Understanding the College Application Timeline

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

It is very important for students to understand the college application timeline. A college application can involve an application, transcripts, letters of recommendation, and writing an essay. Examine the types of deadlines and how to organize multiple deadlines so that the college applications can be done in time. Updated: 10/01/2021

College Application Process

Deb is going into her senior year in high school. So far, she's done everything she was supposed to do to get into college: she took her SAT tests, she's been taking honors classes and getting good grades, and she's involved in extracurricular activities. But now, it's almost her senior year, and it's time for her to apply to colleges, but she doesn't know where to begin or what she should be doing.

Deb is not alone. The college application process, or the way a student tries to get into college, can be stressful and confusing for students. They have to choose where to apply, fill out an application, gather transcripts and letters of recommendations, write an essay, and do what seems like a million other little things. How can Deb keep up with it all? Let's look closer at an important part of the college application process - deadlines - and how to handle them.

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  • 0:02 College Application Process
  • 0:59 Types of Deadlines
  • 3:03 Organizing Multiple Deadlines
  • 6:13 Lesson Summary
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Types of Deadlines

Deadlines are stressful. Knowing that you have to get everything done by a certain date is stressful enough, but not all colleges have the same deadlines, which can make things even worse. In fact, Deb is applying to several different schools, and none of them have the same deadlines! Each school has multiple deadlines and each school is different from others, so juggling all the deadlines can be overwhelming. The first thing that Deb needs to understand is the different deadlines that she might come across:

1. Early decision and early action deadlines are the earliest deadlines for college admissions that a student will see, and they are usually in November. If Deb applies to a school as an early decision applicant, she will get a response early (often in December or January), but she has to attend that school if she gets accepted. She can only apply to one school as an early decision student, and that school should be her top choice. On the other hand, early action does not require a commitment to attend the college. Deb can apply to several schools as an early action applicant and will get a response from the school early (often in January or February), but she has until May to make her final decision.

2. Regular application deadlines are usually in December or January. The actual deadline varies from school to school, though. For example, Deb has one school she's applying to that has a deadline on December 15, and another that has a deadline on January 1, and still another whose deadline is January 8.

3. Financial aid deadlines are the time at which the student must submit their financial aid paperwork. This actually includes two different deadlines: the federal financial aid deadline is usually in June, but most school financial aid deadlines are in January or February. As a result, the federal forms (like the Free Application for Federal Student Aid) should be submitted by the school's deadline.

Organizing Multiple Deadlines

Wow! Deb has a lot of deadlines to juggle: early decision, early action, regular application, and financial aid deadlines at several different colleges. How will she get everything done? It takes work and some organization and planning, but Deb can keep everything organized so that she gets everything done with less stress. There are several things that she can do to minimize stress:

1. Create a calendar or spreadsheet: Deb needs something that will help her keep track of all of her deadlines. She can write them on a calendar or input them into a spreadsheet. That way, she can see at a glance when the financial aid application for school A is due, when the early action deadline for school B is due, and so on.

2. Make a to-do list: Deb should list every single thing that she needs to do for each application: fill out the application, write the essay, ask teachers for letters of recommendation, and so on. The list will be long, but that's okay. She will figure out how to get everything done later. For now, she just needs to list the things that she needs to do.

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