Are you a college junior thinking about upcoming college applications? The looming process may fill you with a mix of emotions – excitement, stress, or even dread. Just thinking about college applications can be overwhelming, especially when taking stock of all the required components you will have to put together over the course of a year.
This 1-year roadmap is intended for juniors to help make the college application process a little more understandable and manageable. You will find the most success if you prepare early, rather than cramming at the last minute. This article will provide benchmarks at each month to help you stay on track and chip at your application piece-by-piece. Note that everyone’s circumstances are different, though, and you should feel free to tailor the plan to your own specific situation. Overall, though, this guide should give you a general sense of how to manage your time and what you should expect to prepare in order to submit your applications.
When Should I Start Applying To Colleges?
The question of when to start applying to colleges is one that often looms over high school juniors. The answer? Now. Yes, it might seem early, but the college application process is a marathon, not a sprint. Starting a year early allows you to navigate the journey smoothly, ensuring that you have ample time to make informed decisions about your future.
Is It Too Early To Start Preparing For College Apps?
No, it’s never too early to start preparing for college applications. In fact, the earlier you begin, the more comfortable the process becomes. Think of it like assembling a puzzle – the sooner you start, the clearer the picture becomes. Planning ahead provides the advantage of avoiding last-minute stress and allows you to present your best self to college admissions. Starting earlier also allows you to plan around time-sensitive requirements, such as taking the SAT or ACT. These tests are only administered on specific dates of the year, and you will need to plan ahead, especially if you plan to take it multiple times.
1-Year Roadmap For Current High School Juniors
January To March: Study For The SAT/ACT
- Take SAT and ACT practice tests and decide which one to take.
- Create a study plan tailored to your schedule.
- Stick to the study plan, and depending on your study schedule and preparedness, sign up for a test date.
- Identify your strengths and weaknesses, and learn strategies, tips, and hacks accordingly.
Kickstart your college application journey by dedicating the first few months of the year to SAT or ACT preparation. Start by deciding whether you want to take the SAT or ACT. Colleges do not have a preference between the two, so it is entirely up to you and which test you feel more comfortable with. Students who are stronger in Math typically like the SAT since it has 2 Math sections, while some students prefer the critical-thinking skills of the ACT Science section. The best way to figure out whether you should take the SAT or ACT is to take practice tests for both and see which one you prefer (or score higher in).
You do not need to immediately sign up for a date to take the test. See how the first few weeks of studying goes first before signing up, but most test-takers will find that taking it in March or April gives them adequate time to study. Generally, it is recommended to study for 3 months before taking the SAT or ACT. Check out our 3-month study plan, where we give a week-by-week breakdown of what to cover and how to study most effectively for the test.
The most important part of this period is that you stick to the study plan that you set up. If you are having trouble setting up a study plan, you need external motivation, or someone to help guide you through studying, you can reach out to SoFlo Tutors. Our tutors work one-on-one with students and have a proven track record of helping them attain their goal scores.
March Or April: Take The SAT/ACT
- Take the SAT/ACT.
- Receive your scores and determine your next steps.
- If you reached your target score, congratulations! You can move on from the testing process and focus on other components of your application.
- If you didn’t reach your target score, do not worry! There is still plenty of time to improve (that’s why we started early!). Based on your performance, determine your next test date and how you will adjust your study plan to improve.
Taking the SAT and ACT can be a stressful experience, but there are ways to mentally prime yourself to succeed on the test. Check our guide on what to do in the 24 hours leading up to taking the test.
After taking the test, you have a well-deserved break where you can rest for two weeks before you receive your scores. Once you receive your scores, you have some important decisions to make.
If you’re happy with your score, you can celebrate and put the testing process behind you!
If you didn’t perform as well as you’d hoped, you should jump right into the next steps to take the test again and improve your score. Look at your schedule for the next couple of months and determine a feasible study schedule. This study schedule should be tailored to your specific strengths and weaknesses. Once you have this, sign up for another test date and start studying!
Remember, as well, the benefits of superscoring. If you bombed one section, but did well otherwise on every other subject, it is probably the best option to take advantage of superscoring. Superscoring allows you to take your best scores across multiple tests, so that your highest results are only sent to colleges. This way, when you retake a test, you only need to focus on improving your score on one or two sections, rather than performing well overall on all the sections.
May: Start Researching And Defining A College List
- List out your personal goals and preferences in a college.
- Based on this list, start researching and identifying colleges that seem to be a good fit for you.
- For your identified colleges, do a little further research like talking to current students, alumni, or touring the campus to solidify their fit with you.
