What timeline should I follow for US college apps?

Posted on 17th January 2023

What timeline should I follow to apply to US colleges?

An easy way to annoy your teachers is to come into their office in October of your year 13, and announce that you’ve decided to apply to US universities!

It might be possible to apply at this late point, but it definitely isn’t the route we (or your teachers) would advise! The US university application process is holistic, meaning admissions officers assess all areas of a student’s profile, not just their grades. So, building a strong, successful US application takes time.

In this blog, we go through the ideal timeline for preparing a successful US application. If you come to the process a little late, don’t worry: you can catch up with a bit of hard work! But by following the outline below, you can make the workload manageable, and find out a lot about yourself and your strengths and learning style in the process.

Year 10/11:

US colleges care about everything you’ve done in high school; therefore, Year 10 or Year 11 is a great time to start your US application preparation. Academics aren’t everything in a US application, but they’re still very important, so be sure to get great GCSEs. US colleges will see these grades when you apply, and it’s very difficult to get into a highly competitive US university without top GCSE grades.

You’ll also want to start building your extracurricular and academic involvement, creating a coherent story around yourself and your interests. What are your core interests and values, and how can you explore and express these in school, outside school, and in your free time?

It’s also not too early to start your college list!

The summer after year 11, it’s good to take your SAT/ACT diagnostic test. Our free diagnostic here will tell you to which test you’re best suited. US colleges don’t prefer one test to the other, so you should take the one on which you’re likely to get the best score (our diagnostic will indicate this for you!). If it’s possible, you can plan a trip to visit some US colleges.

Another thing that colleges are interested in, is how interested you are in them! Demonstrated interest refers to how you show colleges you’re interested in attending, by doing things like signing up for information from the universities that interest you, opening links in emails you receive from them, attending talks and fairs, visiting campus, and emailing admissions officers with intelligent questions. You can read more about demonstrated interest in a previous blog post, here .

Year 12:

At the start of year 12, it’s time to focus a bit more on your US application preparation, especially your SAT/ACT prep. You’ll want to prepare for this for 20+ hours, with a view of taking your test for the first time in December. To prepare, you can work independently using free materials like Khan Academy , take a course at your school or with UES, or take private tuition.

In the spring term , you can retake the SAT/ACT (most students sit the test two or three times), and continue and deepen your extracurricular involvement. Do lots of research on sites like Big Future , College Express , Niche , and university websites to flesh out your college list—you can always narrow down this longlist as more parts of your application, like predicted grades and test scores, fall into place. Look out for events and webinars with universities too—check our social media channels to find out about these! Also, think about your summer: taking an Easter or summer college tour, or enrolling in a summer programme at a US college could give you first-hand experience at the colleges that interest you.

In the summer term , go online and enrol for the Common Application and the other application platforms you’ll need to use. Finalise your college list and list the entrance requirements of each of your colleges someplace, like a dedicated spreadsheet, so it’s all laid out clearly and you can’t miss anything! You’ll also want to draft your Common Application and supplementary essays, and ask your teachers to complete your recommendations. (These aren’t due until the autumn of year 13, but asking now will ensure teachers have time to complete strong recommendations.)

Year 13:

The autumn term of year 13 is crunch time for US applications, so that’s why we’ve recommended getting as much as possible out of the way before the academic year begins! However, if you haven’t got a test score you’re happy with, this term will be the last chance for you to re-take your SAT/ACT. You’ll also need to do the below:

·       Finalise essays

·       1 November - Deadline for early application(s)**

·       30 November - Deadline for University of California applications **

·       Apply for scholarships and financial aid early

·       Submit all scores, essays, and references by end of term. (Even if you’re working with an external counsellor, you’ll need to submit these things by liaising with your school, so you must do this by end of term!)

·       Submit Regular Decision applications by 1 Jan for most Common Application colleges.** Decisions will be released mid-December for Early and April for Regular Decision

**Please note you might have earlier deadlines set by your school, and we recommend that you submit your applications a couple of weeks before the official deadlines.

We understand that this sounds like a lot of work, but knowing how much work you’ll need to put in before making your final decision about applying allows you to divide it up, work at your own pace, and avoid unpleasant surprises. Some students and families ask us if it’s sensible to ‘throw in’ a US application to keep options open. We wouldn’t recommend this, as this is unlikely to be a successful strategy and it’s better to spend the time polishing your other applications. Applying to the US is a big commitment, but it’s worth it!

If you’d like to see if you’re on track, and go through your questions, you can book in a free call with a Founder here . In your free call, you can also find out more about our College Counselling service, which guides students through the above timeline.

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