When Should I Start Applying to Colleges?

The best time to start preparing for the college application process is your sophomore or junior year of high school. Look at career options and apply for internships or job shadowing opportunities in careers that look interesting. Interview people in those careers about the education they needed. Sign up for related courses in high school. Start actually applying to colleges a year before you want to enter college.

Overview of the College Application Process

Many factors should be weighed while determining when to start applying to schools. While knowing when to apply is pivotal, knowing your own educational needs and requirements are just as pivotal. By researching schools, programs, and admissions requirements, you can help make the college application process easier.

Important Facts about Applying to Colleges

Prerequisites Review early the schools you are applying to determine their requirements for SAT/ACT scoring. While a specific score may not be a requirement, it will be considered part of the acceptance equation.
Online Availability If online availability factors into your decision making process, review early whether courses are available online and with what type of frequency. A vast majority of schools will offer both full and partial online availability.
Degree Field of Study Different schools offer different types of programs which may be more suitable for your educational needs. Research the type of degree programs offered, whether you are pursuing a degree in business, health science, or criminal justice, to ensure the programs measure your individual requirement.
Degree Levels As you weigh the previous factors, think about the degree level that you want to pursue. For some, an associate's degree may be the fit best, while a bachelor's degree may be the better fit for others.

When to Start Applying to Colleges

This timeline is informed by the College Board website and from some colleges' academic support offices or newsletters. The Department of Education also has suggestions about timelines, and they offer a checklist you can post as your desktop wallpaper or print as a poster.


A year before you want to enter college, you need to do the following:

  • Research your chosen major and make a list of colleges and universities that offer it
  • Visit the websites of your favorite schools, and request brochures and other information
  • Sign up to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or the American College Testing (ACT) exam, if you haven't taken it already or if you need to retest to improve your scores
  • If you hope to be recruited for a sport, file with the NCAA Initial Eligibility Clearinghouse
  • Begin researching and applying for scholarships, if you haven't started already


As soon as the school year begins, if not before, look over your transcript and senior year classes, and decide if they match your desired colleges' expectations. You may need to add classes, especially in math, science or foreign languages. Your school academic counselor can help you with this.


Narrow down your list of colleges to get three or four favorites, and add a 'reach' or 'safety' school if that list doesn't include one. A 'reach' school is one you think may not accept you, but you'd really like to go if they do. A 'safety' school is one you're pretty sure will accept you.

  • Review the admissions process for the colleges of your choice on their websites
  • Take the SAT and ACT, then sign up to retake it in the spring if needed
  • Ask teachers, the guidance counselor or supervisors for letters of recommendation
  • Work on application essays

November and Onward

Submit college applications! Also, continue to apply for scholarships. In January, get your taxes done early and file the FAFSA at www.fafsa.ed.gov. Good luck!

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

The schools in the listing below are not free and may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users. Tuition and costs will vary across programs and locations. Be sure to always request tuition information before starting a program.

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