- Rank your list of colleges based on your likeliness of admittance, and make sure you have a good balance of schools that you are likely and unlikely to get into.
This month will require a lot of reflection. Think about your goals in college and what you think are potential career paths you’d like to pursue after college. Though you’re still young and have a lot of opportunities to try out different paths, having some sort of direction will help narrow your college search.
When exploring potential colleges and universities, consider factors such as size, location, academic programs, and campus culture. You can find out about some of these factors – like size and academic programs offered – online, but a lot of information related to student culture can only be learned by talking to current/former students or by visiting the campus.
Once you have a solid list of colleges that you think would be a good fit, rank them according to how likely you are to get in. This is mostly based on their acceptance rate, your GPA, and your test scores. You should have a good mix of “safety” schools, “likely” schools, “reach” schools, and “unlikely” schools.
You can continue to add and remove colleges from this list over the next couple of months.
June: Brainstorm Ideas For Common App Essay And Supplemental Essays
- Reflect on aspects of yourself and experiences that you can weave into your essays.
- Research the colleges you are applying to so you can tailor your supplemental essays to their specific characteristics.
Summer vacation is a great time to get started on your essays, since you’ll have more time to reflect and think through the prompts asked in the Common App and Supplements.
What are some pivotal moments in your life that you can draw from? These are instances that shaped your perspective, challenged your beliefs, or sparked a profound realization. Consider your passions and hobbies, as well – these often hold the key to compelling narratives. Another common experience that you can write about in your college essays are any challenges you’ve faced and the lessons you’ve gleaned from overcoming them. Colleges love narratives that showcase resilience and transformative journeys, so really try to dig deep into your identity, life story, and experiences.
For supplemental essays, tailor your approach to each institution. This point is important: this is where colleges gauge your fit with them and determine your level of interest in their school. Research specific programs, values, and opportunities offered by each college. Align your experiences, aspirations, and values with what each school embodies. This nuanced approach will demonstrate a genuine interest in and understanding of the institution, setting your application apart.
July: Write First Draft Of Essays
- Take your brainstormed ideas and decide on the narrative(s) you want to convey.
- Write a first draft of the Common App essay, as well as some supplemental essays.
Once you’ve spent the month reflecting on potential essay ideas and creating a list you can draw from, it’s time to get those ideas on paper. Decide which ideas would 1) fit the best with each essay prompt and 2) contribute most to the overall narrative you want to convey to the college admissions committee.
Creating this narrative is one of the toughest parts of a college application. Put yourself in the admissions counselor’s shoes. What are the strongest 2-3 points you want them to take away from your application? They read hundreds in a day, and you want significant takeaways that will stick out in their mind. Finding these points will almost always naturally emerge as key themes during your brainstorm, but reflecting on your strengths and passions specifically can help you pinpoint them, as well.
Once you’ve got your narrative and key stories, start writing first drafts of your essays. This can be a difficult and intimidating step for students. Approach it as just getting something down on paper – write it stream-of-consciousness style if you have to. This draft will get repeatedly edited and revised later on, and try to avoid the fear of creating a “bad” first draft. Almost all first drafts will be “bad!” What matters is having something on paper to work with.
By the end of the month, you should have finished the first draft of your Common App at the bare minimum. Ideally, you would have finished the first draft of some of the supplemental essays, as well, particularly the ones for colleges that you are planning to apply early decision or early action.
August: Revise And Polish Essays
- Step away from the essays for a week or two.
- Revisit your essays with fresh eyes. Edit and revise accordingly.
- Send your essays to trusted friends, family members, or hired experts (like SoFlo) to read over and give feedback.
Once you have the first draft of your essays, step away from them for a week or two. Let them breathe, and resist the urge to immediately look and edit them. This is crucial so that you have a fresh pair of eyes and take a much needed rest from working on them.
When you return to them, start the editing and revision process. This should not only be editing for spelling or grammar, but making sure that your ideas flow in a way that make sense and that you picked the right ideas and stories for the point you’re trying to convey. Again, put yourself in the shoes of the admissions counselor who does not know you in real life and is reading these essays for the first time. What are impressions and main takeaways they will have from you after reading these? Is this what you intended?
An important part of the revision process is also collaborating with other people. Send your essays to trusted friends, family members, or experts for their feedback. It’s almost always a good idea to have someone else look at these essays. For one, they can sometimes provide an objective standpoint. Ask them about their takeaways and see if they align with yours. Remember, though, that their feedback are just suggestions. You don’t have to take every suggestion someone else makes – especially if your own judgement doesn’t agree with it. At the end of the day, these essays are your own and reflect who you are. Do not feel pressured to take any suggestions (big or small) that changes that!
