The college application process can be broken down into four phases: researching, applying, financial aid, and making the college decision. The difficult part is that students usually do not begin thinking about college until they return to school in August of their final year, and the first three phases usually end up overlapping in terms of time.
Timeline: Begin early as possible
The first phase in the college application process is to research colleges, majors, and careers to get a better idea of what the options are. Students should think about the following questions:
Steps 1 to 4 of the College Checklist break the research phase into four parts: creating a college profile, thinking about majors and careers, researching colleges, and creating a college list.
Timeline: October 15 - December 1 and January 1 - March 15
A college application usually consists of four parts:
A college application will not be complete until a student fulfills each part of the application process. The application phase is covered in Steps 5 and 7 on the College Checklist.
Timeline: August - June (Scholarships); January - February (Financial Aid)
Paying for college is complicated. All financial help that students receive can be divided into two major categories: institutional support (money provided from the college/university) and outside grants and scholarships. The vast majority of aid that students receive will come from institutional sources, and most of this from need-based financial aid (based on filling out the FAFSA in January). Although merit and athletic scholarships are often talked about, they are relatively rare.
Step 6 of the College Checklist deal with all aspects of paying for college.
Timeline: May 1 - August
As a general rule, the earlier students apply, the earlier they will get an admissions decision. Chances for acceptance are also higher for early applicants. Many colleges have rolling admissions, meaning that they review and accept applications as they come in. Even colleges with application deadlines often read applications prior to the deadline.
May 1 is National Decision Day: the day that most colleges want students to give them an answer and to send in a deposit to hold their spot. Students should never be pressured to make a decision prior to May 1.
Step 9 of the College Checklist deals with the final phase of the college admission process.