The Ideal College Application Timeline

What to focus on each month of your application year to produce high-quality materials ahead of time and boost your odds of getting into your dream schools

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There’s no denying how busy your child’s junior and senior years can get. In addition to being two of their toughest academic years, your child will be tasked with maximizing their standardized test scores, continuing to pursue high-impact extracurricular activities, securing recommendation letters, and working on their college applications by writing essay upon essay.

Given their various responsibilities, your child should follow a timeline for what to complete and when. Otherwise, they may have to play catch-up at a later time, which can lead not only to unnecessary stress, but also weaker applications. With all the hard work they’ve put into setting themselves up for successful college admissions, it’s important that your child not fall behind during this critical period.

We developed a recommended timeline to help ensure that your child completes all their junior- and senior-year to-dos ahead of time and with little anxiety. Rather than include general advice (e.g., “Put aside time for your applications”) or things they have to do as part of their schooling (e.g., “Take your final exams”), our timeline exclusively focuses on when your child should complete various tasks associated with their applications.

Our timeline can be applied flexibly to accommodate your child if they decide to take their standardized tests or begin working on their applications sooner or later than we recommend. If your child is an early bird, they can spread out their work further. On the other hand, if your child is running a bit behind, they’ll have to speed up their work. At the end of the day, whether your child begins working on their applications early or late, the key is to always prioritize application quality over speed.

In addition, some of the timeline’s bullets may not apply to your child. For instance, if they’re not looking to apply to any University of California (UC) schools, feel free to disregard those bullets.

Regardless of the dates we’ve listed below, we recommend you visit each test company (i.e., ACT, College Board [SAT]) and university website for up-to-date offerings and application deadlines.

On to our recommended timeline for your child:

January - April of Your Junior Year

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May of Your Junior Year

June - August Between Your Junior and Senior Years

  • Take final ACT, SAT, and SAT Subject Tests

  • Brainstorm, pre-write, and complete 3-4 drafts of your Common App Essay (aka personal statement)

  • Open all application accounts (e.g., Common App, Coalition App, UC application) and complete demographic information sections

  • Complete your Common App Activities section and modify it for other applications

  • Complete extracurricular capstone project

  • Complete college visits

September of Your Senior Year

October of Your Senior Year

November of Your Senior Year

  • Finalize and submit UC application

    • (Recommendation: Submit your UC application before Thanksgiving so you can enjoy the holiday stress-free and to avoid any technical difficulties with the application site as the November 30 deadline approaches)

  • Complete supplemental essays for regular decision schools

December of Your Senior Year

  • Finalize and submit applications to regular decision schools

  • Consider early action or early decision school acceptances

    • (Note: While early decision acceptances are considered binding, you can request that the admissions committee release you from your obligation to attend there if they do not meet enough of your financial need)

January - March of Your Senior Year

March - April of Your Senior Year

May of Your Senior Year

  • Notify your recommenders about the outcomes of your applications and thank them for their support

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Frequently Asked Questions

Question: When is the absolute last date I can take the ACT/SAT/SAT Subject Test and it still be considered on my application?

Answer: Schools typically accept standardized test scores from administrations taken up to a month prior their application deadline. For instance, a school with a November 1 early application deadline will accept scores from tests taken through October. However, we strongly recommend that you consult each school’s website for specific details on such dates.

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