Applying to schools means more than just filling out forms. You need
to understand each school's requirements, gather information, meet
deadlines, and pay any necessary fees for each submitted
In this section, you'll get a look at
the school application process. It may seem a little overwhelming,
but once you have a clear picture of everything that's involved, you
can determine what needs to be done. Getting organized will help
eliminate a lot of stress. If you have not already done so, go into
MyFSA now and set up your own personal student account, so you can
plan for college, apply online, track your favorite schools, and
Timeline for Seniors
In your junior year, you should have begun the process of
identifying schools you want to attend. By the time you get to your
senior year, you need to have a clear idea of what schools you are
interested in attending, and you will begin the process of applying
to your school or schools of choice generally in November of that
year. You might be applying as early as September, however, if you
are applying for early decision or early action.
Throughout your senior year, you will need to keep track of a
series of steps, including:
- registering for the appropriate tests: Scholastic Assessment
Test (SAT), American College Test (ACT);
- submitting your applications for admission;
- comparing acceptance offers from schools;
- and finally, after you've accepted a school's final offer,
having your high school send your final transcripts to that
Don't forget that the process of applying for financial
assistance to help you pay the costs of attending your school of
choice is separate. This process begins with completing the Free
Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You should complete
your FAFSA as soon as you can after January 1 so you can get the
results to the schools you are interested in attending in time to
meet their state aid deadlines.
Below is a generic timeline to use as a guide as you progress
through your senior year. Mark the key dates on your calendar so you
can keep track of what you need to accomplish and when each task
needs to be started and completed. Many schools have their own
"timeline" or "important dates" information keyed more closely to
the academic programs and financial assistance opportunities they
offer. You can use this timeline, in conjunction with the school's,
to give yourself a more complete picture of the tasks you will need
- Meet with your guidance counselor as soon as you can to
discuss your plans. Make sure you are on track to graduate and
check your transcripts to make sure you have all the credits you
need to get into the school(s) of your choice.
- Make sure that schools you've identified still meet your
requirements. Change your list, if necessary.
- Contact those schools that have made your final cut to
request information and applications for admission. Ask about
admission requirements, application deadlines and any required
fees, and financial aid. Ask if these schools will need official
copies of your transcripts at the time you send in your
- Register for the October/November SAT, ACT, and SAT Subject
- If you are planning to apply for Early Action or Early
Decision, you need to prepare and submit those applications now.
Make sure you allow enough time to prepare any essays you will
need to include in your application or to meet any audition or
- As you prepare these early applications, be sure to give any
recommendation forms to appropriate teachers and counselors with
stamped, college-addressed envelopes to be included with your
application. Make sure your portions of the forms are filled out
completely and accurately. Also, don't forget to request that
your high school send your official transcripts to the school(s)
to which you are applying. Also, schedule any required school
- Take your SAT and/or ACT tests, and have the testing agency
send the official scores to the schools on your final list. If
necessary, register for the December or January SAT tests.
- You should begin preparing your applications for regular
admission. These applications are usually due by the end of
December or early January. As with the early admissions
applications, be sure to give any appropriate recommendation
forms to appropriate teachers and counselors with stamped,
school-addressed envelopes to be included with your application.
Make sure your portions of the forms are filled out completely
and accurately. Request that your high school send your official
transcripts to the school(s) to which you are applying. Also,
schedule any required school interviews.
- Make sure you allow enough time to prepare any essays you
will need to include in your application or to meet any audition
or portfolio requirements.
- If you submitted early decision applications, contact the
admissions offices at those schools to make sure they have
everything they need from you.
- If you haven't already done so, make sure your official SAT
and ACT test scores are being sent to the schools to which you
- Schedule any remaining required interviews.
- If you have applied to any schools for an early decision,
you will begin hearing from those schools during this month.
When you decide which school you want to attend, you need to
notify that school by letter of your commitment, submitting any
required deposit check. Many schools require this notification
letter to be postmarked as early as mid-January for early
- Try to have your parent(s) complete their income tax forms
so you can begin the process of applying for financial
assistance. If your parent(s) have not completed the tax forms,
you can provide estimated information, but remember that any
inaccuracies will need to be corrected later.
- Between January 1 and February 15, complete and submit your
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), along with any
other financial aid applications your school(s) of choice may
require. You can complete the FAFSA online at
www.fafsa.gov or on paper,
but completing the application online is faster and easier.
Don't wait for acceptance offers from your schools before you
- Contact the admissions office at any schools to which you
submitted regular-decision applications to make sure these
schools have everything they need from you.
- If you completed the FAFSA, you should receive your Student
Aid Report (SAR) within four weeks. Make any necessary
corrections and return it to the FAFSA processor, for example,
you completed the FAFSA using estimated parents, tax information
but now they have filed their IRS forms and the FAFSA must be
- You should receive the results of your completed FAFSA. The
schools you listed on your application will also receive those
results. Review your results and make sure you make any
- Complete your scholarship applications.
