who you are. I got a tutor for all of my essays, and that was exceptionally beneficial!
- For any colleges that aren’t on the common app, begin filling out those applications as soon as they are available and submitting them when they are due.
- Talk out your plan with your counselor and invite him/her to start their portion of your common app.
- Ask teachers to write you a recommendation letter. Send him/her the appropriate materials to complete this. I only had to ask one teacher, but you may have to ask more depending on what’s required by the colleges.
- For any early action/decision schools, you should begin to draft any supplemental essays. These are short, but they are just as important as your main essay. They might take you longer than you think.
This was—by far—the most stressful month for me regarding college apps, so it’s important to get your calendar for college organized. I had 3 schools due by November 1st in order to meet the Early Action deadline! Usually, the month before the majority of your application deadlines is the most stressful, so just remember that being overwhelmed is normal! Regardless of when your apps are due, you should complete the 2 tasks below to have your common app finished, opening up space in your calendar for college.
- Finalize the activities section of the Common App. Although this section doesn’t have to be grammatically perfect, it does need to be understandable and readable. Make sure you are showcasing your best self by including descriptions that show what you are doing within your activities.
- At this point, you should begin to hear back from the people you sent your common app essay to. Review their corrections and suggestions, and begin your revisions. Send your second draft out for another revision, and repeat the process until you have your final essay. I went through about 5 revisions—if not more— of my common app essay before I reached the final product.
After completing the above tasks, your general common app should be—pretty much—ready to go. The next 4 tasks should be completed for each individual college before submitting your final application. These tasks should be completed in October for any early action/decision college. For any regular decision school, these tasks should be completed in November/December.
- Make sure those recommendation letters have been received by the common app! (Or by the college.)
- Answer college-specific questions in the college’s section of the Common App.
- Draft or finish up your supplemental essays and have those reviewed as well. Colleges take all the writing that you give them seriously, not just your main essay!
- Review a hard copy of your entire common app. Have your parents, and anyone else you want, do the same. They will probably catch any typos/mistakes and help you put those finishing touches on your application.
Make sure to take/retake those standardized tests if you need to! I recommend having your ACT/SAT scores ready by the end of the first semester–because most of those applications will be due by the beginning of the second semester.
January, February, March, April:
The stressful part of college applications is over! You have probably hit submit on your applications, and you have approached the waiting phase. You should spend these last precious months of high school soaking it all up. And of course…making your college decision if you haven’t already.