September: Prepare Additional Materials
- Gather additional materials like writing samples, letters of recommendation, transcript, and your list of extracurricular activities.
- Continue writing supplemental essays and the revision process.
- Finalize your Common App essay.
September can be an extremely busy and overwhelming month for students. At this point, you are a high school senior. You will not only have finishing up college applications on your plate, but also senior year of high school. Time management will be key here to balance all of your responsibilities and work while enjoying your last year as a high schooler. If you followed our year-long roadmap, however, hopefully you’re on track to complete your college applications and have actually chipped away at the biggest parts of it – testing and your essays!
At this point, your Common App should be in its final stages, if not completely finished. Your supplemental essays for colleges that you are applying early to should be in their final stages too. You should be starting the first drafts of other supplemental essays for the rest of the schools you are applying to. This process of drafting essays will hopefully become easier as you do more of them. I’ve personally found that after a few essays, it’s easy to fall into the groove of writing about my experiences and knowing what exactly to research about colleges to support my points.
In this month, you should gather all the additional materials required for your applications. One important component of the application are your letters of recommendation. It’s good practice to give teachers at least 6 weeks to write a letter for you, so asking them in the beginning of the school year (or earlier!) would be the best timing. Think about which teachers could speak most to your strengths and journey as a student. You can also submit additional letters of reference for your character from coaches, mentors, or any other non-family member adult that you think can strongly advocate for you.
Other materials required by colleges include a list of extracurricular activities, as well as your transcript, a list of honors, and writing samples. When putting these together, always have the your narrative at the back of your mind. It’s like completing a puzzle – do these pieces support what you’re trying to convey to admissions counselors? If not, you can still include them, but make sure you place extra emphasis on pieces that do.
October: Complete Early Action/Early Decision Applications
This is the month before early action and early decision deadlines, which usually fall around the beginning to mid-November (double check this for your college list!). By the end of this month, your application materials for your early schools should be finalized or very closed to finished.
Remember that time away from your application can be beneficial. If you’ve finished one, take a few days to a week away from it. Then, revisit it with a fresh, critical lens. Don’t forget about the micro-details as well. Little things like spelling, grammar, and accuracy are important to pay attention to.
November: Submit Early Action/Early Decision Applications
- Submit your early action and early decision applications.
- Take some time for yourself to de-stress and recharge!
It’s time to send in your early action and early decision applications! Double check one last time that all your required materials are sent in. Make sure that you check the requirements for each college – sometimes, their application components differ! You can also check out a general college application checklist here.
After submitting the applications, you can start switching gears to submitting your applications for the rest of the regular decision colleges you are applying to. Before getting back into it, though, take at least a week to de-stress and recharge. Many students are prone to burnout during this time, and you want to avoid this as much as possible. Take a week off and don’t work on your college applications at all. Try not to think about them at all (although it can be hard!). Hang out with friends and do activities that make you feel happy and refreshed.
December: Complete All Other Applications
- Finalize your regular decision applications.
December is the last push! This is the last month before most deadlines of regular decision applications. Similar to November, finalize your application materials and double check each college’s requirements.
January: Submit All Other Applications
- Submit all your regular decision applications.
- Congratulations!! You’ve submitted all of your applications, a culmination of one-year of hard work. Reward yourself and sit tight until decisions are released.
Finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for. Hit submit on those college applications!
Congratulations!! You’ve successfully submitted your college applications. Hopefully by following this roadmap, the process was a bit more manageable and you were able to submit a completed application that represents who you are to colleges. Now you can sit back and enjoy the rest of senior year, and see the fruits of your labor when decisions come out in the Spring.
Start Your College Application Journey Early With SoFlo Tutors
It’s never too early to start preparing for college applications. SoFlo Tutors can help you craft the perfect application from the beginning – from helping you achieve your target SAT or ACT scores, to telling your story and highlighting your achievements in your essays. All of our tutors attend top universities around the nation and scored in the 99th percentile on their SAT. They will work one-on-one on you to identify and improve your weak areas and increase your chances of getting your target score. Our tutors schedule to sessions to your availability and our costs start at $60/hour. Check out our tutoring services to book a session!
About The Author
Andie Pinga is an expert SoFlo tutor and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a B.A. in Economics and a minor in Anthropology. She scored a 35 on her ACT and enjoys rock climbing and playing the guitar.