written by
Brian Mitchell

Ideal timeline for college applications

Admissions Tips 6 min read

If like the majority of college applicants you aren’t ready to apply early action or don’t yet feel committed enough to one institution to apply early decision, don’t worry!

Follow our basic timeline for Regular Decision (RD) applications and try to enjoy the process.

Applying to colleges this fall? Check out our timeline so that you're ready for those college application deadlines for regular decision.
Photographer: Element5 Digital | Source: Unsplash

August & September

Build a college list

By the time school starts, you should have at least 2 -3 schools on your college list. In general, you should apply to at least six and at most ten colleges. Make sure you're considering both the educational and cultural fit when selecting colleges for your list. You also want to have a few schools on your list that are a reach educationally, as well as at least one school you are confident you will get into. For more on picking a great list of colleges for you, keep on reading here.

Search for colleges and their respective timelines - most with January 1, 2020 deadlines for Regular Decision - on our Bullseye web app
Search for colleges and their respective deadlines - most with January 1, 2020 deadlines for Regular Decision - on our Bullseye web app.

Complete financial forms

If you're applying for financial aid, you should take advantage of the summer months to complete the CSS Profile and FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form. Applicants are permitted to use their family’s previous tax documents (FY2018), so late summer is a great time to work through it. Filling out financial aid information is time consuming and can be stressful if you leave it to the last minute. You'll likely need your parents help with this, and they will want time to locate all the financial documents they need so start this as soon as possible. If anything major shifts within family income in 2019 (a parent lost a job, a sibling went to college, they bought or sold a house), you should wait to fill out the FAFSA form with the most recent tax documents.

Testing

It's helpful to complete your SAT or ACT testing before you submit your applications. This way you can see where you fit with other students who are admitted to the schools you are interested in to gauge if the school is the right fit for you. If you plan to take one of the tests again though, below are the deadlines for fall exams:

  • October 5th SAT registration deadline is September 6th with a late registration deadline of September 24th.
  • October 26th ACT registration deadline is September 20th with a late registration deadline of October 4th. November 2nd SAT registration deadline is October 3rd with a late registration deadline of October 22nd.
  • December 7th SAT registration deadline is November 8th with a late registration deadline of November 26th.
  • December 14th ACT registration deadline is November 8th with a late registration deadline of November 22nd.

October

Visit schools

If possible, you should try to visit any schools of interest before you submit your application. This not only gives you a good idea of if a college is the right fit for you, but it also shows admissions offices that you're interested in their school. If you choose to wait to visit a school until after you're offered admission, make sure you do as much research about the school before applying. It's especially helpful to talk to someone who has attended the school, and our Bullseye mentors would be a great fit for this.

Ask for recommendations

You should ask your teachers and school counselor for their recommendations by the end of October. It helps to sit down with each teacher and share some things you do that they may not know about. Making sure whoever recommends you knows you personally is the key to receiving a good recommendation. Be sure you have secured confirmation from those you ask by the end of October and to communicate your deadlines with them in writing. Struggling with who to prioritize? We've got more on who to ask to help your application stand out here.

Essay prep

By fall, schools have already posted their supplemental essay topics for this admissions cycle. While doing research on your top schools, copy or print out their essay questions. Brainstorm and begin to draft your initial responses. This will give you plenty of time to get feedback on your responses and edit as necessary.

Request fee waivers if needed

If you think you may qualify for application fee-waivers, do some research into the process. You'll want to look into how to request a waiver at each institution you plan to apply to.

November

Fine tune your college list

At this point, you should finalize your list of 6 - 10 schools you'll apply to. Again, keeping in mind a good mix of reach schools that may be tough for you to get into, target schools where your scores and grades match well with their admitted students, and safety schools where you're confident you'll be admitted. You've got this!

Extracurriculars

This is a great time to write down time estimates for extracurriculars and write up a statement describing each one of them. Some students even choose to create a college resume to help them lay out all they do. Chat with your parents and mentors to help you remember all you've accomplished so far in high school.

Notify school of college application deadlines

Make sure the school registrar and those writing recommendations know when their part of the applications is due. A week before the application deadline, we suggest checking in for confirmation that they were sent.

Write essays

You should have the bulk of your essays drafted by the end of November. This gives you enough time to have mentors or teachers read over each of your essays to help with the editing process. Remember essays are an important part of the admissions process, so get the help you need in editing to put your best foot forward for admissions. We're here to help on this - whether it's for one essay or upwards of 10 essays, we've got a team ready.

December

Submit testing

Submit your testing (SAT, ACT, etc.) results online, and request your scores be sent a few weeks in advance of your application deadline.

Make sure those recommendations are in

You'll receive an email once a recommendation has been submitted for you, so make sure all of your recommendations are in before your deadlines - and our free Bullseye app is great for deadline tracking! Be persistent when checking in with those you asked recommendations from, but remember many teachers will be writing lots of college recommendations in the fall. You want to be on top of deadlines and kind and considerate to your teachers.

Work on final drafts of essays

These final weeks are crucial for fine-tuning essays. Leave yourself enough time to put your essays away for a week and come back to them for a final round of edits. Ideally each of your essays has been edited by at least one other person.

January

Most college application deadlines for Regular Decision applications are this month. Double check to make sure everything has been compiled, and then hit Submit and breathe a sigh of relief!

Good luck as you move through the fall of your senior year. Remember to stay on top of your high school courses and extracurricular activities as well. The college process can be intense but colleges want to see that you're working hard right up through graduation!

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