- Contact the financial aid office at the schools to which you
have applied to make sure they have received the appropriate
application material from you.
- You should hear from the schools to which you submitted
regular decision applications.
- From those schools that accept you, compare your acceptance
letters and your financial aid and scholarship offers.
- Make your acceptance choice. Find out what deposits you will
be required to make to ensure your place in the freshman class.
- When you decide which school you want to attend, you need to
notify that school by letter of your commitment, submitting any
required deposit check. Many schools require this notification
letter to be postmarked by May 1.
- Take the Advanced Placement exams for any AP subjects you've
taken in high school.
- If you were placed on a waiting list for a particular
school, and you decided to wait for an opening, contact that
school and let them know you are still interested.
- Contact the school you will be attending to determine when
fees for tuition, room, and board are due and how much they are.
- Have your high school send your final transcripts to the
school you will be attending.
- During the summer before your freshman year, you should
participate in any summer orientation program for incoming
freshmen and make any necessary arrangements for any medical
exams or health insurance coverage if you have not previously
When you apply early to a school, you are moving up the entire
application process. Instead of submitting your application in
November of your senior year, as recommended in the previous
Timeline for Seniors link, you need to begin the application process
in September and plan accordingly from that start date. While
procedures at individual colleges may vary, the two most common
procedures are Early Decision and Early Action. In addition, some
schools have both procedures. If you have a strong interest in a
particular school, you should contact that school well ahead of
September to inquire about its early application procedures, the
advantages and disadvantages, and to see if applying early is the
right decision for you.
If you have a particular school in mind that is clearly your
first choice, an early decision might work well for you. If you
apply early to the school and you are accepted, you are committed to
attending that school unless its financial aid package is not
sufficient to meet your cost of attendance. If the financial aid
package is not sufficient, make sure you have time to submit
applications to other schools.
This is similar to Early Decision in that students are allowed to
apply ahead of time, but students are not committed to attend the
school upon acceptance. Schools have different rules as to whether
students can apply to more than one early action school; if you
apply under this option, make sure you know the rules for each
school you are interested in. Since there is no commitment by the
student, there is little incentive for an early action college to
accept the applicant.
Make the Right Decision for Your Needs
Early application programs are designed for students who are
confident in their academic qualifications and who are confident in
choosing a particular school. You can make the early application
process work best for you by doing these basic things:
- Sit down with your high school guidance counselor, who can
explain to you the implications of applying early to certain
- Ask yourself: Am I ready to make up my mind where I want to
attend by October of my senior year? Will I be able to complete
my applications, along with the essays I will need to write and
the recommendations I will need to include by November?
- Make sure you have sound reasons for wanting to attend the
schools you include on your list (this school has an excellent
journalism department, this school has an excellent mix of
cultural and academic offerings).
A third option, Early Admission, is for high school juniors who
have most of the credits needed for graduation. If you are at this
level, you might want to apply to take college level courses at a
community college, for example during your senior year. The plan
then would be to transfer the credits for those courses to the
four-year school of your choice later on. You should work with your
guidance counselor to see if this would be a good option for you.
Make a To-Do List
A "To Do" list can help you keep track of the things you need to
accomplish as you go through the process of applying. Decide a start
and end date for each task you need to get done, and check off each
task as you complete it. Here are some suggestions for your list:
- Meet with your counselor early in the fall of your senior
year to discuss your plans.
- Make a list of the schools you are interested in.
- Write to those schools to request information and
applications for admission. Ask about admissions requirements,
financial aid, and deadlines.
- If you haven't already done so, visit the schools you are
most interested in and talk with students, professors, and
counselors at those schools.
- Register for and take the SAT I, ACT, and SAT II Subject
Tests and any other tests required for admission to the colleges
to which you are applying. If you have difficulty paying the
registration fee, see your guidance counselor about getting a
- When you complete your college admissions applications, make
sure you follow all instructions carefully and pay particular
attention to application deadlines. At least two weeks before
the application deadline, ask your counselor and teachers to
submit any necessary documents to the college (such as grade
transcripts or letters of recommendation).
- Make sure the admissions offices at each school to which you
have applied have received your application material and that
they have received everything they need from you.
- As soon as possible after January 1 of your senior year in
high school, complete any necessary applications for financial
assistance (such as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid
[FAFSA] and the appropriate state aid/scholarship applications).
- Your applications need to be correct and submitted on time
so they'll be processed quickly. Contact the financial aid
offices at the schools to which you have applied to make sure
those schools have everything they need from you.
- You will begin to hear from the schools to which you applied
in the early spring. Compare the offers that come from the
schools that accept you. Compare acceptance letters and
financial aid/scholarship offers.
- Decide which offer you will accept by May 1 and notify that
school by mailing your commitment deposit check.
- Keep copies of each document you submit so you will have
records for your files.