How Early Should You Apply to College?

apply to college

Around 70% of Americans don’t have a college degree, but how many would if they were prepared when it came to the admissions process? 

If there’s one thing you shouldn’t procrastinate on, it’s applying for college. Colleges set hard deadlines, and if you miss them you will not be attending that year. 

But, how do you know when to apply to college? The bad news is that there isn’t one fixed date across the country. The good news is that we’re here to tell you everything you need to know about your college application. 

Read on for everything you need to know about when to make a start on applying for college.

Steps for Applying to College 

Colleges aim to recruit the most dedicated and brightest students, so this is your perfect time to show some dedication when it comes to admissions. 

Get ready to prepare many recommendations, exam results, personal letters, and more to show that you’re an excellent prospective student.

In general, the steps for applying to college are as follows:

  • Take the SATs
  • Begin online applications 
  • Apply for scholarships or funding if needed 
  • Get letters of recommendation 
  • Send transcripts to your colleges of choice 
  • Write your personal letter 
  • Complete online applications

When Should I Start My Application? 

Clearly, you’ll have a lot to think about during this time. So, organization and planning are vital. You’ll have to be aware of different deadlines for each of your colleges, navigate funding applications, and chase people for recommendation letters. 

Before you start, it’s best to make a timeline of all the steps you’ll need to complete and how long they’ll take you. Try working backward, starting at your final deadline. 

So, when are the deadlines for college applications? 

Early Admissions

If you’re keen to get your application sent off, many colleges will accept early college applications. The deadline for early college admission is usually November 1st or November 15th. 

Despite being submitted earlier, your application still needs to be completed to submit early, so it’ll take some extra work in your first half of term. 

Normal Admissions

Most colleges have application deadlines in December or January of your senior year. This gives you a few months to get your application together from the start of term, but don’t get complacent because it’ll come around quicker than you think. 

If you miss the application deadline, you won’t be able to resubmit it (unless in extreme circumstances, and even then, it’s rarely allowed). However, all is not lost; there is another option. 

Rolling Admissions

Specific colleges run rolling admissions, so you may end up applying on a rolling basis without making that decision. 

Rolling admissions is when the college accepts applications and evaluates them immediately, awarding places until the course is full. So, there’s no hard deadline. However, you never know when they’ll close applications for that year.  

Which Admissions Should I Apply for? 

So if you’re wondering which type of admissions will work for you, there are a few things to consider.

First, because colleges decide whether they accept standard applications or rolling, you won’t have a choice on that one. If you’re set against either process, the best option would be to apply to colleges with the admissions style that suits your preference. 

But, you should be aware of a few benefits and drawbacks to each application process. 

Should I Apply for Normal Admissions?

Regular admissions are good because it’s a standardized process, and you know where you stand throughout. All you need to do is prepare your application by the set date and wait for a response. 

However, competition is high with normal admissions, and the wait time is long because they have to evaluate every application before sending offers. 

Should I Apply for Rolling Admissions?

Rolling admissions are great because they can reduce the stress you feel when there’s a hard deadline. Also, you’ll hear back from your college of choice far quicker than with a typical application because they evaluate it when they receive it. You could receive your answer in as little as 4-6 weeks. 

You also get more flexibility with rolling admissions; you get until the regular deadline to decide whether you’ll attend that school. Finally, submitting your application early will be less competitive because most people take a while to get the applications done. 

However, the significant drawback of rolling admissions is that the application window can close at any time without notice, potentially leaving you with an application that’s almost ready to submit and nowhere to submit it.  

Should I Apply for Early Admissions?

Early admissions can be extremely beneficial if you play your cards right. You improve your odds of getting a place because fewer people submit applications at this time. You’ll also have longer to consider your options because you’ll hear back from colleges earlier. 

Furthermore, if your application isn’t quite strong enough, your college of choice may allow you to defer. This allows you time to strengthen your application and reapply at the normal admission date. 

However, you need to ensure that your application is just as strong as it would be if you were submitting it at the regular deadline. So, you need to be on the ball and make sure you have all the relevant documents prepared at the early admission deadline. 

Factors Affecting Your Application Timing 

It’s easy to get fixated on your application’s final deadline date. However, there are many factors you need to consider in the run-up to your final submission. Failing to be aware of these may lead to a rushed or incomplete application.

Strengthening Your Application 

The first thing to consider is that your application doesn’t start when the window opens in senior year; it starts well before junior year. You’ll be judged based on your academic history throughout high school. 

