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New Year, New College Admissions Timeline

Today I want to give you a longer explanation where I’m going to talk to every junior about the year ahead for college admissions. 

Right now it’s January, and this junior year is going to be your year for college admissions. One year from now, you’re going to be actively receiving college acceptance letters, and that is really exciting. But to get from here to there, there are a bunch of steps. I want to work you backwards, from a year from now to where you are now. 

I’ll start by explaining, generally speaking, college applications are due between January 1 and March 15 for the regular deadlines, and overarchingly, you’re going to find that more competitive colleges tend to be closer to that January 1 date, and the less competitive colleges tend to be closer to that March 15 date. But there are plenty of outliers that don’t exactly fit that mold. 

Even then, colleges have what’s called early application deadlines, for Early Action, for Early Decision—which is binding, so you can only apply to one college early decision—and those deadlines are generally November 1 or November 15. Some colleges offer both, you choose. Some offer only one or the other. Some colleges offer neither. And also, some colleges have priority deadlines, which are for things like financial aid or scholarships, so make sure to keep an eye on those dates as well. 

If you want to make those early deadlines, which in general can give you a good leg up in terms of getting accepted by a college, you want to keep in mind you’re not the only person who’s working on your college application. Guidance also has to do things like sending your transcript and your letters of recommendation. You want to give them enough time to do that, so you’ll want to get your part of the application done about 2-4 weeks ahead of when it’s actually due. Generally we’re looking at the first half of October to begin your college admissions as a junior.

Working even further back, August 1 is the big date when most college applications open. Sure, some continue to trickle out over the weeks that follow, but that’s the big date when you’re going to get all the new assignments from the colleges on your list. 

Generally the more competitive a college is, the more likely they are to ask you for a supplemental essay. That’s an application essay that’s just for them. And the more competitive they are, generally, the more of those essays they ask for. They might ask for two essays, or three essays, or five essays, or even more. So you want to give yourself enough time to get that stuff done starting August 1. 

There are some things you can do before August 1 so that, come August 1, you’re ready to make a pivot toward that step in your process. One thing you should aim to get done before August 1 is finishing your college search—figuring out which colleges you’re applying to. 

And in general, your college list should be somewhere between 5 and 10 colleges as a sweet spot, maybe as many as 15 if you have some of those hyper-competitive colleges on your list as well. Some of those colleges should be “safety” schools, some should be “reach” schools, and most should be “fit” schools—which is not to say you’re guaranteed to get in, but you’ve got a good fighting chance if you put together a great, winning application. You want to get that project done by August 1 so you know which colleges to start working on on August 1. 

Also prior to August 1, you can work on things like your college application résumé, your Common App essay; those prompts do go online in March, so you have plenty of time to work on them. Something else you can do in that window is, if you have been impacted by COVID or other emergencies like that, there is a supplemental essay on the Common App and on the Coalition Application that gives you the opportunity to talk about it, so you can also work on that in advance.

Another good essay to start working on prior to August 1 is why you want to major in your major. That’s a very common question you’re going to get come August 1, and having something in the bank will be a good head start on that. 

Between now and let’s say the end of junior year, there are four things you need to work on: The top most important thing is keeping your grades up—having great grades in your classes—that way you both have a good GPA and you’re qualified for the academically rigorous classes for next school year. 

Second is your SAT and ACT. You want to get finished with the SAT and ACT by the end of junior year. That way it doesn’t bleed into the summer and it doesn’t bleed into the fall, when you need to be working on these other steps of the process I was just talking about. 

A third thing you need to work on is which extracurricular activities you’re passionate about. Colleges don’t just want students who have done a little bit of everything; they want students who’ve done a lot of something. So whatever your something is, do a lot of it this year, because colleges want to see at least two years, maybe three, of your experience with that thing. So get going on expanding your horizons. 

And fourth, we discussed already, which is your college search. That’s what you’ve got to be working on right now. It’s January, there’s going to be a February ACT, a March SAT, an April ACT, a May SAT, a June SAT and ACT, and then done. That’s it. You want to get these things done. 

So now is the time. Get moving, and if you need help or if you have questions about the junior college admissions timeline, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at 732-556-8220. You’ve got a big year ahead of you and we are here to help. 

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