U.S. College Application Timeline for International Students

Written by Tiffany Knight and Emily Dobson

—Disclaimer: This timeline is focused on the US admissions process. If you are considering applying outside of the US, please note the respective country’s deadlines for applications and visas.


AUGUST & SEPTEMBER (One year before you apply) 

  • Have an honest conversation about finances with your grown-ups (parents, guardians, providers)

  • Create a Collegeboard.org account to assist with research and virtual counseling (US and some non-US schools)

  • Create a college comparison list, including each university’s requirements.


  • Follow (international) admissions offices on social media. 

  • Join a monthly webinar on ANY part of the process. 

  • Research university scholarships portals, adding to your list.

  • If you are interested in applying outside of the US, make sure to find reliable sources to do your research such as UCAS (UK university central website) or for Dutch universities https://www.studyinholland.nl/.

  • Log your activities monthly (anything that is not class-related). 


  • If any of the schools on your in-progress list require testing, take time to read about the tests and set aside the time to do at least one mock exam for each (ACT, SAT, SAT Subject, English proficiency)

  • Find tutorials about the ISFAA and CSS Profile (this form may be required for institutional funding) and the FAFSA (for dual citizens of the US).  Watch with your grown-ups if possible.  If they speak another language than English, it may be helpful to connect with your local EducationUSA office to see if their advisors may have guidance in the native language.  


  • Register for standardized tests as required. Plan to take ACT/SAT two or three times prior to the application deadline and an English proficiency test, if needed,  when you are ready (can be closer to application deadline).

  • Make sure to actively continue research and participate in virtual events. 


  • Review personal finances and adjust lists and search as necessary.  SAVE money!

  • Take (first) ACT/SAT as required.  Use results as a study guide. 

  • Time to start thinking about essays and supplements.  Start reviewing The  College Essay Guy’s website and resources on approaches to writing.

  • Keep track of required essay prompts for your schools and begin brainstorming and writing.  

  • Let your school administration and teachers know about your plans to apply- this will be your team.  Be prepared to help them understand letters of recommendation and any school forms required by universities. 


Adapted by Tiffany Knight and Emily Dobson from The College Essay Guy’s Grade 12 Timeline 


  • Keep track of application portals and financial aid portals (FAFSA for dual citizens of the US, CSS, and ISFAA) and when they open!  Make sure you get yours started! 

  • Confirm your final college list, application deadlines (check for a definition of each type of deadline), and requirements. Make a calendar! 

  • Write your college-specific supplemental essays

  • Continue to research scholarships, adding requirements and deadlines to your list.

  • Schedule a meeting with your school team (teacher, administrator, counselor) to review your college list to get his or her feedback and review your application deadlines, and ask any questions you may have.

  • Set up virtual or in person interviews with colleges, varies by school.

  • Check in with your recommendation writers. Update your Letter of Rec Questionnaire and ask for a letter of recommendation from your school counselor.  

  • Apply to scholarships throughout the school year.

  • Parents: Start preparing financial aid paperwork and develop a deadlines list. 


  • Check school/national exams and calendar them along with application dates to stay organized. 

  • Schedule a meeting with your school team (teacher, administrator, counselor) to review your college list to get his or her feedback and review your application deadlines, and ask any questions you may have.

  • Continue participation in college presentations and college fairs (in person and virtual).

  • Apply for financial aid using the ISFAA, FAFSA or CSS/PROFILE.

  • Have a trusted adult (preferably trained in the process) look over your application.  This review cycle can take many weeks, especially writing revisions. 

  • Complete and send out all Early Action and Early Decision applications no later than late October. (These deadlines are typically around November 1.)

  • Many portfolio-based arts programs have December 1st deadlines. And some universities require submission by December 1st to be considered for scholarship opportunities. Attend high school presentations and programs.

  • check whether your schools allow self-reported standardized scores and send your test scores.

  • Remind your school team to upload/send letters and transcripts to colleges. If they need help, consider having them reach out to the local EducationUSA office. 


  • Regular Decision (RD) deadlines are typically around January 1. Complete and send out all RD applications no later than mid-December- make sure to get  before you (and your school) go on break. Give yourself a relaxing holiday.

  • Note: This is also recommended if you have deadlines in February/ March or later as long as the application is complete and well-done. 


  • January: If deferred, send an email to your admissions representative. Reaffirm your interest in the school and offer any updates (activities, achievements, awards, etc).

  • Wait for application decisions.


  • Colleges have until April 1 to release decisions.

  • Evaluate financial aid packages to figure out what is affordable or your family.

  • Students need to enroll and submit a deposit by May 1.  A deposit is made to save your spot at college, and the amount is usually credited to your school account. Be sure to check whether the deposit includes a tuition payment. 


  • Take AP/IB exams, as required by school.  Your school may have other exams throughout the year.  AP or IB is NOT required for those students whose schools do not offer it.  You are considered ONLY through the context of your school’s curriculum.

  • Notify your school team and your grown-ups (teacher, administrator, counselor, parent/guardian) of your college decisions and Financial Aid options.

  • Thank your letter of recommendation writers and any grown-ups/peers for supporting you through your applications process. 

  • If you’ve been waitlisted, this is a good time to send a)your “I’d like to stay on the waitlist” form and b) the email to your designated admissions rep which states your interest in the school and offers updates (activities, achievements, awards, etc).

  • Sign-up for campus housing if you plan to live on campus.


  • Continue saving for college.

  • Check your email for waitlist notifications.

  • Sign up for meal plans and register for classes. 

  • Contact your future roommate(s).

  • Complete your visa application and book your interview appointment.

  • Make travel arrangements (You can enter the US 30 days before your program starts). 

  • Reach out to International Students services about setting up a bank account.

  • Set up a meeting with an academic advisor at your college to plan your classes.

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