College Planning Timeline

Many students and parents wonder what the college admissions process holds for them, especially from Junior through Senior Years. Get on top of your tasks by reviewing this College Planning Timeline.

Junior Year


Take classes in all 5 academic areas if possible, and as rigorous as of a course load as you can successfully manage. Your grades this year matter more than those in 9th and 10th grades.

Start considering which type of college you might wish to attend: large, small, near or far. Think in broad terms and start test driving some local options to refine your ideas.

Begin indicating your desire to assume leadership positions in your extracurricular pursuits. You may be able to assume them this year or next.

Take the PSAT and possibly the PreACT (if offered) in October.

If a PreACT is unavailable, take a practice ACT to see whether you will perform better on that test or on the SAT. You should create a plan/schedule for your test preparation, for whichever test you seem better suited.

Think about what you’d like to achieve this coming summer. Applications for some highly competitive programs are due in the fall.

Attend college information sessions at your high school, if you are allowed to. This is a great way to demonstrate interest as well as to learn about your options.

Register for the January SAT, if you can prepare and it is right for you.

Get to know your guidance counselor. He or she will be writing a letter of recommendation for you next year and you want to stand out from the crowd.

Carry an “Idea Journal” around with you to document important moments in your life that may serve as great essay topics.


Meet with a college admissions counselor to discuss a possible list of colleges based on your needs and interests, as well as GPA and standardized test scores (if you have them). You will want to finalize a balanced list of 10 schools by August 1st, when most college applications launch.

Practice for the SAT or ACT (not both) and plan to take it at least 2 times before summer, unless otherwise directed by a test preparation professional.

Continue taking classes in all 5 academic areas if possible, and as rigorous as a course load as you can successfully manage, if your school allows you to change classes during the second semester.

Research and apply to summer opportunities. Most applications go live in January and February and will come due in March or April. If you are having trouble identifying appropriate options, speak with a college admissions professional.

Take the January SAT, if you are ready and it is right for you.

Register for the February ACT, if you can prepare and it is right for you.

Generate a résumé. This document will prove invaluable throughout the admissions process.

Identify which two 11th grade teachers you would like to ask to write your letters of recommendation. Once you know who they will be, become a star in their classes, if you aren’t already.


Use the Internet to request admissions literature and financial aid information from the colleges on your list. You should also take advantage of colleges’ Net Price Calculators to determine your family’s Estimated Family Contribution. If it appears that a college may be too expensive, it is much better to take it off the list now than after you get in.
Register for the March SAT or April ACT. Continue preparing for whichever test you plan to take.

Take the February ACT, if you are ready and it is right for you.

Make plans to hit the road and visit colleges during spring break. Plan to see no more than 5 total and no more than 2 per day.

Try to visit a couple colleges over President’s Day Weekend. If you definitely know that you wish to apply to either of those schools, check the interview calendar. You many be able to get this piece of the process out of the way.


Continue or start visiting colleges. Seeing schools firsthand, taking a tour and talking to students can be of great help in deciding whether or not a school is right for you.
Take the March SAT, if you are ready and it is right for you. Otherwise, register for the April ACT, if you are better suited for that test.

Begin the essay brainstorming process. The Common App. tends to announce its essay prompts by this month.


Determine if you will need to take any SAT II Subject Tests. If you do, study well for them and plan to take up to 3, in May and/or June.

Register for the June SAT or ACT, whichever test you prefer to take.

Continue to evaluate your list of colleges based on your test scores and current interests.

Update your résumé. As a “living document”, it should change as your experiences do.
Attend local college fairs. Many come to town this month.

Solidify your summer plans. You should know what you’re doing by the end of this month.


Begin preparing for summer college visits, including arranging interviews if available. Always do an interview when offered to show your interest in that college. This is also your opportunity to have questions answered about the college to confirm that it is a good fit for you.

Take the May SAT or SAT II Subject Tests, if need be.

Ask your two chosen teachers to write you a letter of recommendation for next year.

June and July

Participate in an internship, enroll in a pre-college program, get a job, play a sport, or simply find a way to stay active. It is always best to pick opportunities that fit your personal interests as well as your family’s financial needs.

Work on as many college essays as possible. Some colleges release their prompts early in the summer, so the more of these essays you do in advance, the less work you’ll have to do in the fall.

Visit colleges and interview whenever possible.

Senior Year


Create application accounts and request financial aid information from your final choices on or just after August 1st. You will want to find out what kinds of information you need to collect as well as fill these out. The more of this over you can do in August, the happier you will be in the Fall.

Narrow your college list to six to ten schools, so you can collect information on their admissions requirements as well as generate a deadlines spreadsheet.

Continue to visit colleges to determine your final list of schools. Ask questions of the tour guides and admissions personnel to see if the college is a good fit. Speak with financial aid officers about how they treat external scholarships.

