The College Admissions Timeline: Part 2

Columbia Statue

Are you a junior looking towards senior year with trepidation? Maybe you’re a freshman trying to plan ahead and get a handle on this whole college application process thing? Fear not! We’ve got you covered. As a follow-up to our College Admissions Timeline – Part 1 (Junior Year), we present Part 2 – Senior Year.


Narrow Your College List – By this date, you should have visited most, if not all of the colleges to which you plan to apply. By this time you should have a good balance of Dream, Reach and Safety  (or Likely) colleges. If you have not visited them all, take this time to visit the balance. Make sure that you would be happy to attend all of the schools you are applying to.

Finalize and gather Recommendation If you have not already done so, it is time now to ask those teachers you have chosen if they would be willing to write a letter of recommendation for you. Colleges usually want teachers who have taught you in an academic subject: avoid coaches, choral teacher or journalism teacher. Remember to offer each teacher the opportunity to decline. In most cases teachers will be willing, but some may have already have promised to write a number of recommendations for other students, and may decline your request.

Be sure to give the teachers you have selected an up-to-date copy of your activities resume, and an addressed and stamped envelope. It is very important that you check back with the teachers you have chosen as recommenders to see whether they have all the information they need and whether they’ve completed your recommendation. This should be done about three weeks after your initial request. Remember:  it is your responsibility to ensure that your recommendations arrive at colleges in a timely manner.  

Let your Guidance/College Counselor know whom you have chosen as recommenders, and give him/her any form(s) that they must fill out and the Secondary School Report Form. (Sometimes the two are the same) along with your activities resume.

Activities Resume – You should have a final copy of y our activities resume ready by the time you request recommendations; these should be given to the teachers who consent to write a letter of recommendation for you. You should have used time in August to complete this resume. Have multiple copies ready to give to teachers and your guidance/college counselor. A copy should also be included with each application.

Gather All Applications – Use this time to request applications from all colleges and universities you intent to apply to. Read them carefully and make a summary list of all the materials that will be required.

SAT / ACT – Review your scores on all previous tests you have already taken and determine which ones you may need to re-take. Check all of your applications for a list of required exams. Then check the registration dates for the SAT  and SAT subject tests, and for the ACT.  The SAT and ACT are always given on different dates.  You can register for these tests online.  If you know what colleges you will be applying to at the time you register for the October or November tests, put their codes down so that your scores will be sent to the schools as soon as the tests are scored.

School Policy on Submitting Applications – In the early fall ascertain the policy of your guidance/college counseling office in processing student applications. Do they send the whole package for you? Are you responsible for sending the whole application and your essay, and they assume responsibility for sending out the transcript and recommendations? How do you request a transcript for the college(s) to which you are applying? Record Release Form:  In most cases your parents will be required to sign a “Records Release” form for the school to have legal permission to release your records. Find out about this when you return to school in the fall.

Early Decision/Early Action Applications – If you are planning to apply Early Decision (binding) or Early Action (non-binding) you should have completed all standardized tests by October. As for submission of your full application to the college of your choice, this usually falls between November 1 and December 14. Be sure to check the Early Decision/Early Action deadline and, if possible, submit your application as early as possible. Check carefully any conditions or restrictions that apply to an Early Decision or Early Action application. This may help you figure out which option is best for you.

  • Check interview requirements (if any). Most colleges have alumni who do local interviews and they will contact you once your application has been filed; some colleges, however, expect you to make the contact.
  • Request that your SAT scores be sent to the appropriate college.
  • If you are accepted under the Early Decision Plan, be sure to withdraw your application from all the other colleges to which you have submitted an application. The Early Action Plan allows you to apply to other colleges even if you have been accepted.

Regular Applications If you are not applying for Early Decision or Early Action, or if you have been deferred or accepted under Early Action but still want to apply to more schools:

  • Check all deadlines for all colleges that interest you. Making a chart is the easiest way to keep track of all these dates.
  • Request that your SAT or ACT score results be sent to all the colleges to which you want to apply;
  • Send in Part I of the application if the colleges have a separate Part I. Some require you to send in Part I in order to get the rest of the application.
  • You may take the SAT as late as December, and maybe even January, but don’t wait until the last minute;
  • You will need to give the teachers (recommenders) the forms early, along with addressed and stamped envelopes.


If you are applying for regular admission, it’s a good idea to submit all of your applications before the winter break. Most colleges have a deadline for regular admissions of January 15th, but some have a January 1 deadline — make sure you double check the deadlines for all of the colleges to which you are applying.

Early Decision – If you have applied under this plan, you should be hearing about your admission decision during this month.

Regular Decision Applicants – If you filed any applications in November, now is a good time to contact admissions offices to make sure that they have received your application, and that it is complete. This gives you a chance to check if anything is missing and, if so, arrange for missing material to be sent to the college as soon as possible.



Financial Aid – The Free Application for Federal Aid (FAFSA) can be filled out after January 1st. If you wish to be considered for any federal financial assistance, including loans, grants, and work-study programs, you must complete this form. Different colleges have different deadlines, so be sure to check with the colleges you have applied to for their filing deadline.

Mid-Year Academic Reports – Most colleges require students to submit mid-year academic reports. In most cases you will have received a mid-year report form with your submit. Submit this form to your guidance/college counseling office, together with an addressed and stamped envelope.



Making a Decision – In March and April you will receive decisions from the colleges you have applied to. If you are accepted at a number of institutions to which you have applied, do not make any hasty decisions:

  • Try to visit the schools that you are most interested in; if these colleges offer an overnight stay, try to arrange one if you have not already done so.
  • If you are wait-listed by a college that is your first choice, write an emphatic letter, stating your desire to attend, and get your college counselor to call the college on your behalf. You may also an extra letter of recommendation.
  • If financial aid is a consideration, you may want to wait until you receive your financial aid package. You should understand what each package means and take that into consideration before making a final decision.
  • Before making a final decision, it’s important to discuss with your parents and guidance/college counselor their ideas of the best fit for you.

You have until May 1 to make a final decision. Use this time wisely but don’t miss this deadline. Failure to notify the college you wish to attend by that date may result in a housing assignment you don’t want, or worse no housing on campus at all. If you know well ahead of May 1 where you would like to attend, then send in your admissions deposit to hold your place.

Once your decision is made, send in your reply and admissions deposit to the lucky college that will get you, and send in the cards to all the other colleges that have admitted you to release to those who remain of their wait-list.



Get excited! You’re on to the next step – whether it’s college, a gap year, the job world or something else – and you finally have a chance to relax and enjoy graduation and beyond.