So, if you aren’t already, it’s time to get invested in some extracurricular activities. If you’re already the captain of the cheer squad and editor of the school magazine, no worries – apply for early admissions! 

If your academic transcript consists of little more than attending your classes, hold off and submit at the normal deadline when you can show some more extracurricular activities. 

Redrafting Your Essays

Next, don’t forget that your teachers are there to help with your application. You can show them copies of the essays you’re planning to submit and get their feedback. 

This feedback is invaluable; they help students through the admissions process every year and know what makes a robust application. 

However, you’re not the only student they’ll be doing this for. So, get a draft to them early; that way, they’ll have sufficient time to evaluate your work, and you’ll have time to redraft it based on their feedback. 

Obtaining Recommendation Letters

The same goes for recommendation letters – start asking early if you want a sincere letter. You can even write out a list of achievements and traits you’d like them to highlight to the college – this will make their life easier and ensure that the letter stands out. 

Most college applications will need two or three letters of recommendation; these should be written by someone that knows you well and can describe your skillsets and accomplishments in detail. 

Again, just remember that your teachers are busy people, so it’s vital that you ask with plenty of time.

Allowing Time for Other Activities 

Finally, don’t forget that you won’t be able to dedicate all your time to your college application. You have other priorities as well, not least of all completing your SATs to get you into college! 

Between applying for finance, studying, and working (if you have a job), don’t expect to have more than six hours per week left to work on your college application. 

So, the more life priorities you have, the earlier you need to start thinking about your application. 

Mature Student Applications 

Now, not everyone follows the traditional route through education. Luckily, there are different ways to apply if you’ve got exceptional circumstances. 

If you’ve taken a break from education, you can apply as a mature student. Many colleges recognize that mature students won’t have the same qualifications as someone taking the usual route, so they have more flexibility. 

However, there’s no hard and fast rule for requirements for mature students, so you should contact the admissions offices of the colleges you’d like to attend. Make sure to do this as early as possible so that you’ll have time to get your application together. 

Applying for Specialist Courses 

If you’re applying for a regular course at an accessible college, this guide will take you through the entire process. However, if you’re planning to fly high and go for a top course at an Ivy League college, you may need additional information. 

For example, prospective doctors and lawyers will usually need to undertake additional tests for their applications. Furthermore, some schools such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton will have more rigorous selection processes that involve multiple interviews. 

For these types of applications, work experience is usually a critical part of your application, so you should start researching work placements early in junior year for the best chance at getting a place. 

So, if you’re aiming for the best, you should keep in regular contact with your guidance counselor to ensure you’re meeting all the requirements for your chosen college and course. 

Finally, make sure you look up your college’s specific application process because some Ivy League institutes have different deadline dates for applications.  

Ultimate Admissions Checklist  

So now you know everything there is to know about the different types of admissions, time to look at your exact step-by-step process for your application. Bear in mind, if you’re applying for early or rolling admissions, you should get started as soon as possible. 

Preparations in Junior Year 

Don’t underestimate how vital junior year is. This is your opportunity to decide what you want to do and hone your skills and extracurriculars to support your application. 

Here’s your step-by-step guide to preparing in your junior year: 

  • September: meet with your guidance counselor for careers guidance 
  • September: enroll in extracurriculars to support your application 
  • October-December: tour colleges of choice 
  • January: understand application requirements for each college 
  • February: begin saving for college costs
  • March: start asking for letters of recommendation 
  • August: sign up to take SATs 

Applications in Senior Year 

While your junior year is all about preparation, senior year is where it starts getting serious. You need to meet every deadline and ensure your applications are complete if you wish to be accepted. 

Here’s everything you need to do during senior year: 

  • September: take the SATs 
  • September: begin your applications 
  • October: apply for scholarships, grants, and loans
  • October: check for early admission deadlines 
  • November: send colleges your transcript
  • December-January: submit your completed applications 
  • March-April: Receive offers from colleges 
  • May: choose your college of choice 

When to Apply to College Explained

That’s your ultimate guide for all the steps to apply for college. If there’s one key takeaway, it’s don’t leave it all until the last minute. 

Applying for college is a lengthy and complicated process, so your organizational skills need to be unparalleled. It doesn’t matter where you are in your journey of applying for college; time to make a plan that’ll ensure you get an offer from the college of your choice. 

If you need more advice like this guide on when to apply to college, check out the rest of our website for everything you need to know about college life.  

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