When should you start your college applications? While the applications themselves generally open up during the summer between 11th & 12th grade, you can always begin exploring the schools that you’ll apply to anytime in high school. Getting a head start on your college list ensures that you have plenty of time to explore which schools you’ll prioritize so that you can hit the ground running going into your senior year when the applications become officially available.
Your first deadline will likely come on November 1st if you end up applying to any colleges early action or early decision.
From there, you’ll pivot to the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) deadlines which fall on November 30th.
In mid-December, you’ll hear back from any colleges that you applied to early action or early decision. This gives you time to cut down (or at least reevaluate) your college list based on the news you received. If you get into Stanford early, for instance, then you may decide to only apply to the handful of schools that you would realistically consider attending over Stanford.
On the other hand, if you get deferred or waitlisted from your early college you may decide to add a few safety schools to ensure that you have a balanced list.
Most of your private college deadlines for regular decision will fall between January 1st – January 15th.
While this timeline captures most typical deadlines, it’s important to double check your list carefully for any anomalies. Many out-of-state public schools — like the University of Washington — can have unusual deadlines (November 15th, in Washington’s case). Other colleges like Stanford have an earlier deadline if you plan to submit a music or art portfolio; likewise, USC has a priority deadline of December 1st if you want to be considered for any merit scholarships.
After you submit your applications, you may get invited to interview with some of the colleges you pursued. Then, you’ll begin hearing back from your colleges as early as March but more often in April or early May. From there, you’ll have about a month (or until the end of May) to make your final decision and commit to the college that you decide to attend.
Of course, everyone’s timeline can be different so plan early and make sure you’re keeping track of anything that might lead to a more accelerated pace: specialized programs, athletic recruitment, and so on.
Nov. 1st: Early Action & Early Decision Deadline
Nov. 30th: University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) Deadline
Mid-December: Hear Back From Early Action or Early Decision Schools
Jan. 1st-15th: Most Private College Deadlines
March-May: Regular Decisions Released