My son is a HS senior. What college app timeline should we follow?

By Maxine Seya

“My son is a HS senior. What college app timeline should we follow?”

– a parent from California

If your son has already decided to apply for college this year, then there’s no shortage of deadlines to look out for. While some high school counselors will send graduating students a packet or checklist for college apps, many leave the students to figure it out on their own.

With the looming responsibilities of standardized testing, schoolwork, extracurriculars, letters of recommendation, campus tours, portfolios, personal statements, and the actual application itself, you’ll want to organize your deadlines to make sure you don’t miss anything.

Let’s start month-by-month from now until the end of the year. Here’s what your son should prioritize, in general. Of course, this varies greatly depending on his school and program choice.


  • Decide if he wants to apply to any school Early Decision or Early Action. Depending on the school, these deadlines range between October 15 (like Georgia Tech) to November 15 (like Wesleyan). If so, these applications must be prioritized. Apps to schools with rolling admissions must also be prioritized for submission as soon as possible.
  • To help with that decision, do virtual campus tours and talk to current students, alums, faculty and admissions staff. The sooner he can narrow down his list of colleges, the more focused he’ll be on his essays and applications — and the easier it will be to ask for rec letters. This leaves more time to focus on schoolwork, extracurriculars, and a social life.
  • Ask teachers for letters of recommendation. It’s back-to-school. Teachers are busy but they’ll only get more overwhelmed as more seniors ask for required rec letters. The earlier your son asks, the more time the teachers will have, and the likelier they’ll be able to focus on a strong letter for your son. Before approaching teachers, your son should prepare by selecting teachers that know him well and showing up with a resume/motivation letter to help them understand his career goals and extracurricular involvement. Many teachers will also ask for his college list, so you should narrow down a selection of best-fit institutions before asking for recs.
  • Sign up, prep for, and take standardized tests if he thinks his score will surpass the average candidate’s and if nearby test centers are open. The SAT test will be held on September 26, October 3, and November 7. The ACT will be held on October 10, 17, 24, and 25. Please check that your test center isn’t closed before you drive all the way there. This should not be prioritized if your son has other strengths, since most schools have made tests optional at least for this admissions cycle.
  • Read and consider the Common App essay prompts as well as any essay / supplement prompts from schools not on the Common App. Your son shouldn’t worry about completely writing the essay yet, especially the other requirements (like rec letters, college list, and testing) are much more time-sensitive. But he should be familiar with the questions and think about them while going about his day.
  • Research scholarships. Create a list of suitable scholarship and their deadlines. This should include any school-specific scholarships, not just national or regional offers. Many of them won’t be due yet, so the list will just be to ensure he’s aware of what’s to come in the next semester or two.


  • Design a rough college list. While he doesn’t have to commit to applying to all of these schools, he must have some that he’s eyeing. Research and energy will be focused on these institutions.

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Maxine Seya
Maxine Seya is a former investigative journalist, college consultant, and admissions interviewer. She studied at Peking University (Beijing, China) and Université Paul-Valéry (Montpellier, France) and investigated for CNN and Huffington Post before graduating from Northwestern University. She founded SocratesPost to share the human stories behind the admission gates and offer parents clarity as they help their teens with college.