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College 101: Starting The Application Process Early

Labor Day is almost upon us, which means the first day of senior year is right around the corner. The summer before senior year can be a whirlwind of activity and preparation; all leading up to the moment you finally click “Apply Now” and begin the college application process.

But with application deadlines on either March 1st or March 15th, is it worth starting now? With a little advance planning, submitting your applications early can be a piece of cake. Getting a head start will give both you and your parents peace of mind; not to mention let you focus on keeping your GPA high throughout the year.

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Early Decision vs. Early Action

Application Process
These two types of application plans are often discussed interchangeably, but they are actually quite different. Early Action is an early notification process, meaning if you submit a completed application by a certain date, you’ll receive a decision earlier than students who apply by the traditional deadline. This is purely to let you know where you stand with an institution, and also helps the school modify their recruitment.

Early Decision, on the other hand, is a binding commitment. When applying Early Decision, you are applying under the stipulation that if accepted, you will be attending. If you have a clear first choice school and they offer Early Decision, it can be worth it to know sooner rather than later. But if you’re still deciding among several institutions, opt for Early Action.

Special Applications

Application Process
Many schools offer special programs, application tracks or unique plans for different groups of students, often with their own application requirements. If you are applying for an Honors Program, you might find the application deadline is in mid-November, as opposed to the traditional March submission date. Athletes often have a very different application process which includes scouting and working directly with the college’s coach and recruitment team.

Some accelerated academic programs, such as pre-law or pre-med for example, may have early deadlines to accommodate the competitive nature of the program. Communication with an admissions representative during the application process is key to ensure you meet all submission deadlines.

Know the Process

Application Process
Once you’ve marked down all the dates you need to know, it’s important to note the different pieces of the application puzzle. The term “application” really applies to two different elements. The first is the specific application form, where you indicate your intended major and list your biographical details. The second is the overall application, which also includes letters of recommendation, writing sample, resume and financial aid information. Your overall application will not be considered complete until the institution receives all of the supporting documents.

Sending transcripts, even with the use of electronic platforms like Naviance, tends to be the most time consuming component. If you already have an idea of which schools you’ll apply to, reach out to your guidance counselor at the first opportunity. Letters of recommendation can also take time, especially if you haven’t reached out to any teachers in advance. Most colleges make their applications available by mid-September. If you start preparing your supporting documents when the school year starts, they’ll be arriving at your chosen colleges alongside your application form.

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