When is the Time to Apply for College?

When is the Time to Apply for College? This question has comprehensively been answered in this article including other important tips.

The college application process can be intimidating for students, especially if you’re unsure how the whole process works. Your college application is not something you can finish quickly, and it takes time and effort to do it properly. One of the most important factors is time management, meaning you need to know when’s the right moment to start working on your college application.

If you want to learn how to stay on track and apply for college on time, read our guide below with the ultimate college application timelines explained.

When is the Time to Apply for College?
Sources: https://unsplash.com/photos/hQ4WT372J9g

College Application Requirements

To apply to any college today, you’ll need to prepare a set of required documents and evidence, to prove you’re eligible to become their student and convince them to accept you.

Regardless of when you decide to apply (which we’ll discuss below), you’ll need to build your case by collecting and filling out the forms that most colleges require. These include:

  • application forms
  • essay and/or motivational letter
  • letter(s) of recommendation 
  • SAT or ACT scores

Also, you should make sure you’re nailing your high school grades and getting those extra credits for extracurricular activities. Online, you can find services that may help, including tutoring, custom research papers writing, language apps, and other aids. Get all the help you can to keep your grades up.

The only question is, when will you start collecting your documentation, and how much time do you need to be fully prepared for your application? Keep reading for a detailed explanation.  

College Application Timelines

There are different types of admissions windows that you can use to apply for college. These are:

  • early action
  • early decision
  • regular decision
  • rolling admission

Each of the windows comes with a different timeline since the dates and deadlines are different as well. This is why it’s important you learn about each window and decide which one suits you best. Let’s take a closer look at these admissions windows.

We have discussed the different time to apply for college below:

Applying for Early Action or Early Decision

Early action and early decision are great options for those students who are quite sure of their college choice and want to get feedback from the desired college sooner than others. But, what’s the difference between the two options?

Early action doesn’t require that you commit to attending the college you’re applying to, even after you’ve been granted admission. You can still change your mind and enrol in another college, and make your final decision no later than May 1st, which is National Decision Day for all students.

However, with an early decision, if you get accepted by the college you’ve applied to, you’re committing to it and you’ll need to place your deposit. You won’t be able to change your mind in case you find out about another college you may want to apply to as well.

Either way, the timeline for both cases is the same:

Application DeadlineAdmission Decision

This means that you need to start preparing for the application process in the 11th grade. It would be great if you finish all the following before the end of the school year:

  • browse colleges
  • create a list of your top choices
  • learn about the application requirements
  • talk to the school counsellor and professors
  • ask for a letter of recommendation 

Then, you’ll have the entire summer before your senior year to work on your college essay. You’ll need to rewrite it and proofread it several times before even thinking about submitting it. There are services offering student papers for sale that can help you in case you get stuck. The important thing is that your essay is ready before fall.

Once you advise your teachers and they approve of your essay, you’re ready to apply in November. And, in case your application gets rejected, you’ll still have plenty of time to apply in the regular decision window.

Applying for Regular Decision

The regular decision timeframe is a time to apply for college that gives you extra months to prepare everything necessary, and think about the choices you’ll be making. You should apply to 4-5 colleges, just be certain you get accepted by at least one of them.

Naturally, these should all be colleges that you want to attend, so use your time wisely to make the right call. 

Here’s what the deadlines are:

Application DeadlineAdmission Decision
January or FebruaryMarch or April

This means you don’t need to start actively working on your documentation in junior year, but it would be wise for you to use this time and pay some colleges a visit. You can learn a lot about it by strolling around campuses, talking to some students, or visiting their open house day.

Still, in the summer before senior year, you should have a list of colleges ready, and have some thoughts about your application essay.

Then, in the fall, you’ll be doing all the necessary preparations:

  • taking or retaking your SATs
  • completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)
  • asking for your letters of recommendation
  • preparing your transcripts
  • starting to work on the first draft of your essay

When the deadlines come – which is most commonly on January 1st, 15th, 31st, or February 1st, you’ll be all set to send your application. The response will arrive somewhere between April and May.

Applying for Rolling Admissions

Rolling admissions are the most flexible form of applying for college. They vary and differ from college to college and there is no general time frame you can follow here. Rather, each college opens a window for admissions that is usually lengthy and typically stretches from fall to spring. 

That means that you can choose the moment you feel absolutely ready to apply and send your submission.

But, there’s something you need to be aware of- there are colleges that use analytics to rank their applicants according to the date of application, and give priority to early admissions. That may give you an advantage against the other candidates who’ve applied after you.

So, even with rolling admissions, we strongly recommend that the best time to apply for college is as soon as possible.

Other Considerations

You may not be applying for college straight from high school or there are other considerations to think about when discussing your case. Below, we’ll discuss some of the most common cases.

Not a High School Student

Maybe you took a gap year to travel or you wanted to earn some money working for a year after high school. Either way, your college application timelines should be no different from regular high school students. That means that all of the above refers to you as well.

International Student

If you’re applying for college outside your home country, you’re considered an international student. Most colleges have a specific policy for international student applications, and the timelines may differ from one college to the other. It’s best that you visit the websites of your desired colleges, and read their policy for international students.

Transfer Student

Finally, if you’re transferring from another college, you still need to go through the application process. Typically, it will be in the regular admissions window, but it may differ for specific colleges. Just make sure you read their policy and learn about the deadlines upfront. 

Final Thoughts

As you can see, the right time to apply for college depends on the type of admission window you choose. You need to think about the advantages that each window offers and decide where you have the best chances of being accepted. 

Either way, it will take you several months from the beginning of the process to the end of admissions, to get it right. So, start planning on time and make sure you’ve got every detail covered. Hopefully, this guide helped you understand when and how you need to apply for college.


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