When should you start preparing to apply to college in the USA?

Posted on 16th October 2017

 
At UES, we're often asked when is the best time to begin preparing to apply for college in America. Is it ever too early to start prepping for the SAT or ACT test?

Applying to university in the US can be a confusing process, but it can be made simpler by starting early. If you leave it until the beginning of Year 13 (Upper Sixth) it's possible, but you'll be up against it.

When you apply to the USA, the main things you have to complete are:  
 
  • SAT or ACT tests
  • SAT Subject Tests (SAT II)
  • Choosing colleges
  • Filling in the application form
  • Writing essays for each college
 
The last two of the above can't be started until around July just before you start Year 13, because the colleges don't release their essay requirements until then. And you can't really choose your colleges until you know how well you can do on your SAT and ACT tests. So this means that the earlier you start the SAT or act exams, the sooner you will be able to do everything else!

This is why we normally recommend that you start preparing for the SAT or the ACT near the beginning of Year 12 (Lower Sixth). If you can start in the summer after GCSEs, even better!

At this point, it's a good idea to choose between the SAT and the ACT. There's no need to take both - every college will except either test (if they want one at all!) You could take an SAT/ACT Diagnostic Test, or ask a tutor for the SAT or ACT.

Most of our students do an SAT course (or ACT course) with us in London or at their school sometime in Year 12, or start with private tutoring for the SAT or ACT. They can then build toward getting ready for their first SAT or ACT in December of Year 12.

Most students will keep practising and take their second test in March (for the SAT) or April (for the ACT). Remember that most students take the test more than once! Colleges expect this and it won't count against you.

You may also need to take SAT Subject Tests (also called SAT II) - some colleges recommend two in addition to the SAT or ACT. Read more about Subject Tests here.

We recommend starting to prepare for SAT Subject Tests in Year 12, after you've taken your first SAT or ACT test. Aim to take your first SAT II in May or June of Year 12. This means if you need to sit them again you can do so in October at the beginning of Year 13. Just bear in mind: you can't take the SAT and Subject Tests on the same date! Check the SAT dates here.

If you need to, you can do your SAT or ACT exam again at the beginning of Year 13, but hopefully you'll be very prepared by this point and already on a good score. You don't want to be doing lots of prep in Year 13 - you'll have your essays to do at this point!

When writing your essays, make sure you get some help. These are much more important than people realise - they are the make or break bit of an application.

So when preparing, keep in mind the following:
  • Start early: near the beginning of Year 12 of possible.
  • Choose between the SAT and ACT early.
  • Check the SAT and ACT dates!
  • Don't forget the SAT Subject Tests! And remember you can't do them on the same day as the SAT.
  • Get your tests all out of the way by the end of Year 12 if possible.
  • Don't leave your essays to the last minute! They're really important.
 
We help people with all of this. We run ACT courses, SAT courses, and offer private tuition for the SAT and ACT. We also help with the essays.

Get in touch with any questions!
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