The University Application Timeline

As summer ends, parents and students worry more and more about college and graduate school applications. The application season has begun!

The first things to identify are the filing deadlines. Although many schools offer rolling admissions, which allow students to apply almost anytime between now and late Spring, most universities institute deadlines for their applicants. Some colleges have earlier deadlines: the final filing date for Early Action or Early Decision is usually November 1. The California public universities have an application window of November 1 through November 30. Private colleges often have a Regular Action deadline of January 1. Note, however, that colleges often create earlier deadlines for those requesting scholarships. The deadlines are easy to find, posted on each university’s admissions website.

The next things to identify are the requirements for each application. Usually, public colleges have more simplified applications. These applications generally require four things: an electronic, online application, which is mostly comprised of biographical, demographic, and historical performance questions; one essay; a transcript of grades sent by the high school or college; and a test score report (SAT, ACT, MCAT, LSAT, GMAT, GRE), sent by the testing agency.

Private colleges (including schools that use the Common Application) and graduate schools usually have more requirements for their applications. In addition to the four basic requirements, these universities may require additional testing, such as the SAT Subject Tests; recommendations from teachers and a counselor report; interviews (check each admissions website to see if the school has an interview sign-up deadline); and additional essays. Graduate schools, advanced medical programs, and certain private colleges often require several additional essays and short answer responses.

Students and parents are often preoccupied with test results. For some universities, test scores are the first and most important factor in the evaluation process. In today’s competitive environment, almost all applicants study vigorously for entrance examinations and take the exams more than once. Do not fret if you are not satisfied with your current test results. Most universities will allow you to take the tests just before their deadlines, and in the case of schools with January 1 application deadlines, some will even allow you to take the test up to a few weeks after the filing deadline.

Of course, great care should be used when writing the application essays. For some schools, the essays are used as writing samples that differentiate candidates who are on the “bubble” between acceptance and rejection. For others, the essays are used largely to identify each applicant’s human qualities, an attribute that is impossible to evaluate from grades, test scores, or a resume. In all cases, because candidates are being selected by humans, not by computers, applicants will wish to enchant the admissions representatives. However, not every person likes the same food, humor, or writing style, so recognize that there is a delicate balance between influencing someone to like you and causing someone to dislike you.

As important as application essays may be, admissions interviews can be the piece of the puzzle that ultimately makes the difference between acceptance and rejection. Because of their timing in the process – they often occur after the admissions department has conducted its “first read” – interviews are distinguishing moments for those in the pool of admissions finalists. This is particularly true for highly-selective colleges and for medical schools.

When should students begin their college and graduate school applications? Now! Trying to write admissions applications during the school year is extremely challenging. The main essay for these applications (and perhaps most supplemental essays) should be completed by early October. At the same time, pay attention for instructions from your high school or college about their processes for requesting transcripts to be sent to prospective universities. Don’t forget to request the testing services to send your test scores to the universities. Finally, be sure of each university’s requirements. If they need recommendations or interviews, engage your teachers for the recommendations and be sure to request an interview in a timely fashion.

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