One of the most common questions students dreaming of attending university in the US face is when to start the application process.
On one hand, many students (and even more parents) seem to be convinced that they are already falling behind before they ever enter high school. On the other hand, we all have that friend who confidently asserts they still have plenty of time to start their applications as their senior year starts.
Knowing the right answer to this question will not only save you a lot of stress throughout high school but will also go a long way towards ensuring that your applications are as successful as possible.
Freshman and Sophomore Year
Don’t stress about college just yet! You still have a long way to go before you have to even start thinking about college. The most important thing you can do in your first two years of high school is to do your best both inside and outside the classroom.
In addition to doing everything you can to get your best possible grades, try to figure out which subjects you like best, and think about what major you might want to pursue.
Outside the classroom, participate in as many activities as possible. Universities in the US prefer to admit those who are not only strong students, but who also demonstrate passion and potential for leadership. Use the first two years of high school to explore your interests as much as possible so you can develop them later on.
About a year and a half before your applications come due- and in the holiday between sophomore and junior year- is the perfect time to start seriously planning for your college applications. The first step in this process is to start preparing to take either the SAT or ACT. You should leave enough time to sit for either of these tests two or three times over the course of your junior year. You can check the SAT test dates here so you can plan ahead.
Going into junior year, it is also important to reevaluate how you spend your time outside the classroom. Of all the activities you pursued, which ones did you like best? Which ones failed to catch your interest? As you go into junior year, it’s ok to give up the activities you don’t care about. Instead, focus your time and energy on your passions, and try to achieve as much as possible in the clubs that you really care about. Why not aim to be student body president or newspaper editor in chief? Now is the time to do it!
Finally, junior year is also the ideal time to seriously research your choice of major and university. Browse college websites and profiles to learn more about the courses that are available to you. Think about what you want to get out of your college education and try to identify a list of safety, target and reach schools that you want to apply to.
By the end of junior year, you should have already finished with your standardized tests and be well on your way to achieving your extracurricular goals. As you transition to Senior year, it’s time to put everything together into a killer application.
Start to reflect on everything you experienced in high school and what you learned from it. How did you grow as a person? Based off of these experiences, what do you want to do at the university level? How will you contribute to the student body when you get to campus? These are all questions that you will have to answer as you write your essays for the common application.
The school holiday between junior and senior year is the perfect time to start writing your essays. The first step is to make an account on the common app. From there, budget at least three months to write all your essays, and make sure to have parents, friends, and college counsellors look over your drafts.
The Last Few Months
Different US universities have different due dates, but all of them fall between November and January the year before you start your university classes. If you’ve been following along with this timeline, all of your applications should be done well before that. In your last few months, focus on finalizing the little details, like picking your teacher references.
Last but not least, relax and give yourself a pat on the back! The application process is a long and confusing one, and you’ve already accomplished a lot by making it this far. All that hard work will pay dividends when the acceptances are released.