Technically, the college application process begins when you first enter high school as a freshman. The classes you take, the extracurriculars you choose, and your grades all throughout high school are all reflected in the final college applications that you send in during your senior year. That being said, the process of actually filling out your college applications and completing all of the necessary parts doesn’t start until you are an upperclassman, and there are several time-consuming steps involved.
Luckily, you don’t need to worry about remembering everything you need to do to complete your college applications. We’ve outlined exactly what steps you need to take during the college application process, broken out by year of high school, as well as how long each should take you, on average. This way, you can plan and allocate time for your college applications far in advance and set yourself up for success.
Many students make the mistake of thinking that their college application process starts during their senior year. However, there are a few key things that you need to do during your junior year that will be necessary when filling out your applications.
1. Take The SAT/ACT and SAT Subject Tests (40-60 hours)
The SAT/ACT are standardized tests that assess your aptitude and college readiness on an identical scale to all other students who take the exam. You are usually required to take at least one of these tests and submit your test score for your college applications, though it is worth noting there are some schools that don’t require it, and some schools that have waived that requirement due to Coronavirus.
You should also check whether your colleges require the SAT Subject Tests. These are hour-long, subject-specific exams, and you can take up to three in one sitting. Many students don’t realize they need to take these for more competitive schools and programs (like engineering), so that unfortunately limits where they can apply. To get a more comprehensive overview of SAT Subject Tests, check out our post What are SAT Subject Tests?.
Now, preparing for these exams properly often takes 4-6 months, with some time studying each day, and a handful of full-length practice tests, which take 3-4 hours.
Here are some free resources to help you prepare for these exams:
Links to Every SAT Practice Test + Other Free Resources
Your Guide to Free SAT Prep Classes
Your Guide to Online ACT Prep Classes
25 Tips and Tricks For The SAT
10 Tips to Improve Your ACT Score
SAT Subject Tests: Everything You Need to Know
2. Think About Who To Ask For Recommendation Letters (2-3 Hours)
Since you apply to college during the fall semester of your senior year, your senior year teachers won’t have had enough time with you to write your letters of recommendation for college applications. So, your choices for recommenders are usually restricted to your teachers from your first three years of high school, though you’ll ideally pick teachers from your junior year (since you had them recently).
Now, choosing a recommender is more than just selecting a few teachers at random. You should think carefully about which teachers would write you the best recommendation letter based on which teachers:
- Know you best and can speak best to your academic accomplishments
- Would be willing to take the time to write you a thoughtful recommendation letter
- Would be most reliable in submitting the letter on time.
Then, once you’ve chosen your recommenders, you need to reach out to them for a recommendation letter kindly and respectfully, making sure that you’ve given the recommender all of the information about you that they need to craft a stellar letter (they may ask you for a brag sheet, so be prepared to make one).
Want a more thorough explanation of how to choose which teachers to ask for recommendation letters? Follow our comprehensive guide.
3. Research Colleges and Visit Them (20+ Hours)
You should narrow down the list of which colleges you want to apply to during your junior year because this is a big decision with a lot of factors at play. You need to think about whether you want to go to a big college or a smaller college, which colleges are best for your intended major, where in the world you want to be during college, how much each college is going to cost, etc.
Thinking about all of these factors and choosing colleges that fit your criteria takes quite a bit of time and a lot of research. Plus, if you decide to visit some colleges to get a better idea of whether they would be right for you, those visits can sometimes take days, depending on how far you go for your visit.
Luckily, we at CollegeVine have given you a great place to start your research and plan your college list from the comforts of your home. Our School List Builder helps you form your college list by taking into account your preferences, your chances of acceptance based on your profile, and each school’s cost of attendance.
Moreover, if you want to get a first-hand view of what it is like to attend some of the schools you’re considering, join CollegeVine’s Livestreams, where you’ll not only gain some helpful college application tips from the experts, but also have the opportunity to have Q&A’s with current students from the top schools.