Your Month-by-Month College Application Plan, So You Can Make the Deadlines & Get Into Your Dream School

Applying to college is a massive task, with many deadlines to meet and lots of stress building up along the way. Whether you’re looking to get on the early admission track or are more interested in pursuing traditional admissions dates, there are a lot of time-sensitive tasks to manage. 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of managing different deadlines and applications, we’ve got you covered with these tips to staying on top of the application process!

July

Early Admission Track
Believe it or not, July is an ideal time to start writing your essays and working on your Common App or Universal College Application, especially if you’re looking to get on the early admission track. Many college applications open on August 1, so having your application materials prepared ahead of time can help you to feel less stressed when August rolls around.

This is also the perfect time to start asking teachers, coaches and professional mentors to write you letters of recommendation, if you anticipate needing one. Getting on their radar before the school year starts will not only make it easier for your recommender to fit your letter into their schedule, but it can help eliminate last-minute stress later on, especially if there’s an influx of students also asking for a recommendation! 

August

Early Admission Track
Those early admission applications are officially open! If you’re looking to get ahead, you can start submitting your applications now.

Once you have your applications submitted, you can start communicating with your school or school district to send copies of your official transcript to the university of your choice. 

Traditional Track 
August can be a great time to start making a list of colleges that interest you, as well as brainstorming ideas for your essays or Common App/Universal College Application. Don’t feel pressured by all of the early admission deadlines opening. Take your time and try not to worry because many universities will accept applications through December and January. 

Related: The 5 Most Common College App Mistakes (& How to Avoid Them)

September

Early Admission Track
Continue submitting your applications through September. Once your applications are submitted, you can start to send out score reports to colleges. Whether you’ve taken AP or IB exams, the SAT or the ACT, you’ll want to get those in ASAP. The sooner that a college has all of your information, the sooner they can make an admissions decision. 

Follow each college’s procedure for sending scores carefully, mark down every college’s deadline to receive scores. You can even mark in your calendar when you sent them so that you have a proper timeline in case anything goes wrong. Of course, check in with each college to make sure they received all your scores. 

Traditional Track 
As you get closer to the early application deadlines, you may feel like you have to rush to get all of your applications completed and turned in. Don’t let the early birds freak you out! You still have plenty of time to get things done. This month consider drafting a few of your essays and doing some research into what each university’s application will want from you, including deadlines for turning in score reports and high school transcripts.

October

Early Admission Track 
If you’re on the early admissions track and have turned in all of your applications, you could potentially hear back from colleges as soon as the end of this month or the start of November! In the meantime, it’s time to start looking at potential financial aid options and applications, including FAFSA, which opens this month. The earlier you apply, the better financial aid you’ll get.

Traditional Track
Those late December deadlines are just around the corner, and now is the time to take care of any tasks that rely on other people or take a while to complete, like getting letters of recommendation or references. This is a great time to start asking teachers, coaches, and mentors for letters of rec because you’ll be able to give them plenty of time to complete them without worrying about missing a deadline. FAFSA also opens this month, and the sooner you apply, the better financial aid you’ll get. 

This is also the perfect time to start sending score reports to the universities you’ll be applying to, as well as communicating with your school to start sending out copies of your official transcript. 

Related: Here’s How Much Teacher Recommendations Actually Matter to Colleges

November

Early Admission Track 
The early admission deadlines are now officially closing, usually on November 1 or November 15. Once these deadlines have passed, universities will start making their early admission decisions and you could hear back sooner than you might think.

If you haven’t already begun to look into your financial aid options, now is the time to do so. Don’t forget to check out external scholarships that can be applied to whatever university you decide to attend. 

Traditional Track
This month, focus on finishing up those essays and applications so that they’re ready to be submitted – and you can avoid the last-minute scramble during winter break that we all know and hate. Now is the time to get any last pieces of your application together.

Once you have all of the parts of your application together, start sending them in. The sooner that a college has all of your information, the sooner you’ll hear back from them in the new year.

December

Early Admission Track 
By late December, all early admission application deadlines are closed. Continue to look into any remaining financial aid options over this month. It is very possible that you could begin to hear back from universities this month! Try to enjoy the anticipation and all of the work you put in to get this far. 

Traditional Track 
Start watching those university-specific deadlines to make sure you’re on track. Some universities close applications as early as December 15, and others are open through January 1.

If you have completed all of your applications, now is the time to start evaluating your potential financial aid options, including any external scholarships and FAFSA estimates.

January 

Early Admission Track 
This month, you will continue to hear back from the universities you applied to and will learn more details about what the university offers as well as any scholarship opportunities you may have.

Traditional Track 
Continue to watch university-specific deadlines, as many will be closing this month.  Be sure that you are looking into all of your financial aid options throughout this month so that you have an idea of what your options may be when you receive all of your acceptance letters.

February

Early Admission Track 
By the time February hits, you’ll most likely have heard from the majority of the colleges you applied to and will need to start thinking about confirming your attendance. This month is a great time to do any last-minute campus tours and visits if necessary. 

Traditional Track 
This is the very last month to turn in your applications! Any applications turned in after February may be considered late and could jeopardize when you hear back from the university, as well as narrowing your financial aid and housing options.

March 

Early Admission Track 
This month you’ll want to make a decision on where you want to go to college. It can be intimidating, but there are tons of resources available to help you make the choice that is best for you.

When you’re choosing a university, you want to consider all aspects of what it means to be a student there, including campus culture, the town or city surrounding the university, the resources they offer for students, whether or not they offer your major, and how much financial aid (including scholarships, grants, and loans) they offer. There is a lot to consider when making this decision, so take your time and talk to people you trust about how you’re feeling.

Traditional Track
This month, you should start to hear back from all of the universities you applied to and will learn more details about what the university offers as well as any scholarship opportunities you may have.

April

Early Admission Track 
By the time April rolls around, you’ll need to start completing any applications or requirements for on-campus housing if applicable. Many universities have roommate matching systems that require that you take a survey that must be completed before a certain date. If you’re looking to room with a friend, the application process can be slightly different and varies by university. Many universities have on-campus living requirements for first-year students, with the exceptions being non-traditional students and students that are local. Be sure to look over each university’s housing policies.

Traditional Track 
This month is a good time to start thinking about confirming your attendance at a university. This will allow you the opportunity to take advantage of those financial aid options as well as any scholarship opportunities. Once you decide where you want to go, you’ll also need to start completing any housing applications or fulfill housing requirements if applicable.

May

Early Admission Track 
Congratulations, you’ve picked your school and it’s official: You’re going to college! Now you’ll want to make sure that everything, from housing to scholarship money, is set because once May comes along, things will start to get crazy with exams and graduation. Confirm any housing options and confirm that your financial aid packages are set for the upcoming school year. Most colleges also require you to attend a summer orientation to visit the campus and sign up for classes, so confirm your orientation date by your college’s set deadline. 

Traditional Track
May is the month of wrapping things up. You’ll want to start confirming housing options as well as making sure all of your financial aid packages are ready to go. Be on the lookout for any information about summer orientations and confirm the dates to visit campus and check out classes.

Now you can enjoy graduation and the summer knowing that you’re officially ready to start college in the fall.

Applying to college can feel like this completely unmanageable, Herculean task when you first start. While it can be stressful to think about the future, you can totally conquer application season when you break it all down into small tasks and schedule those tasks appropriately. . Whether you’re trying for the early admission track or sticking to the traditional admission dates, applying for college can be both a learning and rewarding experience.