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Make Educated Decisions

When to Start Applying for College

The college application process can be a hectic time of life, but it certainly does not have to be! Starting the decision-making process early on in your high school career gives you the time and space needed to think deeply about what you want out of your future online college/university experience. It is both savvy and smart to create an organized list of attainable goals and ambitions as early as your sophomore year, so that, by the time senior year roles around, you are ready to apply to all of the schools on your list with confidence.

This article is intended to help identify the necessary steps required to complete the application process in a comfortable amount of time. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the more work you do right away, means less stress and panic later on. Staying in touch with a guidance counselor will help greatly, but it is you that makes it all happen. Give yourself a break and follow these easy steps to get ahead of the college application game!


  • Stay ahead of the game by beginning to plan as early as 10th grade. This will not only relieve pressure off of later years, it will also give you a stronger understanding of what you want out of your college experience as a whole.
  • Write down what you want out of an online college or university: do you want more flexibility and independence? Or, would you prefer a more structured schedule? Do you want a school that excels in your particular goals? Or, would you want an institution that has a wide variety of benefits vis-à-vis the curricula?
  • Take the PSAT for the first time. At this point in high school, you can choose to study for this practice test or not. Of course, it is always beneficial to start studying as early as possible, but avoiding studying until after the first practice test allows you to see where you stand to begin with.


  • Start applying to the earliest scholarships possible. Here are some great scholarship opportunities for high school juniors. Applying at this stage gets you well-acquainted with the application process.
  • Meet with a guidance counselor and establish a relationship with them. Tell them what you have though about from sophomore in considering what want out of a college. Allow them to give you ideas and a timeline to start applying to your choices.
  • Take the SAT and ACT for the first time. There is no limit to the amount of times that you can take these exams, but there fees apply and you don’t want to get burned out! About three times is a good and thorough amount to take both standardized tests. Check with your local high schools for mentored testing schedules.
  • Create a list of 8-10 schools, including dream schools and safety schools, that you will want to apply to during your coming senior year.


  • Crunch time! The summer before your senior year begins, start scheduling campus visits with the schools that you are most attracted to. Some schools, even online colleges, require a campus visit, so don’t wait too late! Many students complete their visits around October.
  • Keep applying to scholarships! There is no such thing as too many scholarships, particularly those that potentially give you a full ride. Here is a list of college scholarships for high school seniors.
  • Continue to stay connected with your guidance counselor and always keep them informed of your decisions and progress.
  • The very last opportunity to take the SAT and/or ACT is December, but taking them this late can rule out some potential schools that you may have early application deadlines. Try and get your final scores in place before you have to start applying!
  • Many colleges and universities accept the Common Application, which can save a lot of valuable time and energy. Fill this document out at the beginning of this year, as you can save your progress and update information at any time.
  • Typically, the earliest that most colleges allow you to apply is around October or November and through January or February. There are different deadlines with different schools, so it is important to take note of when to send in individual applications.
  • 5-8 schools is a healthy number to apply to, because that way you are guaranteed to be accepted into several of them. It is extremely important that you do not apply to only one or two of your favorite schools, as you may be setting yourself up for disappointment.
  • Submit your FAFSA documentation as early as January 1st to determine your future student loan opportunities. This information can be completed at any time, but January is best because it gets the ball rolling.
  • In February your acceptance letters will start coming in! Once you make your final, glorious decision, you can use scholarships and loans to approach tuition costs and start planning out your future college career.