Students organizing and asking when do you apply for college

When Do You Apply For College?

Jun 18, 2021

Timelines You Should Follow When Applying for College

There are a number of factors to consider about how you apply for college, but an important question that often gets overlooked is: When do you apply for college?

While there is no perfect schedule for applying to college, there are some important timelines you should be aware of so you don’t lose out on critical financial aid or scholarship opportunities, miss your dream college’s application deadline, or any tips on how to apply for college. Read on for helpful information answering the question, "When should you apply for college?"

Junior Year

It’s never too early to start putting together your college wish list, but junior year of high school is when most students begin to think about college.

Test Score

It starts with taking a standardized test, such as the SAT and/or ACT—perhaps even more than once to achieve the best test score possible. Your SAT or ACT score could factor into which schools are the best fit for you academically as well as what types of aid you might be eligible for.

Note: not all schools accept the same standardized test scores, some only take the SAT or ACT or none at all. So make sure to do your research so you're prepared when going into senior year.

Talk to people you know who are in college or have finished it

Before you’re up against an official college application deadline, junior year is a great time to talk to friends or family members who are in college or have recently graduated, to learn about their experiences. You can also do some digging online and attend college fairs to speak with college representatives and get a better feel for the programs and opportunities available at different schools. As you do this, compile a list of the schools that interest you, as well as the programs and majors that you might wish to pursue.

Visit colleges

Junior year is also an ideal time for high school students to visit a few local colleges. Being on campus, touring facilities, and hearing from college students and professors will start building your sense of what the college experience is all about.

Talk to your school counselor

Finally, consider talking to a guidance counselor at your school to make sure you are aware of any early deadlines--including the early action deadline--you may want to consider for your top schools. Some examples include school-specific college scholarships or early decision deadlines, just to name a few.

Summer Before Senior Year

Between trips to the beach and the pool, spend some time during the summer before your senior year to sketch out your college application “game plan.”

Create a list of schools you're planning to attend

You might take the opportunity to visit a few schools that are further away from home. But even more importantly, it’s time to compile your list of target schools—i.e. the schools you’re strongly considering applying to.

Take note of deadlines

You'll want to do research on college application deadlines as well as any aid, scholarship or college grant, opportunities. While most college applications aren’t due until the winter or early spring of your senior year, some schools have earlier online application deadlines in the fall.

If you are looking to explore early undergraduate admission, make sure you look at each school's specific deadlines for their early decision application. Make sure you've marked each early decision deadline in advance, and be aware of their regular decision deadline to give yourself a backup date in case you need the extra time.

Start working on application essays and recommendation letters

You might not be sure when to apply for college, but there's plenty to work on right away. Many schools require or encourage application essays, portfolios, application videos, and recommendation letters. While no one wants to think about “homework” over the summer, it’s better to check some of these items off your to-do list now so you don't have to take on the extra burden of writing your college essay during the school year. You might also have better luck asking your teacher to work on a recommendation letter over the summer. Getting a headstart on these things could be your answer to how to get into the college of your dreams.

It’s important to note that the Common Application opens each year on August 1. The Common App is a platform that enables students to create a profile, upload their information, and apply to numerous colleges through a single system. The application is accepted by nearly 900 different schools.

Fall of Senior Year

At the start of your senior year, meet with your school guidance or school counselor to help ensure you have all your ducks in a row. Questions to consider include:

  • Am I targeting the right mix of schools for me?
  • What are the early admission application deadlines for my target schools?
  • Which of my target schools require essays, letters of recommendation and/or interviews?
  • Are there additional schools I should consider visiting?
  • Should I retake the SAT or ACT to boost my score?

The good news is, if you’re asking these questions at the start of your senior year, you still have plenty of time to apply to the schools on your list, or even to refine your list of schools. Most students start applying for college between October and January of their senior year in high school. However, deadlines may vary for different colleges and universities.

One key deadline to be aware of in the fall of your senior year is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which opens on October 1. FAFSA is what will determine your eligibility for financial aid. Make sure you are aware of how to apply for FAFSA to ensure you get all the necessary information ready before submitting. 

Winter of Senior Year

If you submitted an early application, winter is typically the time that you’d receive an early admissions decision from that school.

Most colleges have regular decision application deadlines between January and March, so winter is a prime time for submitting the bulk of your college applications. Winter is also when many colleges host regular admission and scholarship application interviews.

Spring of Senior Year

You’ve done all the hard work and preparation, now it’s admissions decision time, as spring is when most schools notify local and international applicants of their status. If accepted, you’ll also receive word of your financial aid package. Depending on your financial situation, this is the time that you’d also consider applying for FAFSA to help cover the remaining cost.

If you were accepted to multiple schools, the ball is now in your court to decide where you want to spend the next four years. Once you make the decision, it’s time to submit your enrollment deposit and secure your slot among the incoming class. Many schools have enrollment deposit deadlines around May 1. Be sure to double-check for any other application fees and admission requirements you may need to pay or submit immediately.

Summer before Your Freshman Year of College

Once you’ve made it official by submitting your enrollment deposit, it’s a great idea to visit your chosen college again. When visiting as an admitted student, the pressure is off and you can focus on getting acquainted with the college, the community and envisioning your home for the next four years. Additionally, you may want to meet with students and faculty to help narrow down your field of academic study.

The summer is also a great time to learn about extracurricular activities that may interest you, as well as scholarship and potential job/internship opportunities at your school and in the surrounding area.

When to Apply to North Central College – Freshman and Transfer Students

North Central College accepts applications from incoming freshmen throughout the year and has a rolling admission policy, allowing us to continually review applications, though we encourage students to apply in the fall of their senior year of high school. Our college admissions team starts reviewing applications the first week of October, and we’ll continue to review applications until the summer or until the class is full. Once we’ve received your complete file for college admission and an official high school transcript, you’ll hear from the college admission office within two to three weeks.

For a transfer applicant, whether you are transferring from a two- or four-year institution, the application timeline for the fall semester is the same as it is for incoming freshmen. Transfer applications to start in the spring semester are typically due in early December.

Want more information on the college application process and admission timeline for North Central College? Visit our admission web page.

Interested in scheduling a campus visit? Go to

Jacob Imm is a communications specialist in the North Central College Office of Marketing and Communications. He has 10 years of collegiate communications experience and has worked with hundreds of college students. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s degree from Northern Illinois University.