ic S/general/checkmark circled Thanks for subscribing! Be on the lookout for our next newsletter.
ic S/general/checkmark circled
Saved to My Favorites. View My 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
campus gates

Academic Index Scores: Why They Matter and How They're Calculated

Top colleges in the United States use a variety of factors to evaluate their candidates. One of those factors is a student’s acad…

8 Podcasts for Students Going Through the Admissions Process

7 Podcasts for Students Going Through the Admissions Process

Podcasts can offer a wealth of information to busy students, particularly when it comes to the college admissions process. We…


Avoid College Application Regrets: Tips For Getting It Right the First Time

Decision Day occurs each year on May 1st and is the deadline for students to inform the college of their choice of their intent t…


Navigating the College Application Process in 2023-24

For the third year in a row, the number of college applications submitted to top colleges was up, indicating that the application…


College Decision Day: What Is It, When Is It, and How Should You Decide?

College Decision Day marks the end of a long and challenging process for students and families who have spent weeks, months, and …

Get a student loan that goes beyond tuition.

Ascent offers cosigned and non-cosigned student loans with exclusive benefits that set students up for success.

Explore Now!