College Application Process: Understanding the Timeline

by Tobin Perry

As a high school student, you likely get asked where you want to go to college often, especially in your junior and senior years. The question can be overwhelming, and you may be tempted to put off college decisions until the last moment.

Procrastinating in this case, however, can significantly limit your options, the support you receive, and your ability to submit a successful application. Instead, make the college application process more manageable by understanding what you need to consider or accomplish and when. Here’s a college application checklist and timeline to help.

9th and 10th Grades: Ask the Right Questions

In your first two years of high school, you’re not expected to know where you’ll attend college or how you’ll get there. But it’s still a good time to start asking yourself questions that can help you establish goals for the college application process, such as:

  • What kind of school are you looking for? Think about the size, location, degree offerings, and other elements that you believe will be important.
  • What kind of educational background will you need to be ready for your college experience? College requirements for enrollment vary by institution. A better understanding of what your target schools prefer—GPA, SAT scores, curriculum, activities—can help immensely.
  • What are your expectations for paying for college? Financing is critical to most people’s college experience. How much will you need? How much aid is available? Even a rough idea at this point can be helpful. One place to begin is with Azusa Pacific University’s Net Price Calculator.

11th Grade: Review Your Options

Your junior year of high school is when college starts getting real, and you need to begin more seriously considering where you want to go to college and what you need to do to get there. Keep the following dates in mind:

  • August and September: Make an appointment with your guidance counselor to talk about your college plans.
  • October: Consider taking the PSAT. The PSAT will help you practice for the SAT. APU no longer requires the ACT or SAT for admission, but other institutions and scholarships may still require these entrance tests.
  • December: Begin to gather information about colleges and narrow your options. Consider making a spreadsheet or other document where you can collect and organize information on the colleges on your list.
  • February: Plan college visits during the spring and summer. APU holds several preview events where high school juniors and seniors can experience the school with their families.
  • May: Request letters of recommendation that you’ll need for college acceptance.

12th Grade: Make Final Preparations

As much planning as you should have already done, your senior year is still full of preparation and deadlines for your college career. Tracking all the deadlines so you don’t miss any is a key way to help you achieve them.

  • June to August: Consider taking your final ACT or SAT before you start your senior year. APU does not require the ACT or SAT.
  • September: Start applying for scholarships. Many of the best scholarships have early deadlines. For example, the application for APU’s Trustees’ Scholarship, which covers full tuition, is due November 15.
  • October 1: This is the first date you can submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It’s important to apply for financial aid as soon as possible so you can find out how much aid you’ll get and compare options from other target schools.
  • November: Decide which colleges you’ll submit early action applications for. Apply as soon as possible; many are due in early November. APU’s deadline for early action is November 15, which gives you a little more time. Students who apply by then are given priority consideration.
  • February: Make your final choice of which schools you’ll apply to. At APU, February 15 is the recommended deadline for applications. While you can apply through June 1, those who apply after February 15 are subject to an enrollment waiting list.
  • May: If you were accepted through the early action period at APU, you have until May 1 to notify the school whether you’ll be attending. Regardless, you’ll want to make that final decision by the end of May.

Want to know about the college application process at APU? Visit the Apply to APU webpage.