An organized approach to The Application Process requires careful attention to Deadlines & Timelines. You must track your potential College’s Application Plans Deadlines & use Timelines as a tool to make strategic decisions about when/how to apply to College, and to make sure you apply on time.


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Don’t rely on your memory – track your Colleges Deadlines & Timelines

As you make your list of Colleges where you will be applying, you should be creating a spreadsheet of the application plans (Regular Decision, Early Action, Early Decision, Restrictive Early ActionRolling Admission) offered at each College, and their deadlines. Check out the sample spreadsheet at the bottom of the post Early Decision, Early Action, Restrict Early Action, Regular Decision, Rolling Admission.

  • You must strategize which application plan you will use at each College. These decisions are interdependent – choosing to apply Restrictive Early Action to one school might mean you are lowering your chances at another school, that enrolls over half of its class via Early Action. Your strategy should include discussion with parents:
    • Should I consider attending a College that doesn’t offer a lot of Financial Aid? Merit Aid?
    • Who will be paying for my tuition and expenses? If the answer is the student, then you need to seriously look at the long-term implications of financing your education through students loans!
    • Should I apply Early Decision to a College that doesn’t offer much Merit or Financial Aid?
    • How do you feel about me attending a long-distance College, that will entail more expensive travel and consequently less frequent visits home?
  • Your strategy should also include discussion with High School Counselors:
    • Do you think I should be waiting for my first semester senior year grades before I apply?
  • Lastly, your strategy should include discussion with the College’s Admissions Officers:
    • What is the revised yield for your early application plan, after you eliminate athletes and legacies?
    • Do you defer denied Early Decision or Early Action applications to the regular decision applicant pool, or are denied Early Decision applicants completely denied consideration for that year?

But this strategy may come second to a bigger issue, if you choose to apply Early Decision or Restrictive Early Actionare you sure that you want to put all (Early Decision) or a lot (Restrictive Early Action) of your eggs in the same basket for this particular College? It’s important to list pros and cons for each College and then step way back and consider your options. It’s a good idea to schedule an overnight visit, staying on campus with a current student, eating meals, attending a few classes and maybe even some extra activities, such as training with a sports team if you plan on participating in a sport while attending that College. This experience will give you the best information about the feel of a particular College, which is important if you are applying Early Decision or even Restrictive Early Action to that College.


Timelines are an important tool that helps you consider the bigger picture and aids long-range planning. It’s important to create your timelines long before your Senior year and update them as you gain new information. For example, you have created a tentative testing schedule:

May, Junior Year SAT
June, Junior Year SAT Subject Tests
September, Senior Year ACT
October, Senior Year SAT

You plan on deciding whether to take the ACT again after you see your September scores. After careful consideration and discussion with your parents and counselors, you decide you want to apply Early Decision to an ivy league College. That College requires test scores be submitted no later than October 30th. Now you need to re-think your test taking plan. After more thought, you realize that you did very well on the May SAT. For comparison purposes, you decide to take a practice ACT test, and don’t score well. With that knowledge, you decide to rearrange your test schedule:

May, Junior Year SAT
June, Junior Year SAT Subject Tests
September, Senior Year SAT (this test is better for you than the ACT)

College Timelines

Timelines are a valuable life tool for making strategic decisions

Now you will be ready to submit your best (or Superscored) SAT in time for the October 30th deadline. Or you may re-think taking the Subject Tests in June because you haven’t made time to prepare and you’ve determined that your ivy league College doesn’t require Subject Tests. Remember to insert non-college related commitments into your timeline. Do you have a State competition in May? It may conflict with your plan to take the SAT in May.

Your first draft College Timeline is created with a good general plan that becomes refined as you make decisions about where you are applying and via which application plan, as well as when you identify calendar conflicts. It’s not a good idea to completely customize your timeline to accommodate one College. As time progresses and you are learning more about the Colleges you wish to apply to, you may determine that a particular College that appealed to you no longer does, or that you aren’t accepted into that College. For example, what if you decide to not take SAT Subject Tests because that ivy league College doesn’t require them, but now you are thinking about Georgetown, who prefers SAT Subject Tests?

Petersons’s College Planning Timelines is a good resource for starting your timeline. Take the time to add more details and customize the timeline to your personal situation.

Again, a College Counselor can be invaluable in navigating this complex process!

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