College Admissions Timeline For Test Prep Tutors and Students

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Virginia here. I’m back with more college admissions info tutors need to know and be able to share with students and parents. This blog post kicks off our admissions calendar, focusing first on junior year: the most critical time period in the college admissions process. This post contains most of the pertinent information that tutors, parents, and students need to know about the application process for a four-year college or university. It is not meant to be a comprehensive list, nor does it take into account unique admissions practices across the country. Consider it a “traditional timeline” that provides guidance and structure for your junior SAT/ACT students. Stay tuned for other academic year calendars as well as more information and further insight about college admissions!

Summer (previous to Junior Year)

  Help your students manage their stress levels by creating a personalized timeline and organization system for college admissions.

  Make sure your students are aware of the new Summer SAT and ACT tests! Note: the first offering of the Summer SAT is August 2017; the first Summer ACT is July 2018.)

  ACT Test Dates

  SAT Test Dates 

  This is the first time in years students have had this opportunity, and if they are serious about scoring well, they should consider taking advantage of it.

  Remember that standardized test scores from the SAT & ACT are the only way colleges can compare the aptitudes and potential of one student to all the other students from across the country. As a result, SAT & ACT scores are the second most important part of a student's college application.

  Encourage your students to take a full practice test of both the SAT and the ACT. Hybrid SAT/ACT tests are marketing tools, not diagnostic tools. Fortunately, tutors can score and analyze practice tests for free using Clear Choice. Tutors can even generate free custom branded SAT score reports & ACT score reports!

  Students should study for standardized tests throughout the summer when academics and other school based activities do not compete for their time.

  Plan to have your students take their preferred test twice. If they continue to prepare and review and feel they can do better on a third try, go for it. But keep in mind that statistics show that increases and decreases tend to be lesser on the third try.

  Stress the importance of doing AP summer homework, and doing it well.

  Help your students to seek out opportunities in endeavors that they are passionate about and will make them stand out.

  Remember that impactful participation in a few activities or organizations will be looked upon more favorably than a laundry list of superficial roles.

  Discuss ways to elevate involvement in those activities that demonstrate leadership, special talents, and service to the community.


  It's time for students to focus like never before on their academics. Grades are the number one consideration in college admissions decisions. Colleges consider students' grades both at face value and in the context of how they’ve evolved over time. Encourage students to put in time to become the best student they can be and get the grades they need for top choice colleges.

  Grades also are a guideline for many scholarships, particularly from private colleges with endowments.

  Students must prepare to meet the challenge of honors/AP/IB classes. Doing well requires a serious time commitment. Those not previously enrolled who believe they can handle the challenge need to schedule a sit down with a guidance counselor ASAP.

  Now is the time to take the PSAT and/or PACT when the high school offers it. It matters! It's a great opportunity for students to get a feel for standardized tests.

  Students will receive a basic analysis of their national standing.

  An outstanding score on the PSAT may qualify students to apply for National Merit Scholarships. (Read: this is a big deal.)

  Students should keep taking the SAT & ACT if they haven’t already or their scores don’t meet their college goals.

  Remind students not to submit their SAT scores – use Score Choice.

  Encourage students to schedule regularly occurring meetings with their guidance counselor. The student should always prepare meetings by jotting down any questions they have about college admissions.

  Establish or grow the relationship. College counselors are great sources of letters of recommendations.

  Students should begin considering which teachers they will ask for letters of recommendation.

  Now is the time for students to participate, show commitment, and create important relationships.

  As students get serious about choosing a college, encourage them to begin with the end in mind: seriously consider interests, passion, and desired career. Do lots of internet research on possible majors that fit.

  Know that students will most likely be required to select a major at the time of application.

  The student should continue taking the SAT & ACT if his or her scores don’t match their college admission goals. Remind them to use SAT Score Choice.

  Now is the time for students to research their preferred colleges in depth. It's time to consider majors and learning environment, location, selectivity, size, sports and activities, diversity, financial considerations, and other elements of importance to the student and/or family.

  Develop the student's preliminary long list, approximately 15-20 colleges that they are highly interested in attending.

  Ensure that the list balances the student's likelihood of admission in the categories of “reach, match, and safety” based on GPA and standardized test scores.

  Students should seek out advice and help from guidance counselors, family members, presenters, local college fairs.

  If the student requires financial aid, it's time to start researching options for grants, scholarships and work-study.

  Last chance to bring up borderline grades by acing finals!


  Coordinate activities for an active and productive summer.

  Which activities will further strengthen the student's college applications? Consider leadership opportunities in activities related to an existing talent, community service initiative, or school activity.

  Students may also consider seeking a career-related job or taking classes at a local college.

  Encourage your students to meet with their guidance counselor to plan their senior schedule. It's important to grow the relationship.

  Consider IB, AP, and honors classes.

  Have your students retake the SAT & ACT if their scores don’t match their college admission goals.

  Do not submit SAT scores – take advantage of Score Choice.

  Have your students take the SAT Subject Tests if required or recommended by their top choice colleges.

  Choose which SAT Subject Tests to take based primarily on the student's ability to do well in the given content area and secondly as based on the desired major.

  Remember that if the student does not do well, he or she will not want to submit the score. Prepare!

  Now is the time for your students to take AP Tests and IB exams; plan other testing accordingly.

  Achieving a 4 or 5 on AP exams is impressive to colleges, and a score of 3 or higher, in most cases, earns college credit.

  Coordinate college visits during spring break if possible.

  Remember to schedule campus tours and interviews.

  Students continue intensive research, adjusting and finalizing their college lists. Encourage them to apply to approximately 9-12 colleges that represent a good mix of "reach," "match," and "safety" schools.

  It's time to review college essay questions that are current and available for students' colleges of interest.

  If colleges present a number personal statement choices, recommend that students choose the essay prompt(s) that will best demonstrate a genuine insight into the their personality, passions, and motivation.

  Work with your student to begin drafting essays. An essay featuring a central topic that demonstrates significant growth is typically the most impactful.

  Students start drafting their personal statements. Have them consult with a guidance counselor and/or English teacher and continue to work on them during the summer before senior year.

We hope you'll find this general timeline useful in your discussions with students and parents. This is not intended to be a comprehensive resource, but it will help you make sure that you're providing good guidance to your students as they work through the process of college admissions. If you've got any specific questions, please don't hesitate to post them in the comments or contact me directly. Thanks for reading!



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Ms. Ruehrwein holds a B.A. in Education from Providence College and an M.Ed. from Harvard University. Throughout her twenty-five year career in education, she has been a Teacher, Counselor, Advocate, and Director of College Preparation Programs. Currently she is the Founder and Owner of Total Student Support, her standardized test preparation and college admissions business. Ms. Ruehrwein is thrilled to live in her dream city of San Diego for ten years. When not spending time with her husband and eight year old little guy or helping get kids into college, she's playing volleyball, hitting the beach, reading, and traveling. |