When you get lost in the college applications process, it’s so easy to forget about the little things - like sending SAT scores or the CSS profile - while you’re focusing on writing a stellar essay or picking which colleges to apply to.
The absolute worst thing that can happen is you write an absolutely amazing personal statement, craft wonderful descriptions for your activities, work for years for perfect standardized test scores, apply to your dream university… and figure out you didn’t send your SAT scores on time and your application was automatically rejected.
Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen - here’s a handy-dandy guide on some important timelines and deadlines to keep in mind when applying to college to make sure you avoid apocalyptic scenarios.
THE COLLEGE APPLICATION DEADLINE
This is the most important one! And also the one you are least likely to forget. If you miss this deadline… oh man, I don’t know what to tell you. There’s not much to fix, but you can possibly try contacting the university and explaining your situation if it was really impossible to submit on time. (Often in these major cases, such as because of a natural disaster, colleges have automatically extended deadlines in affected areas.) But for these deadlines, focus on submitting at least 1 week early, just to give yourself enough buffer in case something happens.
For these deadlines, you either submit through the Common App (which you can read more about here), the Universal App, the Coalition App, or a college’s own internal application form.
But some important things you should keep in mind:
These deadlines are the ones that I, personally, kind of almost missed. (It was 5 days before my November 1st deadlines and I had completely forgotten about my SAT scores and didn’t realize it might actually take time to process. But I dodged a bullet because thankfully they somehow got sent in time.)
The deadlines for sending in scores is almost always the same date as the application deadline, with a few universities giving you a grace period for tests that you take closer to the application due date (so make sure to check with each individual college!).
These deadlines are another very very important one, especially considering the weight that test scores have in most universities and the fact that they almost always have to come directly from the testing agency and cannot be just self-reported. This is also not a great deadline to miss - if a school does not receive your scores by the time they get around to reviewing your application, they might not even consider it for acceptance (but of course, they also might decide to be nice and put your application review on hold until your scores come, but don’t bank on that fact). If you do miss this deadline, I would contact the school and see if they are able to put your application on hold until your scores arrive.
When it comes to scores, the best time to submit them is immediately after you take the test. College Board actually offers 4 free SAT Score Sends up to 9 days after taking the test. The ACT offers the same service for 4 free score reports until the Thursday after you take the test. You can also do this with AP testing, but one with one free score report. Of course, you can’t take advantage of this for tests you took earlier, but definitely use them when you can. But keep in mind that you are sending these free score reports before you know your scores yourself, so you have to be sure that the score is what you want colleges to see.
I recommend sending your scores to all the colleges you are applying to in the beginning of October. This way, you do not have to worry about your scores as you get further into the application process, and your scores will have plenty of time to reach even your early application deadlines. If October is not possible, aim for 1 month before the actual deadline, just for the complete assurance.
But in general, here are things to keep in mind:
FINANCIAL AID DEADLINES
These deadlines are also very very important, considering no one wants to pay full price to any university (hopefully). These are also pretty easy ones to forget, considering you’re so busy worrying about getting in, not about affording it. For this, the best possible scenario would be for your parents to be in charge of filling out and submitting all financial aid documents, so you can have a bit of a reprieve, but I understand that’s not possible for everyone, so try to fill out these documents the minute they become available to avoid missing the deadlines. In fact, regardless of who is filling them out, try to complete them as early as possible so you can focus on getting into college.
Everyone should fill out the FAFSA. Period.
Even if your parents make a million dollars you should still fill out the FAFSA. You don’t know what money you will get, and sometimes colleges need your FAFSA to be able to give you merit aid as well. So go and fill out the FAFSA.
The CSS profile, on the other hand, is only required by a few select colleges (almost all private colleges) for further financial information in order to give you financial aid, so make sure to fill this out for the schools that require it.
There are other colleges that have their own financial aid forms (for example, Princeton has its own Princeton Financial Aid Form) which are almost always free to fill out and should be done before the application deadline. (Sometimes, you do not have access to these forms until after you submit your application, so you might have to submit your general application a week or so before the deadline just to give yourself time to fill out the financial aid forms.)
Each financial aid service has different requirements for forms, so make sure you check with each agency to make sure you are uploading the correct versions of your forms.
Things to keep in mind:
Some schools have separate scholarships you have to apply for through a different application, and those deadlines are often earlier than the admissions deadlines. They can even be earlier than the early decision/early application deadlines, which you can read more about here. There are also numerous private scholarship organizations that often have deadlines around the time of college applications in order to be eligible (you can read more about those here).
But a couple things to keep in mind:
I don’t know about you, but my school is pretty strict when it comes to internal deadlines for submitting transcript request forms and making sure you have everything in on time.
It changes from school to school, but here are a few things to keep in mind:
In general, remember this: early is the new on time, and on time is the new late. It’s always, always, always better to be safe rather than sorry and submit earlier than the deadline. By submitting early, you are taking a huge weight off of your shoulders and you are making a positive impression on admissions officers who might review your file earlier than other applications.
Being late is not an option when it comes to college admissions, so don’t let your dreams fly away just because you were not able to remember to submit your transcript or SAT scores on time.
And as always, thanks for reading!
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