College Applications: Your Senior Year Timeline

Mom helps teenager apply to collegeBy: Susanna Cerasuolo, M.Ed.
Seniors and Parents, applying to college can seem overwhelming.  If your head is spinning with words like Common App, non-Common App, test scores, transcripts and interviews, you are not alone.  But don’t worry; it’s actually not that bad, once it’s laid out clearly.  So here are the things you absolutely need to do this year to apply to college:


Decide on a college list (Aug. – Sept.)
The sooner the better, and make it a wise, balanced list.  Aim for 1-2 Safety schools, 3-4 Match schools, 1-2 Reach schools.  You must have Safeties; do not remove all of the Safety schools from your list or you may be accepted nowhere.  Similarly, throw your hat in the ring for 1-2 Reach schools because, hey, why not?  Most students end up attending their Match schools.  The CollegeMapper College page will tell you which of your schools falls into which category, based upon your current GPA and test scores.

Check the Net Price Calculator for each college on your list (Aug. – Sept.)
Each college has an NPC on their website and this is a great way for you to predict how much that college might cost for you to attend, based on your personal data.  Keep track of all of your NPC figures on the Financial Aid page of CollegeMapper.

Register to take the ACT/SAT if you still need or want to (Aug. – Sept.)
Though you can send 4 colleges your scores for free if you select the colleges as you register for these tests, you may want to not use this option in case you do not like your scores.  You can ask your guidance counselor for fee waivers to send your scores later.
Start all of your essays (Aug. – Sept.)
This is by far the hardest and single most time-consuming part of the whole process, so start those rough drafts early.  If you need editing help, ask your English teachers, or other trusted teachers. You can also submit essays to hired English teacher editors at

Join the mailing lists of all target colleges (Aug. – Sept.)
Stay in the loop with your target colleges and let them know that you are really interested. Demonstrate your interest in every way you can, by visiting campus and meeting your rep whenever possible.

Create a Common Application (Aug. – Sept.)
Go to and create an account.  This is how you will apply to the vast majority of your private colleges and even some state schools (like U Michigan and UVA). USC joined the common app, too, a few years ago.  Use the CollegeMapper blog posts on the Common App to help you navigate this somewhat tricky beast.

Decide if you want to apply Early Decision or Early Action (Sept.)
Early Decision is binding and you can only apply ED to one school.  Early Action is not binding and you can apply EA too many schools.  These apps are typically dying November 1st and November 15th, but you want to submit them two full weeks before the due date so that your entire app can be on file and complete before the deadline arrives.  If your entire app is not complete by the deadline, you will not be considered for the early pool.  You can apply EA in addition to doing your one ED app if you choose to do ED.  Typically ED kids are not able to consider their financial aid packages, so if you need to consider these, then before you choose to apply ED you should talk to your admissions rep at that college and ask how the process works for kids who need to consider aid.  Applying early, in either manner, increases your admissions chances.

Ask two teachers and one guidance counselor to write rec letters for you (Sept.)
These people may have a questionnaire that they might ask for, so if they do have one, get it early and make it look spiffy so that they can write you an awesome letter.

Finalize your high school Resume, also called a Brag Sheet (Sept.)
Add your activities for a Senior year, and have someone proofread this with you.  It needs to look terrific!  There is a Resume builder on the CollegeMapper resume page that you can use.

Open an application for each of your colleges not on the Common App (Sept.)
For each of your colleges not on the Common App (most state schools and others like Elon or Georgetown, for example) you will need to create an application on that college’s website.  Try to use the same username and password for all of your applications and keep a sheet of all of these in one place.  You will enter the same info you enter on the Common App.  You can save and log out and come back many times, which I recommend doing because the work is tedious and needs to be perfect.

Order your transcripts from your high school and any college you attended (Sept. – Oct.)
Your high school counselor will have a form and procedure to follow for this, so get the form and follow her instructions exactly.  Do this well in advance.

Schedule interviews wherever available (Sept. – Nov.)

Interviews really help so be sure to try to schedule them where available.  Many colleges will even interview you via Skype.  Use the CollegeMapper handouts for Interviews, to prepare beforehand.
Attend the info sessions at your high school and in your city (Sept. – Nov.)
The colleges go on tour in the Fall, and your local area rep from many of your colleges will be coming to your high school or to a hotel near you to make a 20-60 minute presentation, which you absolutely want to attend.  Sign in if there is a sheet, or register online.  This is a great chance for you to ask some questions of a live person, and this is the person who will most likely be reading your app and deciding if you get in or not, so look sharp and be polite!  🙂

Send your test scores to your colleges once you have them (Sept. – Dec.)
Log onto or and send your scores to each of your colleges.  You have to pay $11 per college to send these scores.  If payments pose a problem, ask your guidance counselor for fee waivers.

Have someone proofread your applications (Oct. – Dec.)

Always have someone read over these with you first.  When things are important we work hard on them. 🙂

Submit your applications and your payments for each one (Oct. – Dec.)
If payments pose a problem, call each college and ask for a fee waiver, which they are happy to offer.

Verify with each college that the application was received (Nov. – Dec.)
Many colleges have a portal online where you can see the pieces of your app that have been logged into their system.  Check this frequently and follow up on any missing piece. If the college does not have an online system, you will need to call.  If your app is missing any piece, it will be thrown out as incomplete, so be vigilant about this.
Interview at any college you may not have had the chance to so far (Nov. – Jan.)
Interviews really help so be sure to try to schedule them where available.  Many colleges will even interview you via Skype.  Use the CollegeMapper handouts for Interviews, to prepare beforehand.

Update your colleges with any new information (Dec. – April)
Send the college any updates of new honors, awards, grades, etc, and be sure to let them know of any changes since you applied.

Hear back from your colleges and compare financial aid packages received (Dec. – April)
You should hear back from all of your schools by early April.  Keep track of the aid packages you receive on the Financial Aid page of CollegeMapper.

Submit your FAFSA (asap in January)
Do this in January so that your colleges get your financial aid info and you can be first in line to get the best aid packages possible.

Decide where to enroll and submit your deposit (by May 1st)

Many students decide where to attend by visiting and spending some time at the colleges, sitting in on classes and talking with current students.  You must submit your deposit before May 1st, to secure your spot.  Do not submit more than one deposit as this is dishonest, makes the colleges’ jobs more difficult, and takes a spot from a poor suffering peer on the waitlist.  Be kind and honest.  Make up your mind.
Actively work to get off of the waitlist (May-August)
Send the college any updates of new honors, awards, grades, etc, and be sure to let them know politely that they remain your top choice.
You made it!!  Yay college!


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