As 2021 begins, many people are aware that this is the year they’ll be applying to college. Are you ready to tackle it head on? After the extraordinary challenges of 2020, applying to schools in 2021 can seem like a daunting task. However, a little advance planning and a “roadmap” for the year can save you a lot of stress and help you make the most of your “application year”. Here are the things you need to start thinking about.


Applications won’t be open for quite some time yet, so now is the time to think about the portions of your application that don’t require the form itself. Most crucially, now is the time to focus on your test scores. If you’re a high school junior in Spring 2021, it’s recommended that you take the SAT/ACT for the first time. This way, you’ll still have a chance to retake it in the late summer or early fall of your senior academic year. As you keep up with your schoolwork, prepping for and taking the SAT/ACT should be the focus of spring term in regards to your applications.

Ready to start prepping? Take a free ACT or SAT practice test with our adaptive learning platform, Testive.


With school out of session, summer is full of opportunity! If you were dissatisfied with your SAT/ACT score, summer days can be used for prepping for a retake, especially now that you’re not also focused on doing well in your classes. Since you’ve already taken the test once, you know which areas are your strengths and weaknesses, and can tailor your preparations to suit your needs.

However, if you’re happy with your score on the SAT/ACT, there’s still plenty to be done. Over the summer, you should be thinking not just about the quality of your application, but where it’s going. Start making a list of potential colleges to apply to and arrange tours – whether in-person or virtual – to schools that have caught your interest. Summer 2021 is also a good time to reach out to current college students you may know, to ask about their experiences at a particular school and whether they think it might be a good fit for you.

It’s also a good time to start considering your letters of recommendation. As your senior year teachers will have only known you for a short amount of time when you apply to college, consider reaching out to teachers from junior year or earlier, who have had more experiences with your academic work and know you personally, to see if they’d be willing to write you a recommendation. Reaching out during the summer, as opposed to waiting for fall term, also has the advantage of giving your recommenders plenty of time to write — and “getting in before the rush” of other students who need recommendations!


Fall term is “crunch time”. Applications have opened, and it’s time to fill them out. Early in the autumn may also be your second round of taking the SAT/ACT — luckily, you’ve had plenty of time to prep and learn from any errors you made the first time around.

During the fall, you will need to decide on exactly which schools you’re applying to and start on the applications. Be sure to track which schools have which deadlines for all application materials; writing a list or making a spreadsheet can help. You’ll need to write your essays — usually one long personal statement, in addition to any shorter essays your schools of choice require. Figuring out what to write in your personal statement can take time, so give it the attention it deserves and be sure to proofread before submitting it.

In addition to your application, you’ll need to make sure all your supplementary materials are in. This includes your test scores, any supplemental tests you’ve taken, and your letters of recommendation. Many schools allow you to track what materials they’ve received so that you can be sure everything is in by the deadline.

Once your applications are submitted, it’s just a matter of waiting to hear back. Each school will have different dates when applicants can expect to hear from them. In the meantime though, make the most of your senior year!

Need another set of expert eyes to help you prepare your college applications? Learn more about our College Advising Services.