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Navigating the College Application Timeline

Every year, the start of senior year fast forwards at lightning speed toward those first college application deadlines on November 1. If you and your student are experiencing stress from the proverbial ticking clock, read on for guidance on how to proceed.

Early application deadline: November 1

If your student's sights are set on applying to college early, they'll need to have all their materials — including test scores, letters of recommendation, and essays — submitted to the schools of their choice by November 1.

Applying to college early means your student will be notified of their admission decision early — typically by mid-December. Additionally, it’s a great way to highlight to the admissions committee their motivation, preparedness, and enthusiasm for the school.

Early action vs. early decision

Most schools your student will apply to are probably “early action” schools, meaning that they’ll apply early and receive an admission decision early (accepted, denied, or deferred — more on that in a bit). Receiving an early acceptance to an early action school still gives them the flexibility to apply to other schools.

On the other hand, acceptance to an “early decision” school comes with a binding agreement for your student to enroll there — plus the caveat that they must withdraw all their other college applications. Your student can only apply to one early decision school, so be sure it's truly a dream school they would be thrilled to get into above all the others on their list.

FYI: Common App has a step-by-step overview of early decision requirements and what’s needed from your student, you as their parent/guardian, and their school counselor.

Dealing with a deferred decision

We won’t sugarcoat it: Receiving an admission decision of “deferred” — especially to their dream school — is incredibly disappointing for the students who experience this. But, it’s important to not let this get them down.

When an application is deferred, it means that it will be reviewed again in the spring. To bolster your student's chances and stand out from the crowd, try sending additional information (such as new letters of recommendation or mid-year grades) to prove to admissions staff why they need your student at their school.

Standard application deadline: January 1

If a fall deadline feels overwhelming, don’t fret: The standard application deadline of January 1, 2024, gives your student a couple of extra months to polish their materials.

Our recommendation? Make the most out of this time! There is plenty your student can do to enhance their college applications between now and January.

  • Get clear on their story. Several more months of time means several more months to refine the strategic story your student wants to tell via their application essays - which is their biggest opportunity to stand out from the crowd and share what makes them unique. Given that's what our company exists to do, we have endless content on how to help students tell their story through their essays. Start here!

  • Boost their activity list. Extra time means students have an opportunity to fill gaps in their activity list or resume around extracurriculars or work and volunteering. Encourage them to take action now that they can share in their application. It'll also help them meet new people and stay engaged during this stressful time.

  • Explore career paths and ask to shadow professionals in various industries. (Their school’s career resource center is a good place to start.) Who knows — they may learn a thing or two about themselves that help guide them to a path they wouldn't have otherwise considered!

There are a bunch of moving parts for your student to navigate during this time of year. Encourage them to map out the weeks leading up to January 1 and the tasks they need to accomplish to meet their goals. If 1:1 essay coaching is part of that to-do list, give us a shout; our team of seasoned communications pros is ready to help!

No matter if you’re applying by November or January, encourage your student to take a deep breath. They've got this — and we’re here to support them every step of the way.

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