ic S/general/checkmark circled Thanks for subscribing! Be on the lookout for our next newsletter.
ic S/general/checkmark circled Saved to Favorites.
Articles / Applying to College / When to Start the Application Process

When to Start the Application Process

Rob Franek
Written by Rob Franek | Oct. 25, 2018
When to Start the Application Process
Adobe Stock

There isn't necessarily a right answer in terms of when you should start the application process. Ideally, you should be thinking about college throughout high school, choosing courses and extracurriculars that will set you up to be a competitive applicant, researching and visiting schools in your junior year, and preparing for the SAT and/or ACT before the start of your senior year.

Budget Based on Application/Admission Type


As for completing the application itself, the advice is always to start early, and this has been echoed by many parents and students on The Princeton Review's annual “College Hopes & Worries" survey over the years. The more time you give yourself to craft a strong application, the less stressed out you will feel and the more options you will have if something goes unexpectedly off the rails.

If you are completing the Common Application, you can start working on it as early as Aug. 1. (Note: Often, the Common App will announce new essay prompts beforehand so you can start drafting your essays even earlier.) If you are applying for financial aid, you will be able to start the FAFSA as early as Oct. 1. College application deadlines vary, but typically Early Decision deadlines fall in early November and Regular deadlines fall in early January.

If any of the colleges on your list have rolling admissions, applying as early as possible can help give your application a boost. Rolling admission means that applications are accepted over a few months, and admissions decisions are made as applications are received, instead of all at once following a cutoff date. So there are a lot more spots open at those schools early in the application timeframe than there will be closer to the final deadline.

Allot Time to Gather Extra Materials

Another good reason to begin preparing your application materials early is that you will need to rely on other individuals or systems to obtain some materials, and this can take a bit of time. Your high school is processing requests for academic transcripts for all your peers applying to college at the same time, so confirming that your transcripts have been sent may take a few days or weeks. If you have concerns about your standardized test scores, you may want additional time to prep for and retake the SAT and/or ACT, and like transcripts, your official score reports will take a few weeks to reach the colleges where you're applying.

Once you've completed the FAFSA, and the CSS PROFILE if necessary, the official analysis of your financial information can take up to four weeks before it is provided to your schools. And don't forget about letters of recommendation: You should give your letter-writers at least a month to draft and submit your recommendations, especially if you know they are writing recs for many other applicants.

Written by

Rob Franek

Rob Franek

College Admissions and Test Prep Expert

More on Applying to College

See all
harvard-university-emily-karakis-resized
uchicago-alisa-anton-unsplash

UChicago Released 2022-2023 Essay Prompts and We're Loving Them

Each year, applicants to The University of Chicago are asked to answer two supplemental essay questions. Sounds normal enough, ri…

Does Early Decision Increase Your Chances- Keira Burtun- Cropped

Does Early Decision Increase Your Chances of Acceptance?

The short answer to this question is, YES. Apply early to college may give you an advantage in the admissions process because col…

FAFSA

California Makes Completing the FAFSA Mandatory

California has joined seven other states in implementing a policy that makes it mandatory for all graduating high school seniors …

Campus_Tour

Seven Things You Can Do to Demonstrate Interest in a School

Demonstrated interest is a way that colleges and universities can gauge how serious applicants are about attending their school. …

Need Help Paying for College?
VIew Offers