Study and register for the September ACT, or the October SAT or SAT IIs, if you need to take any of those tests again in the Fall. Hire a tutor or take a prep course if necessary.

Prepare for the application process by working on your essays and putting together portfolios or audition tapes if necessary.

Search for scholarship opportunities online and in your community. Begin completing applications and responding to essay prompts.

Complete the NCAA Initial-Eligibility Clearinghouse form if you hope to play a Division I or II sport. If you plan on playing a sport in college at any level, contact the coaches at the schools to which you are applying to discuss athletic scholarships as well as your ability to participate in college sports.

Register for the September ACT exam if necessary. The ACT deadline for registration is August 23 for the September 21 exam.

Consider gap year options.

Contact your designated admissions officer at your schools of interest with any questions you may have.


Continue working on your applications, particularly if you plan to apply Early Decision or Early Action. This will entail drafting at least 1 new essay per week.

Follow up with your letter writers and make sure that they have everything they need from you. Give them plenty of time to write the recommendation, and thank them after they do.

Attend area- and school-based college information sessions. These are invaluable opportunities to learn more about schools, ask an admissions officer your questions, and demonstrate interest.

Take the September ACT, if that is the right test for you. Register for the October exam, if you don’t quite feel ready.

Check back on the calendars for schools that only offer fall interviews. You will want to get on the books as soon as possible. Make sure that you prepare for your interviews and seek guidance from a college admissions professional, if need be.


Start filling out the FAFSA and the CSS-Profile, which both launch on October 1. These are the two major financial aid forms that will determine your eligibility to receive money from the federal government and the colleges themselves. The deadlines for these forms is school-dependent.

Work on completing your Early Action/Decision application essays. Most are due by the end of the month. Others are due by October 15th.
Make sure that your SAT or ACT test scores have been sent to all the colleges on your list.

Ask your counselor about local scholarships and search for other scholarships that match your skills and interests.

Male students who will be 18 at the time they complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) must register with Selective Service.

Take the October ACT, if that is the right test for you. Register for the December exam, if you don’t quite feel ready.

Take the SAT or any SAT IIs that you need, and send them into schools on the day of the test. Register for the November SAT, if you think you will still see improvement worth sending to your Regular Decision schools.

Follow up with your letter writers if you see that they have not uploaded their letters near an application deadline.


Continue to work hard in your classes. Colleges will be looking at your senior year grades in making admissions decisions.

Work on your Regular Decision applications to meet the January/February deadlines. If you bank on getting into your top choice school Early Decision/Action, you may set yourself up for disaster during winter break.

Interview with any of your Early Action/Decision schools or with any Regular Decision schools, when possible.


Keep track of your college applications and deadlines to make sure that everything is submitted on time.

Stay calm while awaiting any Early Action/Decision offers. You should receive most sometime this month. If you are Deferred into the Regular Decision Round, write a continuing interest letter to send to the school.

Finalize any remaining Regular Decision applications.


Most Regular Decision applications are due in January. Be sure all the necessary materials have been sent and received including applications, test scores, and recommendations.

Colleges like to see strong second semester grades, so avoid senioritis. Colleges can and do revoke acceptances if a student stops working according to their normal ability.


Continue to search for scholarships and ask your counselor about local scholarships.
Send an update letter to the colleges that you’re still waiting to hear from. The more you continue to achieve and communicate, the more likely you are to get in.


Plan to attend the Admitted Students Day at the schools that you hear from early. These events are great opportunities for you to learn more about the colleges that have accepted you.

Begin the financial aid appeals process, if need be.


Most admission decisions and financial aid award letters will arrive by April 1st (Rolling Applications are an exception). Read each carefully, and note all reply deadlines.

Review financial aid packages with your parents. Use the Compare Your Aid Awards tool at to do a comparison of each college’s award.

Study for May AP Exams.


Send the enrollment form and deposit check to the college of your choice by May 1. Notify the other colleges to which you were accepted of your decision.

Take the appropriate AP Exams. Have your scores sent to your final-choice college.
Send thank you notes to teachers and other mentors who wrote you letters of recommendation.


Have your final high school transcript sent to your college.

Send thank you notes to scholarship programs that have given you aid.

Notify your college of any scholarships received.

Quick Guide to Important Senior Year Dates

August 1st – The Common Application and most other applications launch.

October 1st – The FAFSA and CSS-Profile financial aid applications launch.

October 15th – The first Early Action/Decision applications are due.

November 1st – Most Early Action/Decision applications are due.

Mid-December – Most early Action/Decision schools send out their notifications.

January 1st – Most Regular Decision or Early Decision II applications are due.

April 1st – All colleges not using Rolling Admissions must send out their admissions notifications and financial aid packages by this date.

May 1st – Students must accept one of their offers and enroll in the college of their choice.