When should you start thinking about college applications?

Earning a college degree can set you apart from the competition in today's challenging job market. However, with more students filling out college applications early, when should you start thinking about applying? If you've talked to your college admission adviser, they might suggest applying early. But when should you actually start filling out paperwork and asking for supporting documents like letters of recommendation?

The first thing to figure out is which schools you want to apply to. Using a college search engine can help you narrow down a short list of potential colleges. Once you've done this, start arranging visits to college campuses during the summer before your senior year. This shows the school that you're serious about attending, which is called demonstrated interest. This can be really important if you're applying to schools with lower admission rates.

Talk to the college admissions officials at the schools you are interested in, and make a calendar of application deadlines. College applications often require that paperwork be submitted in stages, so keeping track of the various dates can help you stay on track. If you took any advanced placement classes, you should expect your results to arrive sometime around July, and if you plan on taking the SAT, register for the fall test dates during the summer.

When you start your senior year, talk to your college admissions adviser and go over your transcript with them. You should also begin finalizing the list of schools you plan on applying to. If you're planning on filling out an early college application, get started on this right away as deadlines for early admissions programs are usually in November. You should also start working on your college application essays – don't be tempted to put them off, as you'll want to spend as much time as you can on them before sending them off.

You should aim to have all your college applications submitted by winter break, so make sure you've got everything you need before school is out. Follow up with your teachers and principal for your letters of recommendation, if you haven't already.

Although the process can be confusing and a little overwhelming, organization is key to helping you keep track of everything. Don't panic, and make sure you continue to work hard on your classwork in your senior year.

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