When Should High School Students Start Applying to College?

While it is never too early to prepare for college attendance, knowing when to apply to college is a critical piece of information for high school students.

For many students, high school is all about honing skills, taking the right classes and getting the highest grades possible in preparation for college admissions. Realizing that some of the top universities prefer students who are socially aware and engaged in their communities, many savvy students even make time for meaningful extracurricular activities. The results of their labor during high school are the main sources of input for their college applications. Subsequently, the process of applying for admission to colleges should take place the summer after one’s junior year.

Here are some important elements of most college applications that must be considered during this time period.

Aptitude Test Scores

Most colleges and universities require that high school students take either the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or the American College Testing (ACT) to determine whether or not students are academically ready for the rigors found within their university curricula.

Knowing when to schedule the test is a challenge for most college bound students. Experts suggest that a typical student take the SAT or ACT during their junior year to ensure that they have been exposed to the necessary academic topics that appear on the exams. Since a student can access their test scores in less than three weeks after taking the SAT or ACT, they have enough time to submit the scores to the colleges of their choice or retake the test if necessary before the school application deadlines in the fall and winter of their senior year.

Personal Essays and Letters of Recommendation

The summer prior to a student’s senior year can give students¬†much needed break as well as the opportunity to craft the perfect personal essay to impress college admission committees.

After the completion of their junior year, a student likely has a good idea of the schools to which they want to apply. They can access online applications and find out the requirements for the essays for each of their targeted schools. Some students will opt to use the Common Application which may allow them to reuse their essay for multiple schools without much tweaking.

The summer prior to one’s senior year is also a time to identify which teachers to tap for letters of recommendation. Choosing teachers who can be contacted via email or phone during the summer months will allow the student to make their request before the teachers get over loaded with regular school year work and letter of recommendation requests from other students.

Taking Required Coursework for Proposed Major

The summer prior to one’s senior year is also ideal for evaluating the course prerequisites that most colleges and universities impose for some of their majors. This is especially important for students who desire to major in science, mathematics, engineering or technology related disciplines. For example, college candidates who seek admission into top tier schools’ computer science programs will likely have taken advanced mathematics courses in areas like trigonometry, statistics and calculus. A rising senior who has not taken these types of courses has the chance to get into related high school classes during the upcoming academic year or take comparable community college courses to meet the requirements.

Financial Aid

For most people, finances impact school choices inevitably. A rising senior should set aside time during their summer break to submit applications for scholarships and gather the information that they will need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Students can submit their FAFSA documentation as early as January 1st, and students who complete their paperwork before March 15th qualify for priority funding. These students are notified by April 1st about the funds that they will be eligible to receive for college expenses. This date coincides with the receipt of acceptance letters from most colleges and universities which allows students to adequately evaluate the financial obligations that are associated with attending each school for which they were accepted.


Going through the college application process is a true test of high school students’ organizational and communication skills. With adequate preparation, they can effectively convey their scholarly qualities while even meeting unique application requirements like those for early admission or for gap year applicants who want to defer school attendance once admitted. The ultimate timing of when to apply to college depends on students’ completion or near completion of the necessary academic requirements for college admissions.